According to a recent study, more than 60% of websites lack the proper web programming to be ranked by Internet search engines.

Search engine optimization or SEO for short can potentially improve your website and save time, but used irresponsibly can also damage to your site and reputation.

If you want an aggressive approach to SEO make sure to do some research before hiring someone. Often a dramatic boost in search engine traffic is followed by a site being banned by search engines that determine the company has “spammed” its way to the top. A simple Google search on an SEO firm will usually uncover any problems previous clients have had.

Risking the long-term success of your website is not worth getting a temporary upturn in search engine traffic or ranking.

Lots of so-called SEO experts will promise a number one ranking for a specific keyword, but the sheer volume of competition makes this unlikely or even impossible. Search engines use hundreds of algorithms that change all the time, often in response to what search engine marketers are doing to game the system. So, there’s no way of knowing what the algorithms will be like down the road.

Good search engine optimization is something every small business can do on its own with the help of a few simple rules.

1.) Write Good Website Content and Write it for Humans.
Search engines are smart. They know what a real sentence, paragraph, and links should look like. Don’t keyword stuff your site or talk about the same things over and over again to try to beat them. It doesn’t work. Driving traffic to your Web site is only half of the battle…and not even the important half! If you’re bringing in traffic, but not converting them into clients it doesn’t matter how much additional traffic you get. A higher search engine rankings is the end product of developing a great web site with a strong foundation of good quality content, compelling products and information.

2.) Pay Attention to Meta-Tags but Don’t Over-Value Them.
Chances are someone has told you your website wasn’t being found by search engines because it’s meta-tags weren’t fully optimized. Whenever I hear that I know that person hasn’t read anything on the subject since 1997. Meta-tags appear in the code of a page, but not on the page itself . They were an important part of SEO in the late 90’s, particularly the meta-keyword and meta-description tag, but were then ignored by the search engines because they were often stuffed with mis-leading words to attract more visitors. These days search engines are much more interested in the content that appears on the page, not under it.

Still, there is reason to pay some attention to meta-tags, specifically the meta-description. Major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN often use the meta-description on their search results page. This means that you have some control over the words that appear when one of your Web pages is pulled up as a result of a given search. Come up with compelling meta-descriptions for your pages can help attract potential clients. You might also consider putting a call-to-action and phone number in a meta-description tag to motivate searchers to click or pick up the phone. Use no more than 155 characters.

3.) Use Effective Keywords Throughout Your Website
Focus on 5-20 main related keywords or phrases for your entire Website. You don’t want to spread yourself so thin that you don’t rank well for any search terms. A keyword-rich page title can often drive more qualified leads to your website. Make sure the title of each page is different. Mix up your keyword combinations and phrases and don’t use more than 70 characters. You can use more, but each word takes weight from another as you keep going. The first words in the title matter most. Make sure every page has keywords to create a “theme” for search engines. The more pages that are ranked, the more entry points your Website has. Use keywords when appropriate in alt tags for images too.

Use your specific keywords or phrases in the Headings of your pages and when linking from one page to another on your Website. Don’t just use words like Home, Products, Contact if you can use Used Cars Home, Our Used Cars, Contact Used Cars.

4.) Refresh your Website with new content and pages regularly.
One easy way to do it: Find related subject RSS feeds and add a couple to your Website too. I like Google AJAX Feed and WebRSS for this.

What you can do on your Website is pretty easy to see; how Google and others tie everything together is not. This is what happens offsite and it’s really where the rubber meets the road. Think of it this way: An expert grows their influence and reputation as more people cite their expertise, whether they are a big name in a small niche or a big name in a huge field. The same is true for Websites. And just like people, the more popular your subject matter, the harder it is to get through the noise. Keywords can only do so much; recommendations — in the form of links — from influential people and Websites are what will give you a real edge.

Here’s how to get links that matter:

5.) Get Relevant Incoming Links.
Check the page rank of as many Websites you can find in your industry and start by asking the ones with the highest rank. Link to them first on your Resources page and then email them and ask for a link back. Send them the keyword-rich link text you would like them to use for your Website. If you are a member of the Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce make sure they have your website address as they usually link to you automatically and this helps in local searches. Check to see who is linking to you by using Yahoo Site Explorer. All of this sounds labor intensive but it’s worth a year of your time if it helps you get the No. 1 spot.

Create a “Link to Us” page. I have found that if you offer logos and keyword-rich link text to visitors, they will link to you. If you do email marketing, email the page to your subscribers and past customers and ask them to link to you.

Share your expertise on more sites than just your own. Write guest blog articles for your industry on popular Websites. Start your own blog and incorporate it into your Website; post and comment on Twitter and Facebook about your industry; answer questions on Yahoo Answers or Google Groups; submit reviews on Yelp, Amazon, ePinions, and Alexa; comment on industry blogs and forums. Link back to your website when it’s helpful but don’t overdo it.

Get listed in directories. They have been around a long time and search engines scan them for new links because of their reputation. Try DMOZ, Yahoo (fee required), Business Directory (fee), Ezilon, Best of Web (fee), BizWeb (fee), Gimpsy (fee), Go Guides (fee), Google Directory, or ipl2.

Give away free stuff. The more content you can make available for free — samples, whitepapers, software, tutorials, tips, coupons, contest prizes, etc. — the more people will link to you so they can pass it on.

Syndicate your press releases. Send out a press release locally or nationally when you create a new product or service and link to yourself in it. Here is a nice list of some popular ways to syndicate your press releases.

List yourself on Google Places. This means your business will show up as a Google map search result and it carries a lot of weight for local searches.

Getting a higher search engine rank will always be about compelling products and information that is spread by word of mouth. Everyone has different beliefs on how Google works and we can talk about it until we run out of breath — but no one knows for sure except the hundreds of Ph.Ds that work at Google. But great content, products or services that are in demand and quality keywords and links is always the best place to start and build from. To learn more about SEO, check out the best two sources I have ever found at SEO Book and SEOmoz. Keep me updated on how it goes.

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