The SEO Industry – Gold Rush or Fool’s Gold?

Over the last several months, I have spoken to dozens of SEO “experts” about how I could improve my company’s search engine ranking. The SEO industry today reminds me of how Web development companies operated in the early days of the gold rush. Website development was a new field and everyone from high school students to large Madison Avenue firms were getting into it – and everyone had an opinion on how best to do it. There were no standards or best practices, nor was there agreement on the most efficient way to build a website – some used a simple text editor while others used new software programs like Hot Dog (Dreamweaver and Front Page didn’t exist yet). Plus, a business model had yet to be developed, so prices were highly inflated and all over the board – it was not uncommon to receive quotes ranging from less than $1,000 to over $30,000 for the same project.

Well, that’s how I feel about the SEO field right about now, but fortunately I think it is about to come to end. As I have familiarized myself with SEO over the last several months, I came up with 10 best-practice tips for effective SEO (and a follow-up to our previous SEO posting entitled SEO - Do it Now! Search Engine Optimization Basics). There is nothing proprietary about these ideas – in fact, many SEO firms offer similar tips on their own public websites. And all these tips can be implemented by you or your web developer.

Does that mean you don’t need to hire and SEO firm? Not necessarily. Depending on what you sell, who you are targeting, your competition, and the purpose and the complexity of your website(s), you very well may need an SEO firm. But as you decide whether or not to hire an SEO firm, get the following tips done ASAP:

1. Avoid dynamic pages, URL’s that contain a question mark (?), frames, complex image maps, Javascript navigation and (sorry creative types) flash-only welcome pages. Most search engine crawlers cannot read these. If you want to use graphic links, make sure the graphics have ALT text descriptions that includes a keyword phrase that relates to the image (IMG SRC=“logo.gif” width=“10” height=“10” alt=“about hr marketer blog”).

2. Insert a top and/or bottom navigation row that has text hyperlinks to all key locations on your site. This is a must if you currently have an image map navigation sidebar.

3. Create a “site map” page that includes text links to all key locations on your site.

Before proceeding to the next seven tips, first identify your targeted keywords (i.e., key search terms). These are the words or phrases people use to locate your services when they do a search on a search engine (i.e., “payroll services”). Don't assume you know what these are. Understanding what these keywords are is so important that we recommend you invest some money in market research to poll your customers and prospects on what keywords they use(d) to locate your category of service. When you identify some keywords, you can use services like to find out how often people search for them, and how many competing sites use those keywords.

4. Update your Title Tags. Place your targeted keywords (at least two keywords) or keyword phrase (50 – 80 characters) in the HTML Title Tag on every page of your site. Each page will have a different title that pertains to the content on that respective page.

5. Update your METAs. While some major search engines may not pay attention to the META Description and META Keywords tags, some still use them so you may as well have them. Your META Description tag should contain 200-250 characters that describe the content of a respective page (again, use your targeted keywords). Your META Keywords tag will reinforce the target keywords on a respective page.

6. Update the copy on all your pages to include your keywords and keyword phrases (especially those used in the respective pages title). Place targeted keywords near the top of the page (first few paragraphs).

7. Develop internal page linking. Throughout your site, create keyword rich hyperlinks to other pages on your site. For example, in the descriptive copy on your “About Us” page, you may have the phrase “payroll services for small business” link to the product description page for that respective service.

8. Secure reciprocal links with other top sites. Go to a major search engine and type in keywords that you hope will bring up your site once it is optimized and check out the top ten or so results. Consider getting some of these sites to link to your site. The more sites that link to your site, the better your site will be ranked – especially if those links are from the most popular sites in your keyword category. Obviously competitors will not link to your site but you may find a few sites that will (i.e., maybe a directory site).

9. Information pages are vital! Content, content, content! The more relevant, interesting, and useful content you place within your site, the more popular your site will be and the better it will be found and ranked. So, start a blog, place your eNewsletter archives on your site, and place case studies, white papers and press releases on your site. Create a page of interesting tips and information to help educate buyers about your type of services, etc. And for each of these information pages, follow the same rules described above with META’s, titles, internal page linking, etc.

10. Identify the free online buyer guides or product directories within your segment and submit your company.

Keep in mind that once you optimize your website, the major search engine “crawlers” should find your website and rank it higher than it would have been without optimization. However, it can’t hurt to manually submit your website(s) to the major search.

Good luck to you!