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Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of increasing a web site's visibility in the 'organic' search engine results by improving "on-site" and "off-site" factors that affect the ranking of the web site's pages for a given set of keywords. "On-site" factors include internal parameters such as page titles. "Off-site" factors include hidden and external parameters such as one-way backlinks.

A highly visible web site ranks well in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific keywords. The better a web site ranks in the SERPs, the more visitors it will obtain from search engine queries. Likewise, when a web site ranks high for keywords that represent its products well, the quality of traffic is also improved, because visitors are likely to have an actual interest in what the site is attempting to sell.

Driving quality traffic to your site starts with finding the keywords that best reflect your line of products. Finding appropriate keywords can be accomplished through the use of online synonym sites, keyword generators, and by competitor keyword analysis. The second section of this page provides expert advice on how one can perform keyword selection.
Finding good keywords is not a difficult task; the challenge of SEO is selecting keywords with which one can outrank the competition.

To outrank the competition, you not only need to find the right set of keywords, but you also must prove to the search engines that your web site has the most relevant content for those keywords. That is one of the most important goals of effective SEO.

To convince search engines that a(your) web site should rank high for a given set of keywords, one needs to do more than just inserting these keywords into a web site's META keyword and description tags. One also needs to use these keywords within all the web site's structure, such as page titles, content, URL, etc. More details on how to do on-site SEO keyword integration is provided on myEcommerce's SEO on-site optimization tutorial.

The keyword selection process is only the first step; the second step consists of one's web site being perceived as "popular". One needs to show the search engines that one's web site is known around the Internet. This step is performed by the acquisition of inbound links.

When analyzing the inbound links directing a user to a particular web site, search engines will not only take the quantity of links into consideration, but also their quality. Search engines will assess the page rank (PR) of the pages from which the links are originating. Page anchor text will also be examined. In essence, search engines use every possible attribute to calculate the most relevant sites for a particular keyword or key phrase. This is why 'organic' search results are sometimes called 'algorithmic' search results.

After building a content-rich site, integrating keywords into the content, and acquiring inbound links, one will need to submit the web site to several search engines and web directories. When this is completed, one will want to check for site ranking and return to the first step of the process to maintain and improve ranking even more.

SEO is one of the main processes of internet marketing. It is mostly technical and requires excellent knowledge of web design, copywriting, creativity, as well as the ability to juggle a few hundred web site attributes to find a satisfying combination that results in better search engine visibility. The main objective of all this work is driving traffic to the web site. This is accomplished by placing the web site on the first page of the SERP, which typically translates to having the web site in the top 10 results for a keyword search query. Even if the current SERP contains an elite group of 10 sites, obtaining a position within this group can still be achieved in many cases.

Due to constant and active competition, the ranking results for a given keyword may change from one week to another. This is why keeping a high rank remains the ultimate SEO challenge. To meet such a challenge, one needs to perform an ongoing SEO process where one monitors, detects, and applies the changes needed to maintain a top "organic" SEO ranking.

The rest of this page describes the steps required for one to optimize a web site for high ranking with search engines. Expert tips are provided on how to select keywords and key phrases, analyze the competition, integrate keywords into web site content, acquire inbound links, and perform submission of the web site to search engines and/or online directories.

Keyword Selection

A web site's content is composed of keywords. Keywords are words or phrases that a user may input into a search engine while conducting a query. The terms "keyword phrase" and "key phrase" are also used to define keywords, since keywords are often composed of more than just one word.

When search engine "spiders" (robot crawlers or bots) search a site, their intent is to index the site under specific keywords. The spiders look at the words used and the density of those words on a specific web page. Using a formula (algorithm), these spiders then build an indexed keyword tree of all the pages that match for a given keyword. When a visitor types a keyword into a search engine query box, the indexed keyword tree will be one of the elements used to calculate the most relevant results pages. These results pages are prominently displayed on the SERP. Therefore, selecting and integrating the right keywords is crucial if one wishes to have a web site indexed and have it attain a prominent position on the SERP. 

Selecting the right keywords is the most important part of SEO. To perform this process correctly, one should go through the following steps:
Step One
Create a basic list of keywords, also known as "core terms" or "start-up keywords". Consider the business of the web site in terms of words, themes, and basic concepts. Continue the brainstorming process by asking just what is the web site trying to promote, and why would someone wish to visit it? Also, what would a visitor to the web site wish to buy or accomplish? In the end, a web site's keyword list should coincide roughly with the names of the site's categories and sub-categories.

Keep in mind that each listed term should be unique and should not include another term that has already been listed. For example, if "bathroom lighting" is on the list, then "bathroom wall lighting" should not be, since it is a variation of the first term. Complete the first stage by using a free tool like the Google AdWords keyword suggestion tool. One may also wish to visit web sites that come up in the top 10 results of a SERP for a selected keyword. Explore these web sites in detail to obtain some ideas. Specifically, look at the content and META tags of these web sites.
Step Two
Generate key phrases by inputting each start-up keyword into a keywords suggestion tool (e.g., Google AdWords). Search for phrases that are variations of those start-up keywords. For instance, "outdoor wall lighting" and "outdoor lighting fixture" are two possible variations of the core term "outdoor lighting". Keyword suggestion tools are highly recommended because they utilize synonym dictionaries, generating all possible keyword permutations, and even adding singular and plural examples when appropriate.
Step Three
Narrow down the generated search phrases by applying several filters such as traffic volume and conversion rate. When using the Google AdWords, WordTracker, and the Keyword Discovery tools, one can obtain data on the number of queries made for specific keywords in the past month. Search the phrases that have received 80 or fewer searches per day and eliminate them- after all, what is the point of ranking highly for a rarely searched keyword? 

