As a business owner you know that you want lots and lots of people to visit your site. More visitors in turn, results in more sales of your product or service. However, if you’re selling widgets, and 9 out of 10 visitors to your site are looking for grommets, you’re not going to sell much of anything.

Hmmmm. If only there was some way to get more widget-surfers on to your web site, sales would be better!

Well, that some way, is Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. SEO is a process by which websites are created not just to attract more traffic, but to attract highly targeted visitors to your website. According to our scenario, this means getting more widget-surfers to visit your site (although you might still want some grommet-surfers to visit because eventually they might need a widget).

Effective SEO is a sophisticated process consisting of many components and many nuances in respect to how it is organized. The purpose of this e-newsletter is to provide a basic framework of how SEO works.

When doing a search on any of the major search engines, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, the web sites that display are a result of what that search engine determined was ‘most relevant’ to your keyword search. These are the results that display in the organic or natural results listing, not to be confused with the paid or sponsored listings at the top and right of those results (click on image below to see example). But how does a search engine determine if you are more relevant than the other millions of web sites that could possibly display for that particular keyword?

Natural or organic SEO results is based on how well you have optimized your web content to have search engines recognize your site as being relevant to specific keywords. Note, there is no payment to search engine companies.

How you rank isn’t based on using fairy dust or a dart board, or even an expectation to be “found” for that particular keyword once your site has been published. Search engines use search spiders to crawl through your web site looking for content that best matches a user’s search query, and frankly, they don’t care how nice your images look. Images, to a spider, is like hitting a blank wall. If you want to be found for “widget experts”, that phrase must be utilized in various forms throughout your site.

Optimizing your web site involves a number of steps and processes as outlined in the flowchart below. All these components contribute to SEO to varying degrees and it boils down to finding the right balance between them.

Web Site Objectives
The first step in an SEO campaign is to determine the goals and objectives of your web site. In other words, the client should be able to articulate before embarking on an SEO campaign the one action they would like their users to take while on the site. Do you want them to download a brochure, purchase a product, or complete an on-line form? You should also have a very clear idea of your target audience. There is no point optimizing for all of Canada if you only sell to Manitoba customers. Once these objectives are determined, site structure and navigation can be established to match your goals/objectives and call-to-action.

First, think about which keywords and phrases your potential customers will use in their search query to find your web site. Then, research your competition. It helps to understand how many other sites have already optimized their site using the same keyword(s). The broader the keyword (one or two words), the more competition there will be for it and the lower your ranking may be on the results page. Using long-tail keywords (three or more words) can reduce the number of wrong visitors to your site and bring about more ‘qualified’ visitors. It may, however, be too narrow a keyword leading to fewer searches. The objective is to find mid-range keywords to minimize the competition but still provide ample searches.

On-site Optimization
Once the keywords are determined, it’s time for on-site optimization; that is, incorporating the keywords into the web site. It is important to optimize each page of a web site since search engines rank individual pages of web sites, not just the home page! This means putting keywords into the content of each page, as well as, into specific coding areas that are not normally viewed by users, but are read by the search spiders and contribute to SEO and your overall ranking. These include meta title tags, meta description tags, image names, internal linking strategy, page names, and other coded components of the website.

Link Building
Link building is done by establishing relevant, inbound links to your website. But not just any link, it’s best to have an inbound link that has a page ranking of 7/10 or higher, kind of like rubbing shoulders with the ‘more important’ websites, and thereby gaining a bit more respect by association. Based on the number of inbound links and the quality (page rank) of those links, search engines can analyze the popularity of a website and thereby rank it accordingly. Large numbers of bogus or spam-type links can, however, lower the ranking of a web site. Our SEO Process Flowchart lists a number of options for link building.

Other Contributing Factors
Another important factor to consider is the length of time a web site has been available on the Internet. The longer a web site has been on the Internet, the more trustworthy it appears to search engines and can contribute to a better ranking.

Search engines operate by mathematical algorithms and therefore, have certain guidelines as to how SEO should be developed. Abiding by these rules refers to white hat SEO, i.e. playing by the rules. Black hat SEO refers to any approaches that are designed to manipulate the search results by trying to trick the search engines.
Let it be noted, however, that black hat SEO techniques may only produce short-term gains. Search engines can often detect black hat SEO and will penalize that web site by lowering its ranking or completely removing it from any ranking.

By no means, should SEO be considered a do-it-yourself effort. Your website company will know what strategies to employ to get you the best results, including other tricks not mentioned above. If you don’t know what an xml sitemap is, how to create one, and what to do with it after you’ve got one, then your SEO campaign is based left with an expert!

After you complete your SEO, it’s important to measure the results and then tweak the process until you see the results you’re looking for. This process does take time and it does require regular maintenance and updating. In the long-term, however, it benefits you by driving more interested users to your web site.