SEO Sage: Optimization Can Be Cheap but Never Easy

Search engine optimization is the least expensive method of getting visitors to a website, Ralph Wilson, founder and editor-in-chief of Web Marketing Today, told the audience at the SES Conference and Expo in San Francisco Tuesday.

In a presentation on SEO basics, Wilson outlined tips on how to get the most out of SEO.

He also mentioned several mistakes commonly made in website design, even by professionals.

Nailing That Old Keyword Down

First, website owners must conduct keyword research, Wilson said. They must not only look for the main keywords people would search on to find their product or service, but also synonyms, plurals and misspellings.

It’s best to use keywords the person in the street would use, rather than the technically correct terms.

“I was doing some consulting for a software firm and it used the industry term on its website, it didn’t use the term people commonly used,” Wilson remarked. “They wondered why people weren’t finding them.”

Next, website owners must analyze keywords and phrases, identifying the main competitive keywords, then finding less competitive two- to four-word keyphrases.

“People who are ready to buy use more keywords in their search,” Wilson explained.

For SEO, website owners can start with four to five keywords.

Also, go for a niche description rather than a general one, Wilson advised.

“Competition for keywords gets very expensive,” Wilson pointed out. “It’s very expensive to optimize for common keywords like ‘insurance,’ so don’t go head to head with the big companies; choose your niche.”

Free tools for keyword analysis include Google AdWords Keyword Tool and Google Insights for Search.

Use keywords in the first and last paragraphs on a Web page, and hyperlink the important keywords, Wilson said.

First Say to Yourself What You Would Be

Websites identify themselves to search engines by their titles, Wilson told his audience. The title of a website is entered into the title tag in HTML.

However, businesses should not use their company names as their titles.

“People don’t want to search for your company name, they want to find what they’re looking for,” Wilson pointed out. “Make the title descriptive, provocative, use the important keywords that are on the page in your title. This one thing will change your keyword rankings.”

Website owners should also make sure their site designers know how to use the heading tags.

“The H1, H2, H3, H4 heading tags are the clues in headings and subheads, and search engines often look for these,” Wilson explained. “Your website designer may well have used the class such as ‘big type’ rather than the H1 heading tag. Make sure the designer uses the heading tag and then defines that in the style sheet.”

Common SEO Mistakes

One of the mistakes even professionals make is to have a splash page on a website, Wilson said. The splash page is the initial page before the home page, and is often written in Adobe Flash, with dancing logos and branding copy, he added.

“Having a Flash page is not too smart,” Wilson remarked. “Get to the meat.”

Flash and JavaScript, which is also commonly used on Web pages, make things difficult for Google searches, Wilson said.

“Google can’t read JavaScript or Flash for search purposes, so it won’t be able to find other pages on your website,” Wilson explained. “Make sure that all your sectional pages have an HTML link from your home page and all the pages in a section have hard HTML links to the first pages in those sections.”

Long URLs, which many content management systems use, are another no-no for websites, Wilson suggested. They make a website too complicated, and sometimes Google will not index a whole site, he warned. Most modern content management systems use search engine-friendly tags, Wilson said.

Leveraging Your Links

The ranking of a website or Web page on Google depends strongly on the number of links pointing back to it, Wilson said.

Some of the ways to get links pointing to your website are to provide great content, get listed in directories and request reciprocal links.

“Yahoo Directory is the best directory, and it costs (US)$299 a year to get listed there,” Wilson said. “Currently, Yahoo is in alliance with Bing, and what will happen to the Yahoo Directory a year from now remains to be seen.”

Another option is for website owners to submit their links to the Open Directory Project. Links are vetted by human editors, so it takes a long time to get listed, Wilson said.

“If you don’t get listed immediately, don’t submit a link or you’ll go to the end of the line,” Wilson warned.

Some Pitfalls of Linking

Website owners should avoid link farms, which “have links to everybody in the world,” Wilson pointed out.

“Don’t even go there because Google will think you’re trying to trick it, and it’s been known to penalize companies that have tricky linking schemes used to defraud it,” Wilson said.

Another no-no is to purchase text links to your site.

“If Google finds you’ve done this, it could penalize you and hurt you big time,” Wilson warned.

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