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January 8, 2008

The Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals in 11 Steps

People use search engines to find things. Although you should avoid making your business depending entirely on free traffic from search engines, so is it still important to consider search engines in your overall internet marketing strategy. Ignoring search means leaving a big chunk of business on the table, which will make it much harder to stay competitive depending on the industry you are in and what your competition is doing. SEO isn’t rocket science and to a certain degree technical. It has nothing to do with magic and fairy dust will do nothing to help you with it. It also requires a long term strategy and commitment in order to become and remain successful. There is no silver bullet and no shortcuts.

Because of its long term commitment necessary, is a well formed strategy key to success, a strategy that is followed and verified and scrutinized along the way.

While all 11 steps below are part of a repeating cycle over the time while you are doing business on the internet, so are only step 6 to 11 task that need to be on going on a much more frequent basis. Due to the fact that steps 1 to 5 are not repeated very often, is it necessary to give them special attention and care to get them right at the beginning. Errors made there will affect all the others in a negative way and hurt your efforts along the way.

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is the most important first step that should not be taken too lightly. While you can easily test and change hundreds of keywords in paid search campaigns, so is this not possible for organic search optimization. You usually concentrate on one to five key phrases for the whole site (theme) and one to three phrases for a single page. For large sites with thousands of pages is it hard to optimize every single page to the full extend due to the limits in time and other resources.

2. Competitive Intelligence

Know you competition! What are they doing? Where do they rank, for which terms? Who is linking to them and why? The things you have to do depend on what your competitors are doing. The less competitive your vertical is online the easier is it for you to outperform your competition. This is important to determining cost and resources for your SEO efforts.

3. Web Design and Development

Fixing something that is broke is always harder than building it right from the beginning. If you are in the process of creating a new website, make sure to consider search engine friendly design and architecture before and during the actual development of the website. This will save you a lot of time and money and in most cases put you already ahead of a considerable number of your competitors. Search engine friendly design is not rocket science and search engine friendly design does not have to be ugly. Search engine friendly design is for the most part user friendly design as well, but there are some exceptions where compromises have to be made.

4. Get Your First Inbound Links

Don’t submit your new site to search engines and by no means pay anybody to do it for you. There are many cheap services and software products out there that offer for less than $100 submission to and #1 ranking in thousands of search engines. Don’t do it. If you see an offer like that, hold your wallet and run. Your site should be found by search engines naturally and they will find your site if a page that is already in their index links to you. Why? Because this is what search engines do, following links to discover content. There are plenty of methods to get your first inbound links. Some web directories are recognized by search engines and a listing there will do your site good. Most recognized directories are commercial in nature and charge a fee for reviewing your site. Also check with vendors or good customers (B2B) who have a website for the opportunity to have them place a link to your website.

5. Sitemaps

The larger search engines allow webmasters to submit a sitemap to them via a webmaster console. The search engines also provide reports and other useful information, such as technical problems with your websites you might not be aware of via their console. Even if you decide against the submission of a site map to the search engines, is it advisable to create an account and register your website with them for the reports and statistics they provide for free and which are invaluable for your internet marketing efforts.

6. Web Analytics

You can’t determine success or failure of any of your internet marketing activities if you do not track and measure their effectiveness. Engaging in any type of marketing campaign online, be it SEO, paid search, display advertising, email marketing, social media or affiliate marketing is like fishing in the dark without any type of web analytics solution in place. The options range from free services to very expensive and heavily customizable package. You have to determine what solution will work for you, but you have to start with one so don’t put it off. Web analytics helps you to determine where to improve your site and your marketing campaigns to channel your resources and money to the things that work and pull it away from the things that don’t work. Web analytics is not a cost center if it is done properly.

7. Content Building

A website is never done. It has to change and grow over time. This is a natural process to adjust to changes in the market, with maturing in this type of medium and your normal business growth. Providing good quality content that is related to what you do, but not necessarily aimed to sell something directly is the best opportunity to increase traffic and exposure of your business. Most people do not link to pages that only serve the purpose to make a sale.

8. Link Building

The internet wouldn’t be a “net” without links. It would only be a collection of independent pages that are not connected to each other. Disconnected pages cannot be found and that defeats the purpose of them, wouldn’t it? Inbound links and internal site linking is important for organic traffic, meaning people seeing and clicking on those links to get to your website, but they are also important for SEO. Inbound links play an important role in virtually every search engine when it comes to ranking pages in their search results. This is a never ending process and while it happens naturally. Be a bit more pro-active to get more and good inbound links. There are plenty of sites out there that should link to you, but don’t know you and your content.

9. Engagement, Trust and Community Building

Social media and Web 2.0 might be buzz words, but the underlying core elements they are made of are much more elementary and fundamental. Don’t live in a bubble and talk to people without allowing people to respond and to interact with you. People will talk about you, with or without you being around. Take the opportunity to become part of the discussion to build trust and deeper relationships with your customers or potential customers. Listen to what they say and learn about their wants and their needs. Hear what they say about you and your products, especially the criticism and improve on them.

10. Ranking and Traffic Analysis

Check where you are today to be able to compare it with data in the future. Look for trends and evaluate the success of your goals, which you should have specified before you engaged in any type of marketing campaign. You did set goals that are measurable I hope. Improving ranking is important for SEO, but more important than the ranking is the traffic that comes with it. Does the change in ranking yields in the traffic you expected? Does this traffic actually convert?

11. Conversion Analysis

No matter what you do, everything will come down to one critical factor at the very end. What is your bottom line? Did you make profit or did you lose money. While losing money in the short term for strategic reasons is okay, so Is losing money in the long run deemed to failure and the end of your business altogether. Whatever you do, it has to contribute directly or indirectly to a positive Return of Investment. Web Analytics is part of the process of making this determination among other tools and methods. Expand the things that work and help your bottom line and rid yourself of the things that don’t. Improve of details to increase conversion. This requires testing. Don’t reject anything upfront without testing it first. Things that work for others might not work for you, but the same is true the other way around.

Author:  Carsten Cumbrowski is an internet marketer, entrepreneur and internet marketing strategy consultant. You can find tons of resources to the various channels and topics in internet marketing free at Cumbrowski.com including further details about the SEO fundamentals that were discussed in this article.

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