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November 17, 2008

15 Tips on Improving Search Engine Visibility

By Mike Fruchter of MichaelFruchter.com (Twitter/FriendFeed)

I will first start by stating I am not an SEO expert.

Over the years, I have studied and tested various methods, guidelines and techniques for generating search engine traffic. Back in 1997, I took on paid clients and SEO became a full time career for a few years. AltaVista was the dominant leader in search in those days. Learning how to control and manipulate the engines to get front page search results became my main objective and an obsession. Today, things are a lot different, as there is basically one dominant leader in search, and the playing field is more level than it's ever been.

Most of these practices and techniques are still very much relevant today as they were then, so I thought I would touch upon a few of the key ones.

1) Start with your domain name.

You have heard it before a million times, register a .com domain name. The domain spelling should be as equivalent to someone typing that word in a search engine. It should be relatively short and easy to spell as well. Try to avoid hyphens and or any unnecessary or unusual character variations. Most search engines still to this day give a lot more weight to .com extensions, as opposed to other TLDs. Keeping the domain name easy to spell and avoiding hyphens is more for branding purposes, than SEO. Search visibility can still be achieved with a confusing, long character riddled domain that makes no sense at all, but will someone be able to find it, and most importantly remember it without the assistance of a search engine?

2) Establish quality inbound and outbound links.

Search engines, more specifically Google, ranks your site based on the amount of inbound links it has from other sites. Spend time and get authoritative sites linking back to you. Inbound links from these sites are worth their weight in gold. Links from an authoritative site also influence ranking. More weight is given to these inbound links because these sites are considered a trusted and or leading source as they are considered the most influential on a particular subject matter, e.g. Wikipedia.org

3) Understand PageRank.

Websites that Google believes are important and influential receive higher PageRank. A Higher PageRank can influence better search results and rankings. Authoritative sites, for example, usually have a high PageRank. PageRank is worth taking note of, but should not be your main focal point. You can check a site's PageRank by going here, or by installing the Google Toolbar.

4) Put relevant keywords on all of your Web addresses.

Make sure any content you publish on the web has the keywords of the subject or story headline formatted in the permalink/web URL. If your are writing a post, for example, about how FriendFeed was just acquired by Google, you would format the URL similar to this, http://www.yoursite.com/friendfeed/google-acquires-friendfeed.html, or http://www.yoursite.com/google-acquires-friendfeed.html. Notice the sub-directory in bold has the keyword of the story subject. Take advantage of whatever you can to give as much URL mention of the target keyword as possible.

5) Headlines and page titles should always contain the target keywords.

In combination with having the relevant keywords in your URL, the same emphasis, if not more, needs to be placed on placement of keywords in your headlines and page titles. If you do no optimization at all, at the very least always practice these three guidelines. It's also a good idea to put the relevant keywords of focus first in the headline and page title, and if possible somewhere in the start of your story content. Failure to practice these guidelines will leave your site buried pages deep in the search results, rendering it almost nonexistent, at least to the search engines.

6) Start a Blog.

Blogs are a major source and very relevant source of information for millions of people daily. Blogs are also influencing consumer's decisions to buy products. Think about the last time you searched for something on Google. There is a high probability that you found your information on, or were referred from a blog. Search engines, specifically Google love blogs for the rapid amount of fresh and timely content they produce. Setting up a blog is very easy, and if tweaked correctly can be a powerful tool for search engine traffic generation. Configure your permalink structure immediately after installing your blog. Spend five minutes tweaking the basic admin settings. I would also recommend installing and using plugins such as the "All in One SEO Pack" available for WordPress. Now you can focus on producing the quality content that will get your site linked to and noticed. Give and get as much "link love" as possible. Become an expert in your field and let your content reflect that. Use the power of RSS to convert that search engine click into a return visitor.

7) Use keywords as anchor text when linking.

Anchor text is weighted highly in search engine algorithms and subsequent search results. Anchor text gives the user and search engines descriptive information about the content of a hyperlinks destination. Use Anchor text keywords, especially as often as possible when linking to pages. Avoid using "click here" at all costs, this will do nothing to increase or improve visibility.

8) Install Web Analytics software.

Flying blind is foolish. You need to first measure, and understand your traffic patterns and behaviors before you can seek to improve it. Installing Google Analytics should be your starting point.

9) Utilize Sitemaps.

Sitemaps, are basically a list of all the pages pertaining to a particular site. This protocol allows you to notify Google about URLs on your website that are available for crawling and indexing, that may otherwise have not been discoverable by Google's normal crawling process. They also should help with getting your site crawled in a more timely fashion.

10) Use Google Webmaster Tools.

Google's Webmaster Tools, allows you to see your website the way Googlebot sees it. The tools provide data on finding out which sites link to yours, finding search queries that list your site as a result and finding which of your site's pages are indexed, and also showing you any errors Google encountered while crawling your site. Those are the core features, but there is more under the hood. The goal is to make your site as Google friendly as possible. The more data you are armed with and utilize, the better your chances are for higher visibility in search results.

11) Produce and publish quality content with some frequency.

Write quality content and publish on a regular basis. Sites that publish more frequently are seen as more reliable than sites that seldom do. This also helps for you to increase the amount of content on your site, which in turn yields more indexed pages, which then yields more visibility, increasing the quantity of search clicks to your pages.

12) Use Headline tags.

Headline tags (h1, h2, etc.) are a great place to use your targeted keywords, phrases and secondary keywords. Search engines recognize that headline tags are more important than the surrounding text, therefore they assign greater value to keywords found within them.

13) Don't forget about the other engines.

Google, the gorilla, produces the biggest quantity of search traffic for the majority, but don't forget about Yahoo & MSN. It's at least worth the effort to stay current on both of their publishing guidelines. Yahoo has a resource for web publishers, as does Microsoft to help you better optimize your pages for their engines.

14) Consistency is the name of the game.

Focus on what works and run with it. There is not one single magic bullet for achieving better search results. It's a combination of these practices and understanding what criteria the search engines look for when indexing your pages. Search is all about optimizing for the relevant keywords or phrase, master this practice and it will pay off. Don't expect results instantly. It takes time to build up your content, establish inbound links, tweak and re-tweak.

15) It gets better by using social media.

Guess what? If you are active in social media, you are probably already ahead of the game. Social networking profiles such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all get favorably indexed, and always rank on the top of the search results. This is especially great if your goal is for personal branding. Being active and maintaining consistency, should easily allow you to own your name in Google. Social media is probably the most invaluable tool you could use for traffic generation, if executed correctly. User generated content and the applications that power them such as, blogs, wikis,video, social networking sites, bookmarking, microblogging, etc are the leading mechanisms for search engine traffic, and will only increase as time goes on.

Image courtesy of Silent under Creative Commons license.

Read more by Mike Fruchter at MichaelFruchter.com.