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February 13, 2008

Getting The Most From Your Search Engine Optimization Efforts for Your Small Business

Trying to achieve higher organic rankings, but not sure where to start? Here we’ll have a look at a statistically tested formula for the best rankings, and stress the importance of developing a plan, sticking with it, and having just a little bit of patience to see the results. The importance of following a defined strategy cannot be overemphasized — it’s so easy, yet such a waste of time, to get distracted by every new post by Matt Cuts, every new development at Blog-a-licious, or any one of the hundreds of SEO forum and blog postings daily. This is a huge hindrance to getting the real work done. And it is work — but once you’ve got the rhythm down, the rankings increase will be sure to follow.

Let’s start with the all important formula, the 40:40:20 ratio. Through statistical analysis of thousands of sites, these numbers appear to be fairly accurate across the major search portals: 40% of rankings are a result of ‘on-page’ factors, 40% a result of off-page factors (backlinks and same site links), and 20% a result of the page URL (the exact percentages vary slightly between engines). The beauty of this is data is the resultant simplicity of the approach to achieve better search results for your important keywords.

First, on-page factors: Get your keywords in all the right places, with the right density, for each important page on your site. So what are the right places and right density? Get the keyword in the title tag, the description tag and the keywords tag. DO NOT STUFF these tags, be elegant and think about your reader. Experience has shown minor variations to be insignificant in terms of rankings, and more often than not, it seems folks go overboard with their keywords.

Let’s look at the latest data for the ‘sweet spots’ for on-page ranking factors. A 10 to 20% density keyword density for the tile, 10% for both the meta keywords description is optimal. The keyword at or toward the beginning of each of these is optimal, but not necessary. What’s this mean? If we use the term ‘essential oils’ again, an optimal title tag might be ‘Pure Essential Oils and Accessories for Natural Health Professionals’. The keyword list would be ten to twenty words, comma separated, with the most important words at the beginning, and ALL words should appear in the body text of the page. The description can be (but doesn’t have to) a well written, attention grabbing sentence — it will likely be displayed in the organic search results, so you’ll want it to be both SEO and customer friendly. Again, 20 or so words, keyword near or at the beginning. Keyword can appear twice, but no more than that. Body text: 1000 words or so (+/- a couple hundred), with a 2% keyword density, and the keyword (or words) appearing near the beginning, in the middle, and near the end of the page code (not just the output text). There are tons of density analyzers on the web — pick one, focus on the body text number and ignore the rest.

Briefly, other notable on-page factors are image alt tags, H1-H6 tags, bold and italic text, and the number of outgoing (inter and intra site) links. Here’s the scoop: Alt tags matter. Get your keywords in them, but don’t overdo it. Don’t use H tags, as according to the data, they’ll bring your rankings down. Use bold and italics if it suits the design and readability of your site; they may be a positive factor, but not a huge one, and don’t stuff your keywords in them. The higher the number of links on a page, the better. One hundred links seems optimal, but don’t sweat it. Always keep in mind that usability and aesthetics are crucial too. Having javascript on the page appears to be a positive ranking factor. Finally, page size (all the text, minus the images) is optimal at 50-60k. This number is shown adjacent to the page in search results. A note on on-page code in general, a balance is important — the search engines don’t care what your page looks like from a design standpoint, they only see the code. But your customers do. And while data is not available, it is more than likely the major search portals are noticing how long a visitor stays on the page, recording whether they return to the search results to find another page. Strive to make your site clean, useful and engaging — this will pay off in more ways than one.

Off page factors — these include links from within your site and ‘backlinks’ from other websites. You MUST get backlinks to rank well, and it’s probably the most challenging of all search engine optimization to do. You’ll need to continuously acquire backlinks, or your rankings will stagnate, or even slowly drop. Optimally, you’ll get a few links a day, with a steady increase in the total number. The two most often used routes are link exchange (asking for links from other sites, and putting their links on your site in exchange) or article distribution. There’s lots of information on the web about exchanging links, read some, develop a plan and stick to it. Once you’ve got a system in place, you’ll likely be able to hire someone to help you. Article distribution is another matter. Articles should really be quality, readable, helpful information for prospective customers. You’ll get to post links within the author resource box, which serves both as an enticement for readers to visit your site, a means to give credibility to your internet business, plus search engines will also see these links and use them in their ranking algorithm. An effective linking program will utilize both these link sources. Remember, it’s not the total number of links, but a consistently increasing number that has the greatest long-term results.

Some caveats about links — links from within your own site should be text links with the keyword in the link. So the Aroma therapy site would use ‘essential oils’ in all the links to their essential oils page. Off-site links should also use keywords in text links, but not always the same words. Mix it up. Here, for example, some of backlink text examples would be ‘pure essential oils’, ‘organic essential oils’, ‘aroma therapy essential oil’, and ‘essential oils’. Further, about 30% of your links should just include the webpage address, like ‘www.johnnysessentialoils.com’ or ‘www.bestbathproducts.com/essentialoils.php This helps your backlinks appear naturally created, rather than machine made search engine spider spam. A final note on backlinks, all pages that link to yours are not weighted equally. The older and more relevant the page, the more weight your link will garner.

With that we’ll describe the last 20%: the URL. Web pages with the keywords in the address, be it the homepage or any other page on the site, rank better. If the If you’re just starting a site, getting your primary keywords in the url is useful. If not, and it makes sense to do so, use keywords in the filename like www.homepage.com/essentialoilspage1.html. Again, it appears better if the file does not have only the keywords in it, like the title and meta tags. Use a 301 redirect if changing the names of ‘old’ pages. Hyphens are still questionable — short filenames and shallow directory structures appear best.

A few final notes — each search engine has different algorithms and different update frequencies. According to the data, ALL follow the 40:40:20 formula closely enough for you to ignore the differences. A site or page that begins to rank highly on one engine may take months before it ranks highly on another. Patience and persistence are crucial. The age of a page is a factor; wasting your time on minor tweaks, rather than writing a quality article, will lead you nowhere. ‘Close enough’ is close enough with the on-page factors and urls. Once these are done, try adding quality pages to your site regularly, and get backlinks regularly — if this is happening, free your mind to work on your site, or business plan, or product product photos, or whatever you think best. Traffic is only part of the equation for a successful internet business. Visitors plus a well-designed site, excellent products, competitive pricing and superior customer service is the real formula for success.

Author:  The author is a jack of all trades and master of none, including search optimization for natural health websites, including The Ananda Apothecary at www.anandaapothecary.com a source for aroma therapy and essential oil information, and www.wellnessisnatural.com, the homepage for Boulder naturopath Tarah Michelle Cech.

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