1 Search Engine Optimization Search An Introductory Guide How to improve the effectiveness of your web site through better search engine results.
2 As you ve probably learned, having a Web site is almost a must these days, especially for small companies and individuals who want to attract more customers, remain competitive, and continue growing. That s because the Internet with over 200 million visitors each year has joined traditional marketing as a great tool for promoting your business. But how do you make it easy for those visitors to find your site? One of the best ways is called search engine optimization, or SEO. Search engine optimization sounds complicated. But once you understand a few basic principles, it s easy. And it s free. So let s get started!
3 Table of Contents The Benefits of Search Engine Optimization for Your Business...2 Search Engine Marketing and the Internet...2 How to Optimize Your Site for Better Search Engine Placement...6 Identifying Keywords and Content...6 What Site Content is All About...7 What Does An Optimized Site Look Like?...11 Taking Advantage of the Link Universe...12 What About Social and SEO?...13 What are Blended Search Results?...14 How Do You Measure Success?...15 Glossary of Terms...16
4 The Benefits of Search Engine Optimization for Your Business Optimizing your Web site will take a little time and thought. But it also has the potential for delivering an excellent return on your investment, including: More traffic to your site through improved visibility and ranking Free exposure for your business A better site experience for your customers and prospects Search Engine Marketing and the Internet To understand why SEO is so useful, it s important to understand how Internet marketing and search engines work. If the Internet truly is the Information Superhighway, imagine the millions of sites on the World Wide Web as exits on that highway. Search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN help visitors find those sites quickly and easily. And they do this in three main ways: Organic Search Results Natural Search Results This is what happens when a search engine finds a site naturally, according to its editorial importance that is, based on content, keywords, and page make-up the Web site owner can control. Our guide will concentrate on optimizing this for your company. And you ll see why on page 4. 2
5 Paid Inclusion Think of it as the pay-per-click of organic search. It is advertising program that ensures your site will appear in organic search results although there s no guarantee of ranking. You essentially pay whenever a visitor clicks on your site listing. This is typically used when sites have structural issues that keep search engines from finding them. Paid Search Results Paid Listing Also known as pay-per-click (PPC). Instead of leveraging content from your site, search engines let you buy keywords, specify ad copy, and determine where to send the traffic. Your site listing then appears in a specified sponsors-only area of the search results page. You pay when a visitor clicks on your listing. SEO helps your website to appear higher in these Organic Search Results (natural) Paid search Results 3
6 Why Natural Search Results Are Better At first, you might think that paid advertising would be more effective at directing visitors to your Web site. But look at the chart below and you ll see that natural searches made more effective through SEO account for over 60% of the nearly 6 billion search clicks that occurred on the Internet in March of 2006 alone. And that represented a 36% increase over the previous year (Source: Nielsen/NetRatings)! So the lesson here is that optimizing your site for free search engine placement is one of the best ways to drive traffic and promote your business. It s definitely time well spent. Popular Search Engines Searches Natural Search Clicks Paid Search Clicks All engines combined 5.9 billion 60.5% 39.5% Google 2.9 billion 72.3% 27.7% Yahoo! 1.3 billion 60.8% 39.2% MSN 644 million 50% 50% Others 1.06 million 28.8% 71.2% Others includes: AOL, My Way Search, Ask.com, etc. 4
7 What to Optimize The following table gives you a better idea of the page elements you can optimize to improve search engine results, enhance your site ranking, and increase click-throughs. Essentially, it comes down to creating better keywords and other content, plus making improvements to your site s architecture, as explained below. Site Content Title tags Keywords META description Body content: Headers Link text Link title attribute Hyperlink URL ALT tags Comment tags Elements You Can Control Site Architecture Site navigation URL structure Page structure Cross-linkage Elements You Can Influence Site Popularity Or how many click-throughs you get to your site from third-party site links Site Relevance For specific keywords, and the information your customers are looking for Site Reputation How long your site has been in existence, and how it is regarded within the universe of other sites related to your business You may not be familiar with some of these terms. And this guide won t cover every aspect of search engine optimization. But it will certainly show you the most important things you can do to get better results. 5
8 How to Optimize Your Site for Better Search Engine Placement Think of it as a three-step process but one that really doesn t, or shouldn t, have an end. That s because to keep your Web traffic flowing, and keep your site relevant, you ll want to periodically fine tune it and measure your progress. Now let s take a closer look at how you put each step of the process into action. Track Results Identify Keywords and Content Make Changes to Site Identify keywords and content Start the search engine optimization process by identifying keywords and phrases you feel would attract your target customers ones your competitors often seem to use, or those which common sense tells you would increase traffic to your site. These should be words your customers would typically think of when referring to your business or products. Because the content of your site is what tells the world about you and your business, here is where some careful thought really pays off. 6
