A Publication of WTVP

Search Engine Optimization scares a lot of people, but try not to let it scare you or your company. As Rand Fishkin, CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, put it, “SEO is a little bit Madison Avenue and a little bit Silicon Valley, but it’s certainly not the Bermuda Triangle.” But what exactly is SEO?

SEO is the process of creating or improving a website so it will rank higher in search engine results. One would think that this would then lead to more traffic to your site. Keep in mind that even if you understand it, there is always more to learn.

Search Engine Optimization is a never-ending battle. The only way to get yourself higher in the search engine rankings is to truly commit to optimizing your website on a regular basis. Of course, this is easier said than done, but more and more companies are investing time in optimization. Granted, your site should have been designed with this in mind in the first place. It is no longer a matter of just having a web presence with an abundance of keywords hidden in your HTML. As a business owner or marketing professional, you need to be aware of how to advance your site up the ladder, even if it is only one step at a time.

If you are searching for a major Fortune 500 company, you can type its name in Google and see it listed right away, but that isn’t always the case for the rest of the business world. From small-town bakeries to specialty stores, it can take a little more creativity in the search to get the listing you want. But even if you have your customers in mind, you can’t depend on their creativity to find you.

So what can you do to go about optimizing your website? While there are hundreds of SEO firms popping up all over the country (some being get-rich-quick schemes, but that’s for another time), you can follow Rand Fishkin’s advice to begin to get results on your own. “Remember that SEO, while it seems complex, is actually a very simple, four-step process. Begin with accessible, high-quality content. Next, research keywords and target them appropriately on the site. Then, use marketing and creativity to earn editorial links. Finally, track your progress against the competition and make improvements wherever possible. It’s hard work, but the rewards can be staggering.”

To elaborate on Fishkin’s recommendations, let’s break down that four-step process. The content you have needs to be first-class and high-quality. Setting up blogs, changing your home page content and keeping up with the SEO Joneses can help deliver higher rankings. But the words you choose in your high-quality content and within your home page should be carefully chosen. And most importantly, this information should never become stagnant. Many people are quick to launch their sites, but often fail to maintain them. Constant upkeep and tweaking can help take your website far. Look at it this way: your website is your ultimate advertising investment. It is something that can be changed and updated constantly; day in and day out. It can really say who you are and answer the questions your clients may ask.

By marketing and branding your company and putting your .com address on everything from your business card to the free pen you pass out at the luncheon, you drive traffic to your site. In theory, the more traffic, the more hits, and the higher you will go up the search engine ladder. That may be the case, but you also want these people to come back. And the more interesting your site is—and the more information you have to share—the more your customers will want to share with their friends and other companies will want to link back to you.

Unfortunately, that still isn’t enough. You have to track all of this—keep up with your traffic. Use Google Analytics. Use Get Clicky. Use some type of statistics program to tell you who is using your site, what pages they visit, what pages they leave and how long they stay. Statistics allow you to make improvements and adjust to the peaks and valleys that will come with your stream of traffic. Even more importantly, keep up with your competition. What are they doing? Why is their site still ahead of yours?

Ultimately, some of you may not depend on where you are located in Google’s search results, and some of you may not ever see a return on investment. There is no guarantee you will ever be No. 1 in Google. As a matter of fact, you can search Google’s own tools on website optimization and they will tell you that there isn’t a guarantee you will be No. 1. You have to ask yourself, what are you optimizing for? Is it more traffic to your site or more awareness of your brand?

Optimization will not happen overnight, and it will not always give you the results you expect. No matter what, though, you have to have patience, and most importantly, you have to optimize for your target audience—your users. Steve Holford, chief marketing officer at Fasthosts Internet, states, “All good SEO comes from thinking about your users. It’s important to remember: users first, SEO second.” iBi

Brad Henz is CIO of Parsec Enterprises, Inc. and owner and CCG (Chief Creative Guru) of bshdesigns.