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Optimize Your Search Engine Ranking
By Les Goss

Having the best-looking, best-written web site in your field won't do you a bit of good if no one ever sees it. Of course you're already putting your URL (web address) on your business cards, letterhead, brochures, advertisements, baseball caps, bumper stickers, billboards and blimps. What, no blimps? Well, maybe when your ad budget is a little bigger.

But seriously, how would you like to get more people to your web site without spending an extra penny? In spite of the recent trend of search engines making you pay to get in, there are still several excellent ones out there that will list you for free. Naturally, all your competitors are already listed there as well, so how can you get listed on page one, instead of page nine?

If you decide to use a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) engine such as Overture.com, (http://www.overture.com/) you have complete control over where you stand in the rankings. Pay one cent more per click than the current leader and you move to the number one spot. But while this method is infallible, it's definitely not free.

List Your Key Words

There are just a few simple steps you should take to help improve your ranking in traditional (non-PPC) search engines. The first one is to make a list of all the words and phrases a visitor might type into a search engine when looking for the goods and services you offer. Spend some time with this because all the other steps will use this list in some way. Make sure you list two-, three-, and four-word combinations as well as single words.

Let's say you have a store that sells backpacking equipment, hiking boots, outdoor clothing, books, maps and so on. Your complete list might include 15-20 words and phrases you think people might type into a search engine looking for you.

Expand Your List Using Word Tracker

Once you've created your list, open up your web browser and go to WordTracker.com (http://our.affiliatetracking.net/wordtracker/af.cgi?5569). This valuable tool has many uses for us, but we'll just look at one of them today.

Once you arrive at the site, click the Free Trial button and put your most likely key word or phrase into the box. Word Tracker will show you 15 related key words and phrases, probably some you hadn't thought of. Add them to your list and keep in mind that the full version will list 300 related words for you.

In our example I started with "backpacking equipment." The 15 new words Word Tracker listed included fishing, sleeping bags, stoves, outdoors, survival, etc. I then clicked on one choice, "backpacking supplies," and got a new list that includes ultralight backpacking equipment, backpacking equipment check list, backpacking equipment reviews, etc. Not only does this give me new ideas for my list, but these phrases have actually been typed into search engines in the last 60 days. 

WordTracker also shows me how often each phrase had been entered, so now a I have a prioritized list of key words that were actually used recently, and I don't have to guess anymore about what words are most important. And remember, I only clicked one of the 15 words in the list (not counting the 285 more in the full version.) So I can go back and click each word in turn and see a list of phrases actually entered into search engines in the last two months. How valuable is that? There is much more you can do, even in the free trial, but we've already greatly expanded our list, and we know the popularity of each word and phrase.

Putting Key Words Into Your Site

Search engines carefully guard the exact techniques they use to rank sites, but most experts agree on a few things you should do with your key words. The first is to put your most important key words into the title tag of your site. Unless your business name is so well known that people will already know it, consider leaving it out of your title, which should only contain five to eight words. 

So our camping store might have the title, "Backpacking supplies, sleeping bags, hiking boots, outdoor clothing," assuming those were the highest ranked phrases. If most of your business is done locally, be sure to put your location into the title. Titles show up in the top bar of the browser window, but not in the main part of the page, so we will have our name and logo at the top of the page for all to see. The title is mainly search engine bait, although it will also appear in Favorites lists.

Now we want to put our highest-ranking words and phrases into the text of our pages. Make sure these words are prominent, especially near the top of the page. Weave them into your text in a natural way. While the title was written for the search engines, this text is written for your visitor, so you can't just list a long string of words and hope anyone will read it. If you use headlines and sub-heads to organize the page and make it easy to scan, put key words into them as well.

Keep in mind that each page of your site may emphasize a different area of your business, so they might use different sets of key words. Our sleeping bag page will need different words than our hiking boot page.

Key Words In The Code

Filling your title tag and page text with key words are the main keys to getting a good ranking from the search engines. When someone types in "sleeping bags" into a search engine, that engine will look for matches in the title of web sites and in the first few hundred words of the pages in its database. If I've done everything correctly, that visitor may find my sleeping bag page in the first ten results. This is how someone could land in the middle of my site instead of the home page. So besides having lots of good information about sleeping bags, I also have to make sure a visitor can easily tell where they are in my site and be able to get the to rest of it without any problems.

Lastly, you need to write a short (no more that 25 words) description for each page. Many search engines will use this part of the code (called the description meta tag) when displaying the link to your page. Filled with key words, it can help your ranking. If you don't have it, the engine will probably just use the first words it finds on your page.

Conclusion

To give your web site the best possible ranking without paying for it requires a bit of work on your part. Expanding your key word list in WordTracker, and lacing those prioritized words in appropriate spots in your web site will bring you more visitors with very little cost. Next time we'll discuss getting other sites to link to you, which is the other free way to enhance your search engine rankings.

Les Goss is the head honcho at ZebraMoon Web Design, where he educates his business clients as he builds their web sites. To subscribe to the free email newsletter list or to find out more about how we can serve you, please come to: http://www.zmoon.com/.

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