How to optimize your site for the search engines

Before we jump into the nitty-gritty details of search engine optimization, it is helpful to have a general idea of what it is that we do and why.  There are many useful techniques that we will discuss about How to optimize your site for the search engines, but having a general idea of the process as a whole will help to make sense of those techniques, as well as put them in their proper context.

What is interesting about the SEO process as a whole, is that it really isn’t that complicated.  When it comes down to it, there are five basic steps that you will need to take in order to properly optimize your site for the search engines.  The success of your optimization campaign will largely rest on how well you execute these five steps.  What that means, though, is that if you do learn how to implement all of these steps well (or hire someone who does) then you will most likely have a significant advantage over your competition (who may not be optimizing their site at all, or at least not properly).
Here, then, are the five steps to properly optimizing your site for the search engines:
  1. Create a search engine friendly web site
  2. Develop a well-organized list of popular, targeted keywords
  3. Optimize your web pages for those keywords
  4. Attract and/or obtain large numbers of relevant, high-quality links to those optimized web pages.
  5. Analyze and improve upon the results of your optimization campaign.
In later tutorials we will discuss each of these steps in and of themselves. For now, though, let’s get a general understanding of each of these steps and why they are important.
Create a search engine friendly web site
The search engines have programs (popularly known as "spiders") which “surf” the internet, downloading websites and processing the information contained within (popularly known as crawling the internet).  What is crucial to understand is that if these computer programs have trouble downloading or processing your web pages then those pages may never be included in any search ever done on the internet. Only pages which the search engines can process can have a ranking.  All other pages are effectively invisible as far as the search engines are concerned. Therefore, your first task of order when optimizing your website for the search engines is to make sure that you create a search engine friendly website.  Otherwise, all of your other optimization efforts may be effectively worthless.
Develop a well-organized list of popular, targeted keywords
One of the unique aspects of internet marketing is that your customers are already actively looking for your products or services online. Your job is simply to place yourself in their path. You do this by discovering the terms and phrases which your customers use when searching for your products and services on sites such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN and then optimizing your site for those terms. However, given that your competitors are also looking to optimize their websites for these very same keyword phrases it is important organize your keyword list according to their level of competition.  You then start optimizing your site for those keywords which have less competition.  Later on you can optimize your site for the more competitive phrases. 
Optimize your web pages for your keywords
In order to optimize your website for your keywords you need to create unique web-pages, each of which are tightly focused on 1-2 keywords.  Your title, header, meta, and alt tags should all include your main keyword phrases in them (don’t worry if you don’t understand all of these terms, they will all be explained in the relevant tutorials). You should also pepper the content of your web pages with those same keyword phrases.  These pages are the ones that you want to rank well.  Of course, you also want these pages to speak to your customers, so they must be written in a way which appeals both to the search engines and your visitors.
Attract and/or obtain large numbers of relevant, high-quality links to your optimized web pages
Links are the backbone of high rankings.  In order to rank well for your keywords you need to attract and/or obtain links from authoritative and/or popular websites which relate to your product or services and which link directly to your optimized web page.  What’s more, whenever possible you want the link text to contain the keyword phrase which you optimized your web page for (the link text, also known as anchor text, is the hyperlinked text which is oftentimes blue and underlined, such as click here to read this tutorial).  The search engines (Google in particular) love these kind of links as it says to them that your site is important (because important sites link to it) and that your web page is a main source for that particular keyword phrase (which is why people have the phrase in the link text of their links). Your overall link building strategy, therefore, is for each page on your site to obtain and/or attract enough of these high-quality incoming links so that it can dominate the search engines for the keyword that it is optimized for.
Analyze and improve upon the results of your optimization campaign
Once you have setup your search optimization campaign it is crucial to analyze the results of that campaign.  You want to note those areas wherein you were successful so that you can build upon that success.  Similarly, you want to note those areas where you were not successful so you can avoid or correct faulty strategies or practices.  The goal is to find those techniques which work for your particular products or services.  This is only possible by constantly analyzing and fine-tuning your optimization campaign so that you can better utilize your time, money, and effort.
A final note, this process takes time.  For some keywords you may have to wait as much as a year to see significant results.  For the majority of (semi) popular phrases you will have to wait at least 2 - 3 months and most likely at least 3 - 6 months.  In other words, search engine optimization is a slow process.  The benefit, of course, is that if you successfully optimize your site you can draw large numbers of targeted customers to your web site for relatively little money.  Of course, many businesses need a more immediate flow of traffic.  For them, pay-per-click advertising (aka paid search) is the way to go.  Paid search offers the benefit of driving targeted traffic to your site within a matter of minutes (for Google AdWords) or days (for Yahoo Search).  On the other hand, paid search cost money.  Often times it is worth running both a pay-per-click ad campaign as well as a search engine optimization campaign.  If you interested in learning more about paid search and how it can help your online business, then check out our pay-per-click tutorials.  Otherwise, continue on with our Search Engine Optimization Tutorials as we start to discuss the actual practices which make up a successful search engine optimization campaign.

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