9 To use QuickBooks as an example, research showed that the words ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE scored very high among our target audience. So as you ll see in the coming examples, we chose that term as our primary keyword for our Home Page. Still, there s no exact science to choosing the right keywords. It s whatever seems to work in your particular business and market. That s why, as the illustration on page 6 shows, you should view it as an ongoing process. What Site Content is All About Now that we know how to think about site content, let s look at some specific page elements that make up that content: Title Tags Each page of your site has a title tag associated with it. When a visitor hits on your site these appear on the colored bar at the top of their Web browser. They re also one of the key elements search engines looks for. So be sure to include important keywords related to your business and the content of that particular page in these title tags. Also, as the QuickBooks example shows, try to place your chosen keywords at the beginning of your title tag, while eliminating unnecessary words, as we did by replacing QUICKBOOKS HOME with the new title tag starting with ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE... Title Tag Title Tag 7
10 META Description What s a META description? It s the summary usually displayed beneath your site listing when it appears on the search engine results page (SERP). It not only tells the visitor what that page is about, it s also a place the search engine looks for keywords. So make your META description as concise and meaningful as possible. Body Content Body content includes all the META Description text, headers, links, etc. (see table on Page 5) designed into the visible page itself. To optimize search engine results these should incorporate many of your keywords. But when it comes to body content, where and how that content is positioned is just as important. Imagine a newspaper lay-out, with the information of the widest interest reserved for the top of the page, and important facts formatted in big bold headlines. You should lay out your page with those same principles in mind. And make sure you use keywords frequently, because search engines also favor repetition. 8
11 Which pages to optimize? Generally, search engines confine their activity to the first few pages or layers of a Web site, especially for small businesses whose sites are typically limited to just a few pages. So your best approach here is to focus your search engine optimization on the first two layers of your site. Then make sure the text links and navigation on these pages make it easy for visitors (and search engines) to get around and find the information they need. Optimizing Your Site s Architecture When we say architecture we re referring mainly to the way your URL (commonly known as a Web site address ) is structured, plus how search engines navigate your site to find the right information. URLs First, let s talk about URLs, or uniform resource locators. The basic rule is that long is bad and short is good. Plus, search engines generally don t like URLs containing lots of parameters, which result from dynamic Web pages that build URLs on the fly based on visitor behavior. Look at these examples: Pre SEO URL ycode= &categoryid=cat &lid=s ite_sub_header Post SEO URL small_business_financial_software.jhtml 9
12 Clearly, the optimized URL is much shorter and contains more relevant keywords that help the search engine locate the right page. So it s best to keep your page names brief and meaningful, and to balance the benefits of dynamic page-building with those of SEO. Navigation The important thing to remember here is that while multimedia including color photos, Flash, clips and animation attracts the visitor s eye, search engines cannot see them. For this reason you should not place important SEO text in these visual elements. Text links and navigation buttons are much more SEO-friendly, as the diagram shows. So when designing your site, try to strike a good balance between these and the bells and whistles. Most Search Engine Friendly Text Links Navigation Buttons Image Maps Menus Animation and Photos Least Search Engine Friendly 10
13 What Does an Optimized Site Look Like? SEO is now part of our site building process, but here are some before and after shots from 2006 when we were just starting in SEO. After determining that ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE was an effective keyword in the minds of our customers, we incorporated it into both the title tag and META description of our Home Page. But you ll also notice we changed some of the wording in the body content too. What was the outcome? For the keyword ACCOUNTING SOFTWARE our page moved from a #28 ranking which placed us on the third page of the search engine results to a #1 ranking, putting us on the very first page. Pre-SEO Homepage Post-SEO Homepage 11
14 Taking Advantage of the Link Universe Another indirect but effective way to increase Web traffic is by leveraging the link universe. Essentially, that means understanding how complimentary businesses can link to each other, then asking those with favorable search engine rankings to include a link to your site on their site. Thus, you can take advantage of their popularity, relevance and reputation. For example, your page might rank 17th overall for your select keywords. But convincing a business that ranks 2nd for those same words to add a link to your site could mean a whole new avenue of business for you. But which sites should you consider? Here are some things to think about: Is the business relevant and complimentary to yours? Does it have high natural ranking for your chosen keywords? Open up a Web browser, enter your search terms and see who comes up. Does it have a good PageRank? Check your Web browser on how to display a PageRank indicator for the ones you re interested in. Or use one of the free SEO assessment tools shown on the next page. Does the business have a good, long-established Web presence? Once you ve made your determination, the next step is to contact the business you ve targeted, ask who s in charge of Web marketing, and make a proposal. Remember, including links to reputable businesses like yours is good for their business too. So always maintain your confidence and optimism, because it promises to be a good situation for both of you. 12