Conversion rate is a more difficult criterion to establish; one needs extensive knowledge of one's web site and products. A web site should rank highly only for those keywords that directly correspond to products or services that the web site actually offers. This way, if a user inputs a specific keyword and then locates the exact product on a web site, that user is more likely to convert into a buyer. For example, if a lighting business web site is selling only lamps and no accessories, then a phrase like "outdoor light bulbs" should be removed from its search phrase list.
Step Four
The last step of the keyword selection process involves organizing the search phrase list into groups that correspond to different pages within the web site. Create an inventory of the site's pages, setting aside the product and help-related pages. Focus instead on the home, category, and sub-category pages. Ultimately, all of the keywords that have been chosen should be integrated into their corresponding pages on the web site. Each keyword group should have a primary keyword that the search engines use for page indexing. The other keywords will be used for building page content.

For more details on the process, please read our in-depth keyword selection tutorial.

Analyzing the competition

Do you know who your competitors are? Do you need to?

Yes you do! Finding out and analyzing just who one's competitors are is one of the most important steps of effective SEO.

Knowing what one's competitors are doing correctly can help one catch up with them. Knowing what one's competitors are NOT doing correctly can help one beat them!

Competition analysis should be performed right after and sometimes even during the keyword selection process. However, keep in mind that the competition does not rest. This is especially true if a new web site displaces an older, more established competing site. If a web site takes a prominent position away from a competing site, that site will fight back. This is why competitor research needs to be performed on a periodic basis in order to maintain a web site's prominence on the first page of the SERP. Another good reason for maintaining continual vigilance is because search engines are always changing algorithms and ranking strategies in order to provide better search results. Some SEO engineers would say that getting or remaining on the first page of the SERP is almost like trying to hit a moving target.

All major search engines claim to use over 100 different parameters to evaluate and rank a site for a particular keyword. Because this evaluation process is performed automatically using an algorithm, even the most insignificant factor could be used as a tie-breaker between two web sites that are well optimized for a specific search term or phrase. This is why it is critical to perform competitor analysis in order to discover competitor weaknesses that can be exploited to one's advantage.

Analyzing a competitor site consists of finding out the strategies used by that site to rank high for a particular keyword.
Competitor research utilizes a formal methodology consisting of 3 main steps. The first step involves the identification of one's true competitors. The second step involves competitor analysis through the use of online tools that generate data about competitor on-site and off-site strengths/weaknesses. The third step involves the organization of the generated data into a matrix that is easy to read and manipulate. 

Simply put, your true competitors are the one that rank on first page result for the keywords that have the biggest conversion rates on your site. If one does not have access to conversion rates for specific keywords, or if the web site is new then the focus should be on the sites that show on the first SERP when performing a "phrase match" search of the web site selected keywords. The sites displayed in the top 10 results of the SERP for a "phrase match" search query are more likely to be the true competitors because sites that are mentioning the web site selected keyword in the same order have a natural ranking advantage.

In order to complete the second and third steps of competitor investigation, one needs to look at all competitors, gather all the details of their on-site and off-site ranking factors, and then organize these data into a matrix that can be used to discover competitor strengths and weaknesses.

To better conduct such a competitive analysis, please read this in-depth tutorial (hyperlinked) on how one can analyze the competition. This tutorial will teach you how to find your web site's true competitors, and then help you to discover these competitors' optimization factors by using the best free and paid online tools.

Integration of the selected keyword

Choosing and narrowing down the keywords on which one wishes to focus the SEO campaign is a critical first step. The next step, which involves implementing and properly using those keywords, is equally important. One can have the best keywords in place, but if they are not used properly, then the search engines will not locate them and the web site is doomed to fail. Instead of wasting time and posting keywords haphazardly throughout a web site, it is best to first learn about keyword implementation strategy in order to optimize keyword impact.
A Note About Search Engine Robots
Before one can educate oneself about keyword integration, it helps to understand a few key facts about search engine robots. First, keep in mind that these robots analyze the content and structure of the entire web site and do not merely scan it for keywords. As such, these robots are looking for an overarching theme so that they can classify the web site and index it properly. In many cases, robots use LSI- latent semantic indexing- to evaluate a site's content by checking for related keywords.
Tip #1: Be natural
One huge mistake that many people make is injecting their keywords into the content of their site instead of integrating them. There is a small and subtle, but very important difference between injecting keywords and integrating them. "Injecting" keywords means that one has given little thought to how they fit into the web site content naturally; "integrating" means that one has made the keywords fit into the flow of the site so that it remains readable. A large portion of this process involves using synonyms. For instance, if a keyword is "outdoor lighting", mix that up a little by using terms like "landscape lighting" and "exterior lighting." This will help make the content read much more naturally and will help boost its ranking.
Tip #2: Avoid these common mistakes
When it comes to integrating keywords into a web site's content, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. In an attempt to put as much content as possible on their website, many people turn to dubious sources. These sources may help their site fill up with content, but that content is not doing a bit of good. Examples of this include content that is derived from databases that hold little unique content, or feeds from expert web sites that are counted as duplicate content by the search engines. Duplicate content can indeed be the kiss of death when it comes to successful SEO, and one is hurting one's cause when one turns to such sources. The bottom line is this: a web site needs lots of words and a great deal of content, but those words and content must be unique, and they must correspond with the chosen keywords.
Tip #3: Keep these general rules In mind
Like anything else, there are certain rules that should be adhered to as much as possible when it comes to integrating keywords into your website. These include:

