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The Seven Basics of Search-Engine Optimization

Cost-effective steps to optimize your search-engine rankings.

What do you need to do to show up in website search engines? Search engine optimization (SEO) is both a complex and simple issue. It’s complex because search engines often change the criteria that will ensure your site gets a high listing in the results. It can also be simple if you pay attention to a few fundamentals about keywords and search engines. Search engines are way past the old tricks of 1999. 

While the subject is truly large and complex, there are seven key elements that can be addressed, which will hopefully provide clarity, cost-effective steps to optimize your search-engine rankings (organically and inorganically), and a new way of thinking about websites that needs to be observed before embarking on any website redevelopment. Okay, on to the seven basics of SEO. 

Basics one through three
One, focus your home page on your target audience and its needs: Websites can no longer be static pages of your company’s information. The world is about change, news, dynamic content, and interaction that keeps visitors engaged—and coming back for more. Clearly state your solutions to their problem. 

What does this mean to you? You need to get a news feed, a widget, Wikis, forums, a blog and/or an RSS feed. These are all available at little or no cost. Embed the code, and make sure the feed, Widgets, and blog contain content that relates directly to your back office, your production, your clients, and your market niche. In other words, don’t add an RSS feed about Mars explorations. Set aside some time every day to review and refresh if necessary.

Two, add basic keywords:
Make sure your meta-tags are right. Use a separate meta-tag title for each page that accurately reflects what’s on the page. The description and keywords should also be very relevant. Don’t use the tricks of yesteryear—putting in big-name company brands, hot issues, repeating the word “signs,” etc. Know what keywords are used to find companies like yours.

Where to put keywords on your website is equally important. The four most important areas to place keywords are: the title tag; description meta tag (include a sentence here that contains both the keywords and a phrase, such as your value proposition); keywords meta tag (include a few keywords like your business name and address); and body copy (include main keywords in the first few paragraphs).

Three, it’s all about giving value: Would you pick up the same newspaper every day, year after year? Wouldn’t you get tired of reading old news? Would you visit the same retail shop, every week, if the contents never changed? And, if you were buying a recipe book, for example, and you had 15 to choose from, would you buy the book that used exotic terms and never explained them? Or, would you choose a book that broke it down and gave you useable information in terms that you could understand? Think of your website the same way. Give fresh, meaningful information—actual pithy content. No lingo, and no tomes. Place a separate subject on each page, and use images as examples to illustrate a point. Demonstrate your expertise in some compelling way with the likes of testimonials, key clients, case studies, white papers, and the backgrounds of top management.

Other tips:
• Use bold, exciting titles; not: “Here is a vehicle wrap.”
• Have a page that answers this title question: “How To Make A Dollar Go Farther” and give a series of high-impact statistics about vehicle advertising, cost of impression, and how fast this mobile ad could be up and about town.
• Throw in a client case study with pictures, and then title your page correctly, add keywords related to “advertising dollar,” and submit to search engines.

Basics four through seven
Four, are you credible?: Joe Printmaker saying, “We are the best,” doesn’t have much impact, but a website that links to some worthy affliations/clients (print associations, chamber memberships, etc.) says, “Judge us by the companies we keep....” Note: The links should allow visitors to view the affliation, but not leave your site.

Five, thinking about a shopping cart? Look for a well-tested cart that can provide a recommended “merchant gateway.” The cart and gateway must be compatible with each other. Many good carts are available for around $400. A popular one is ShopSite. You will need to add a payment gateway to process payments in real time, and that will be another fee and some paperwork. Expect about $26 per month for basic charges for the payment service (one of the largest is authorize.net). With this, and an annual “security check-up” as required by Visa and MasterCard, you are ready to sell online.

Six, submit your site:
The next step is to get listed in the top search engines, including Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, Lycos, and LookSmart. Some search engines impose a fee to be listed. The key is to pay close attention to each engine’s submission processes and the information that’s required.

Seven, market your site and track results:
Promote your site, but moreover: Get all of your prospects and clients to visit your site. Guide every visitor to take at least one step toward learning more about your company and wanting to contact you. Some ways to do this include: white papers in PDF form; offer a free consultation; make a specific offer and say it’s available on your website. Why? So you can build your e-mail marketing list. Then, be sure you track visitors in and out of pages, missing links, and all the valuable information that comes with your site’s statistics page.

The road to payoffs

You need to allow about 90 days for all your efforts to pay off. One way to accelerate this is by signing up for Google’s AdSense, allowing Google Ads to appear on your site. The catch? Visitors who click on these ads will be directed away from your site. Second hitch? Some ads may be from your competition, as you may not know which domains to block when setting up Google Ads.

Yes, all of this requires time each day to monitor, to build, to market, and to refresh content. Over time, however, the payoffs will be great.

TERESA M. YOUNG is president and CEO of Sign Biz Inc., which helps in developing entrepreneurs in digital signage and graphics. The Sign Biz Network has become the largest chain of non-franchise digital sign and graphics businesses worldwide, totaling more than 170 businesses throughout the US, Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Philippines, and Mongolia. Young’s blog can be found at schoolofsignarts.com.

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