Search Engine Optimization for your Web site

Tips and tricks people in the SEO game ought to know

Whether your Web site is brand new or ten years old, managing how it appears to search engines is crucial to its success. The typical Web site gets 61 percent of its traffic from organic (nonpaid) search engine results, and 41 percent of all traffic from Google alone. Ensuring that the company's site ranks highly in search results is, for most businesses, a make-or-break proposition, which is why search engine optimization (SEO) is now a multibillion-dollar industry.

No one knows exactly what combination of tactics will maximize a Web site's ranking in search results, but a lot of smart people have developed some good approximations based on history and empirical evidence. I asked three experts--Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, and Michael H. Fleischner, author of SEO Made Simple --about what tips and tricks they thought someone just starting out in the SEO game ought to know. The best and brightest of their recommendations follow.

Know What Keywords to Optimize

Search engine optimization is useless if you don't know what you're trying to optimize. For some businesses, picking appropriate keywords is straightforward: A candy merchant would probably choose candy, chocolate, and similar terms. But other business sites face more-difficult decisions. What terms should an online store that sells many different products emphasize? And how should a general-interest Web site that covers a wide range of topicsdetermine which search terms to focus on?

For starters, you should base your decisions about which terms relevant to your business to optimize on which terms people are searching for most often. One way to gauge search term popularity is to use an online keyword tool designed to see measure what general terms are searched for the most. Both the Google Keyword Tool and the SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool can help you get a quick, accurate sense of the search volume for any term of your choice, and they will recommend related terms that you might not have thought of.

Ultimately it's a numbers game: You need to optimize for terms that drive the highest traffic and are the most relevant to what your Web site offers. Optimizing your site for terms that no one ever types into a search engine won't generate any traffic for the site, no matter how conscientiously you pursue the optimization. So before you do anything else, carefully select a handful of relevant high-interest terms for optimizing.

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Christopher Null

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