15 What About Social and SEO? Social technologies are tools that help connect people and form communities online. Examples are Facebook, Twitter, blogs and video sharing sites like YouTube. While these sites are great for connecting people, they can also be a great way to promote your Web site s content and improve your SEO campaign. There are two big ways in which these tools can help you drive more traffic to your site. They are: 1. Creating content Blogs, for example, are a great way to easily add content to your site. They also give you an opportunity to showcase your expertise. You can then use your online communities to interact with others and to spread the word about your great blog. 2. Promoting Content Social technologies allow you to connect with other people; this in turn helps you promote yourself and your site by sharing your knowledge. Establishing yourself as an authority on a subject can be very useful for building links to your site. Always, remember you re connecting with people and contributing to a community. Add to the community, answer questions and build a network just like you would in person. Over time you ll learn the social norms of the communities and when it is appropriate to promote yourself or your web site. 13
16 What are Blended Search Results? Google, MSN and Yahoo now incorporate more than just web pages into their search results. It s not unusual to see videos, blogs, images or news items blended into the search results. This is often referred to as universal search results or blended search results. As you re thinking about creating content for your web site consider content beyond just text on a web page. Think about videos, blogs or other types of content that will be valuable for your visitors and could potentially appear in blended search results. To help illustrate blended search results from Google for a search about Tiger Woods. In addition to the usual web pages you also see Videos News Blogs Books 14
17 How Do You Measure Success? Let s say you ve used all the great ideas in this guide picked your keywords and content, and implemented the changes. Now you want to know whether SEO is working or not. Actually, there are several ways to find out. Use Free SEO Assessment Tools One way is to make use of free Web-based SEO assessment tools, like SEOmoz (www.seomoz.org/tools) and SEO Company (www.seocompany.ca/tool/free-seo-tools.html). These sites will help you determine things like page ranking, link popularity, and much more. Be sure to check them often and see if you can spot an upward trend. Conduct Your Own Search Another way is to log on to a search engine and actually enter your chosen keywords. Is your site moving up in the listings? Where does it stand versus your competitors? Are your keywords, tags and other changes still working in the marketplace? 15
18 Look at Your Business Finally, take a closer look at how your business is doing. What happened immediately after you made your SEO changes? Are you getting more hits to your site according to your page hit counter? Did you start getting more phone or Web inquiries? Have your customers/prospects mentioned visiting your Web site? Has your business volume or revenue increased from more Web traffic? How are your link-building efforts coming along? Use a combination of these methods consistently, and over time you ll develop a good understanding of how your SEO efforts are paying off. Plus, remember to review your keywords, META descriptions and everything else periodically to make sure they re all working as well as they should. Glossary of Terms Body Content Headers HTML Image Map Keywords Links /Link Universe Menus META Description The headers, links and text that make up the visible portion of the Web page itself. Typically, the larger and bolder type visible within your site that both precedes and relates to the text beneath. Hypertext Mark-Up Language. The software coding that goes into building a Web site. The HTML coding beneath a Web image which, when activated, takes the visitor to the appropriate content related to that image. Words you select because they effectively define your business, or the content of a particular Web page on your site. Also known as hyperlinks, these are Web elements which, when clicked, take you to another part of the page, a new page, or other sites on the Internet. A sequential list of hyperlinks and pulldowns on your site directing visitors to the subject matter they re interested in. The text summary that appears beneath the bold listing when your site appears on the search engine results page (SERP). 16
19 Natural Search Results Navigation Buttons Page Ranking Paid Inclusion (PI) Paid Listing Search Engine Search Engine Optimization Search Engine Results Page (SERP) Site Architecture Site Navigation Text Links Title Tag URL What happens when a search engine finds a page organically or naturally, according to its editorial importance that is, based on terms, keywords, and page make-up the Web site owner can control. A design element which, when clicked, takes the visitor to other areas and pages of your site. Where a particular page falls within the hierarchy of search engine results based on specific keywords. SEO seeks to increase this ranking. Also known as pay-per-impression. An advertising program that ensures your site will appear in search engine results although there s typically no guarantee of ranking. A Web marketing program that lets you buy specific keywords and search terms. Your site listing then appears in a specified sponsors-only area near the search results for those terms. And you pay when a visitor clicks through to your site. Also known as pay-per-click (PPC). A Web-based program Google and Yahoo!, for example that locates Web pages based on keywords entered by the user. The process of making changes to your site title tags, META descriptions, content and architecture to improve its popularity, ranking, and relevance with search engines. The Web page that displays the site listings for the keywords you have entered. In the context of this guide, the URL and navigation properties of your Web site. In the context of this guide, the way a search engine maneuvers its way around your site to find the information it needs. Text elements which, when clicked, take the visitor to other parts of the site, or to other sites altogether. The page title that appears in the colored bar at the top of your Web browser, and which identifies the page you re viewing. A key element search engines look at. Uniform Resource Locator. Commonly know as the Web site address 17
20 Search Engine Optimization Search An Introductory Guide How to improve the effectiveness of your web site through better search engine results Intuit Inc. All rights reserved. Intuit, Quickbooks, the QuickBooks logo, among others, are registered trademarks of Intuit Inc. in the Unites States and other countries. Other parties trademarks or service marks are the property of their respective owners and should be treated as such.