 * Always use a site map.
 * Keep things simple - i.e., do not clutter the web site.
 * Never use pop-up windows.
 * Only use forms when absolutely necessary.
 * Keep Java script and CSS external to the site's source code.
 * Use a natural amount of content - there is no need to repeat ad nauseam.
Tip #4: Use strategic keyword placement
There are many important things to know about when and where to place keywords on a web site. First, make sure that the keywords appear throughout the body of the site. Although many search engines check the meta keywords and descriptions, others do not - or they may place little emphasis on them. Use two- and three-word key phrases as often as possible to make the content more readable and natural. Avoid "keyword stuffing" so that the web site is not penalized; aim for 2-4% keyword density throughout the web site.
Tip #5: Use Meta Tags
In the SEO community, the debate continues on whether META tags are important. In either case, because it is very quick and easy to incorporate META tags, one should use them (better to be safe than sorry). Be sure to use the very best keywords in the title tag and within the META description for best results. This way, any search engines that do put weight on META tags will boost the web site's ranking.
Tip #6: Fine tune site's structure
Finally, pay attention to the web site's structure. If the web site is educational in nature, aim for at least 500 words of well-written, grammatically correct content per page/article. If the site has a marketing or sales bend, the content should be a minimum of 250 words per page/article. Once the keywords have been integrated and the content is the right length, go back to the pages periodically and tweak them. One will need to do such periodic maintenance while keeping an eye on site rank; over time, the right balance will be achieved and the web site will receive more hits overall.

Submit to search engines

Before heading over to the 'Add URL' pages for the major search engines, make sure that the keywords have been correctly added to the page title, META description, META keyword tags, HTML headings (H1, H2, H3), ALT attributes, and of course the displayed content. Even a minimum integration of a web site's primary keywords can make a big difference for SEO. Additionally, make sure that the web site is visitor-ready, has no broken links or other issues.
Submitting a web site to search engines is an easy task. In fact, most search inclusion request forms have 1-3 fields: a field for the web site's home page or page URL, a field for the submitter's e-mail address, and oftentimes, some kind of human verification question or 'captcha' to prevent automated search engine submissions. 
To submit your website, you simply need to:

1. Visit the search engine's 'Add URL' page (Direct links to the submission pages are available on our Manual Search Engine Submission page).
2. Fill in the required fields.  Generally, the only information that is needed is the web site's home page URL. Other fields are usually optional.
3. Press the submit button.
That's it! Repeat this process a few times in order to submit the web site to all major search engines.
Checking submission results:
Before doing this check, wait at least one week after submission has been completed, since search engine robots rarely crawl and index a site in less than a week's time.

Checking the submission result is much easier than the submission process itself, and is rather simple and straightforward:

Go to the corresponding search engine and, into the search field, type the word "site", followed by a colon and the URL or domain name of the searched web site. For example, type "site:www.yourwebsite.com", minus the quotes, and then hit the "Enter" key on the keyboard.

If any of the searched web site's pages are displayed on the SERP, then the web site has been successfully recorded and indexed by that search engine.

If, for some reason, the web site is not listed after 2-4 weeks, it should be re-submitted using the "Add URL" pages.

What is Next?

Once the web site's keywords have been selected, the competition analyzed, the selected keywords integrated using all possible on-site techniques, and the site successfully submitted to search engines, it is time to think about other SEO strategies.

One may check the submitted web site's ranking for its selected keywords and go back to step #1 of SEO. There are several reasons that this process needs to be started all over again.

The competition does not rest, and new sites with similar content will fight to attain better ranking on the SERP. Thus, getting to and remaining on the first page of the SERP is an ongoing battle to prove to search engines that one has the most relevant content for a given set of keywords.

Also, although a search engine is still one of the best options for potential customers to find a particular web site, it is not the only option. For example, how does one reach a target audience for whom the Internet is nothing more than e-mail? What about people who do not really use search engines, keeping their internet browsing to specific sites only? We invite readers to visit our sections on Online Media Placement and E-mail Marketing in order to better understand how such Internet marketing techniques can help make Internet users aware of and visit a particular web site.

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