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Search Engine Optimization

(cont'd)

Step 1: Keyword Analysis. Ah, keywords. If you say the right word enough times on your site, you'll get that coveted #1 spot, right? Wrong. Choosing the right keywords starts with you making a list of the keywords or phrases under which you'd like to be found, and typically ends up somewhere completely different. Typically, selecting the best keywords is a four-step process:

  1. List the keywords and phrases under which you'd like to be found.

  2. Find out whether anyone searches on those keywords, and whether they're searching for relevant items.

  3. Find out how many other sites are struggling for rankings under those keywords.

  4. Pick keywords with the same meaning but a better search-to-competition ratio.

Maybe I want to rank #1 under 'Search Engine Optimization'. Guess what? There are 686,000 other URLs in Google trying for that spot. Hmmm. But wait! Under 'Seattle Search Engine Optimization' there are only 19,000. So, I targeted that key phrase, instead. And guess what? We got a #3 ranking.

Don't forget about relevance, either. If you want a high ranking under 'tires', you're going to have your work cut out for you. And in the end you'll likely end up getting found for 'bicycle tires', 'automobile tires', 'spare tires' and who knows what else. Is it worth it? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But you have to do your homework to find out.

Data Mining and Keywords
If you're doing a campaign for a large site, you may end up testing and comparing thousands of keywords and phrases. Having a good data-mining tool (even Excel will do) on hand is important when you're doing keyword analysis. We use S-Plus, by Insightful Software. It's saved our lives, and clicker fingers, several times.

There are several tools that help you research the number of searches and competitors for keywords. Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com) is a good one -- don't depend on their results from Overture, though, unless you're specifically preparing an Overture campaign. Metacrawler's MetaSpy tool is worth a look, too. Ideally, look at results from a few different sources.

Keyword analysis is the hardest part of a campaign, in number-crunching terms. It requires a lot of work and may not tell you what you want to hear. But in my experience it's critical to a successful campaign.

Step 2: Search Engine Readiness. Almost every web site we review has one or more problems that will prevent search engine bots from properly reading all content. Typical showstoppers include:

  • An all-Flash or all-images home page

  • A home page that automatically redirects to another page

  • Pop-up ads (does anyone really read these things?)

  • A site full of pages with fewer than 400 words on a page

  • Broken links

  • Navigation that is generated by JavaScript

  • No TITLE or DESCRIPTION tags

A major step in any SEO campaign is making sure that the site will present the friendliest profile to search engines. Happily, the investment in optimizing will also pay off in a faster, more universally compatible site.


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