SEO: Tips to Improve Ranking and Traffic

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Search Engine Optimization
SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and has been an on and off topic of dialog since the dawn of search engines. More recently, free blogging sites such as Blogger and Word Press have brought website management directly into the hands of people delivering content without any prerequisite knowledge of HTML. While these blogging sites offer easy-to-use and robust services, they often leave something to be desired in terms of SEO, once again bringing the topic to the foreground of discussion.

Experts agree that your title tags should be central to your SEO efforts. When it comes to indexing content, search engines treat the words in these tags–the text that appears in the title bar in your browser–as the most important single element on a Web page. For that reason, you should load it with your keywords, and make every title tag on your site unique.

Search engine optimization is useless if you don’t know what you’re trying to optimize. For some businesses, picking appropriate keywords is straightforward: A candy merchant would probably choose candy, chocolate, and similar terms. But other business sites face more-difficult decisions. What terms should an online store that sells many different products emphasize? And how should a general-interest Web site that covers a wide range of topics determine which search terms to focus on?

Often, a business doesn’t describe its products using the same keywords that its clients use. You may be promoting “portable media players,” for instance, but your potential customers call them “MP3 players.” That’s why it’s important to talk to employees, partners, current and potential clients, and your sales staff to determine which words are most frequently used when people seek out your company and its products or services. Use those phrases to develop an initial list of SEO keyword candidates.

Several keyword-research tools are available to help you choose the best terms for SEO. The free Google AdWords Keyword Tool helps you gauge how frequently keywords are searched in the United States (and globally), and how competitive a keyword is. The tool is designed to help marketers choose keywords for Google PPC ads, but it’s useful for organic keyword research, too. You’ll also get lots of keyword variations that you might not have thought of.

One of the most difficult SEO problems to remedy is the issue of duplicate content–the tendency of others on the Web to steal your work and republish it as their own. All search engines are terrible at recognizing which version of a page is the original one, and you may very well be penalized as a duplicate page if an engine fails to recognize who was copying who. The penalty is severe, too: Duplicate sites won’t show up in search results unless the searcher clicks the search engine’s link for “repeat the search with the omitted results included,” which no one ever does.

If you drop a word cloud (or tag cloud) on your home page,  internal linking to your content “takes care of itself.” Linking from one page to another within your Web site–no matter how you achieve it–helps improve your site’s search result ranking.

If you want to rise up in the rankings for a certain keyword or phrase, you need to encourage others to use those keywords in the anchor text for the link to your site, instead of just using the name of your site. To make this easy, you can provide the actual HTML code you’d like the linking site to use: Many linkers will simply copy and paste it on their Web site rather than taking the trouble to customize it themselves.

Search engine “bots” primarily index text and follow links. Though they are getting more sophisticated, bots can’t easily index nontext content, such as Flash animations. JavaScript content, such as site menus rendered in Ajax, can stop a search engine bot in its tracks. The bottom line: If your Website contains lots of Flash, Ajax, and other nontext material, you’re making it difficult for the search engines to index your pages. And if search engines can’t index that content, searchers won’t be able to find it when they perform queries. If you’re planning a new site, make sure its design is friendly to search engines from the beginning.

Yes, SEO requires time, patience, and perseverance. But the potential rewards can be considerable. And it’s a safe bet that your competitors are doing it.

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