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Abrams: Keys to appearing higher in search engine results

Want to get your website to appear high up in the results when someone is looking for the kind of stuff you sell? In last week’s column, I shared with you some of the basics of using search engines to drive traffic to your website.

Today, I’ll share with you some keys to ranking high.

Remember, there are two ways to appear when someone types in “keywords” into a search engine:

- Search engine optimization (SEO) – designing and writing your website to naturally rank high in search engine results.

- Search engine marketing (SEM) – paying for a listing adjacent to keywords that you choose.

In my just-released book, “Successful Marketing: Secrets & Strategies,” I’ve covered the full range of marketing tactics for small businesses. But SEO and SEM are increasingly important, as they drive highly motivated prospects directly to your website. Moreover, with SEM, you pay only for those who actually “click through” to your website, so it makes search engine advertising particularly attractive to small companies.

With both SEO and SEM, the most important step is to clearly identify which “keywords” searchers are likely to use when looking for the types of products, services, or content you offer. Then you must make sure you’ve “optimized” your site for those keywords by using them over and over throughout your site – in your content, headlines, page names, additional web pages and more.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

If you want your site to appear high in results without paying for ads, choosing which keywords to use throughout your site is critical! Choose the most narrowly defined terms appropriate to your products, services or content.

Let’s say your company creates math software for kids. You could use terms such as “educational software,” “math software,” “kids software.” But your site won’t show up high in search results because millions of other sites use such terms.

Instead, use very specific keywords – such as “kids algebra educational software” – repeatedly. Yes, use the entire phrase over and over. Keep in mind that “keyword stuffing – repeating a keyword without content or context – can get your site blackballed from search engines. So make sure you’re actually providing real information related to those terms.

Search engine marketing (SEM)

If you’re willing to pay for ads on a major search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, you’ll “bid” for placement against other advertisers who also want to be associated with certain keywords. The more you’re willing to pay, the higher in the listings your ad will appear. That’s another reason to narrow your keywords: there will be fewer competing bidders the more specific your terms are.

Even if you pay for placement, you still want to optimize your website – or certain pages of your website – for keywords. That’s because search engines still want to make sure the results, even ads, that searchers see are relevant.

Keys to improving your site’s search engine rankings:

1. Keyword density – make sure your keywords appear frequently.

2. Keyword placement (where on the page your keywords appear) – closer to the top is generally better.

3. Page titles, headlines, bold text – sites where keywords appear in page titles, headlines and bold text will generally rank higher.

4. Meta tags (the description of the content that is programmed into the code of a website) – search engines look to see if keywords are in the metatags.

5. Age of site – search engines rank older sites higher, under the assumption they were not just put there to game the ranking system

6. Links in – if many sites link to a page, search engines assume you have a good site worthy of higher rankings.

7. Quality of links in – if the links in to a page come from sites with higher rankings themselves or with heavy traffic, those links are considered more valuable in determining rankings.

8. Links out – if a page is also linking out to other sites, it is viewed as being more likely to have genuine content rather than just being a spam site.

9. Freshness – search engines look to see how recently a website’s content has been updated, assuming that newer content is of more interest to users.

Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2008
Rhonda Abrams is the president of The Planning Shop, publisher of books and software for entrepreneurs, including “Six-Week Start-Up.” Register for her free business tips newsletter at www.PlanningShop.com.

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