Do-It-Yourself SEO - A Beginner's Checklist
There have always been do-it-yourselfers succeeding at web promotion and search engine optimization. In fact, many of the established businesses offering web services today came from humble beginnings, perhaps nothing more than a college student with a laptop, an internet connection, and too much free time. The Web evolves as the result of the innovation and experimentation of individuals. The sharing of knowledge. The do-it-yourself attitude.
As text link brokers and mass link networking decrease in value and use in social media increases, it becomes more important for companies to have an internal approach and awareness of search engine marketing. Don't get me wrong; outsourcing to SEO firms is still a smart option. That said, making the most out of Web 2.0 usually requires some level of cooperation between SEO firm and site owner. You don't need to be an expert to know the basics of good SEO practices, and that added knowledge will be a great advantage whether you're working along side an SEO team, or promoting your own site in your spare time.
So if you're on a "need to know" basis with SEO, the following points should illustrate what an overall plan should include:
1. Create Search Engine-Friendly Content
Unique web content is your most valuable asset, and ensuring search engines can read it is crucial. Text embedded in images or Flash cannot be read, so make sure you use important keywords, headings, and hyperlinks in plain text form. Instead of using images as navigation links, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) makes it easy to format those links to look more like 'buttons', thus creating powerful anchor text as well as making it visually appealing. Use heading tags properly and don't try to hide keywords or text by making it the same color as the page background or shrinking it so it can't be seen. Make sure the keywords you wish to rank high for are used frequently in the page copy but within reason.
2. Choose Your Keywords Wisely
One of the first steps of SEO, this one needs to be done properly the first time or all your future efforts and promotion could end up being wasted. Start by writing down general terms that describe your products, services or web content. Use keyword research services to investigate word and phrase variations. Wordtracker, KeywordDiscovery, and the Google AdWords suggestion tool are good starting points. The goal is to find those niche phrases that your target market uses to find sites just like yours and optimize your site for them. If the phrases do not get enough use by searchers, your profits from ranking for them will be low. At the same time, stay away from general terms that are tougher to rank for (ie. like "art", "computers", "business", etc.) as a great portion of the traffic will be irrelevant and you'll break the bank attaining such competitive phrases.
3. Get Others to Link to Your Site
In theory there are countless ways, some traditional and some quite innovative, to get other web sites to link to yours. In practice, it can be easier said than done. Google defines a link as it pertains to rankings and SEO as a "vote" from one site to another. The more quality votes your site receives, the greater chance you have of rankings well. If a well established site links to yours, that link carries more weight than one would from a mom & pop shop or less reputable page.
If your site has useful content and is doing something unique, you're already ahead of much of the competition. People need a reason to link to your site, as very few will do it out of the goodness of their heart. Trading links can work, but link exchange networks have decreased in value and won't be of much use in competitive fields. Buying links, if you haven't heard, is a big Google no-no. While entire articles could be written on this topic, here are a few popular methods of acquiring incoming links:
- issuing company press releases with a link back to your site
- submitting to reputable business directories such as Yahoo! and Business.com
- be active on related blogs by commenting and exchanging ideas
- if you have clients with web sites, ask if they would mind adding your link in a "partners" section
- participate in relevant forums and discussion boards with a link in your signature
- write and submit original articles to web publications in your field with a link in your bio
- get involved in social media and bookmarking
4. Join the Social Media Revolution
The collaboration between Internet users and the development of online communities is at an all-time high. Social bookmarking sites such as Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, Furl, Reddit, and Technorati offer users a way to store their favorite pages and media online, and share it with others. These services also provide a way to promote your own content or create a buzz over a product or service. Creating a Myspace page or Squidoo "lens" is also a way to network and share information.
However, if your goal is to generate sales then you must offer something without the promotional hype. The reality of social media is that popularity is based almost entirely on public interest. If your information or media isn't unique or of interest to anyone, you cannot force success using social media communities.
The key to using social media and bookmarking sites to your advantage is to not be shy. Getting your entries and content to the popular pages on these sites requires some hard work. Network with other users, bookmark and share useful content, create eye-catching titles for your entries, and tell your friends and co-workers about the content you have on these sites. However, don't force your employees to vote your entries up - this is social media fraud. If you have great content and simply share it with as many people as you can, it will see success naturally.
These four points are a general guideline to follow for SEO. Search engine optimization experts and firms are a good outsourcing option in competitive markets, while the DIY attitude can yield great results for web site owners with smaller marketing budgets. If you're in the latter group, hopefully this helps get you started.
John Metzler has held executive positions in the search engine marketing industry since 2001. He is the Founder of FreshPromo, a Canadian-based SEO firm and updates his blog regularly.