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Search Engine Optimization - From an SEO Expert Witness's Perspective

By: Peter Kent
Tel: (720) 771-3246
Email Mr. Kent

So you want your Web site to rank #1 on Google, eh? Well, get in line! Oh, you want to do it for $50 a month? You've seen emails claiming you can do that? Sure, and I'm selling some seaside property in Glenwood Springs.

I've been helping people rank well on Google for a number of years -- I've written three editions of Search Engine Optimization for Dummies since 2003 -- and in response to a special request, I'm going to see how far I can get explaining SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in around 800 words; a mere sketch!

First, "#1 on Google" has no meaning unless you tell me *for what keywords,* because I can get a #1 rank within days if you let me pick the keywords. Search for *rodent engineering* on Google, Yahoo, and MSN, and the #1 entry will be a page I placed in the search results, with a few minutes work and a few days wait. Of course not many people want to rank well for that term...which is why it was so easy.

Keywords are the foundation of SEO. Pick the keywords you think are the right ones, rather than the ones your prospects are really using, and you might as well give up now. (The academics at a major online university once banned the phrase "online degree" from the site. A shame, because all their prospective students searched using terms that included the words *online degree*!)

Now, who's going to manage your SEO for you? Oh, your Web designer? Sure, and next time you need some dental work, come over to my place! The fact is, your chance of finding a Web design firm that understands how to do SEO is about as high as your chance of getting good investment advice from your supermarket cashier; it could happen, but should you risk it? I've never met a Web designer who really understood SEO, though I've trained a few. Even if your design firm says they can handle SEO for you -- and most will -- they almost certainly cannot.

Now, there are essentially two aspects to SEO; things you do to your Web site, and things you do to other peoples' Web sites (in other words, links you create, on other peoples' sites, pointing back to your site). We'll start with the former.

It's easy to create Web sites that have no chance of ranking well in the search engines, and in fact many Web designers do so every day. To rank well, though, you'll want to ensure that you have plenty of text -- and that the text includes your keywords -- scattered throughout the site. Thus graphic-heavy sites often don't rank well; I've seen sites that are almost purely images...even the text in the site is created as an image. It may look great, but the search engines won't have anything to index, so you probably won't rank well. Another way to hurt a site is with navigation structures that can't be read by the search engines--some forms of JavaScript navigation, for instance. That doesn't mean you shouldn't use such things, just that if you do, you need to make sure you *also* have plenty of plain text links at the bottom, and scattered throughout the pages.

You'll need the keyworded text in your <title> tags, in your DESCRIPTION Meta tags, in <H1> tags, and in links between pages. That's right, forget those "click here" links; they just tell Google that the referenced page is about "click here." Put actual keywords into the links; doing so tells Google, and the others, what the referenced page is about.

But working on your pages is not enough. You have to have links pointing from other sites back to yours. If nobody links to you, why should Google think your site is important? They won't! You need links, plenty of them, with keywords in the link text to tell the search engines what your site is all about. (The ideal situation? Your site is so cool, interesting, or useful, millions of people will link to it without you even asking.)

That's the essence of SEO. Create optimized pages, then get links to them. Then create more pages and more links. Then do it again. (Of course the devil's in the details.)

I don't want to make this sound too much like a sales pitch (in fact this subject was requested by the editors). But quite frankly, 800 words isn't enough to explain this rather complicated subject, so don't walk, run, to your local bookstore, and buy Search Engine Optimization for Dummies, probably the best tome every written on the subject by a English-born writer living in Colorado. (I'm too modest; if the reviews are anything to go by it's actually the best book on the subject.)

Peter Kent is the author of "Search Engine Optimization for Dummies" "Pay Per Click Search Engine Marketing for Dummies" and "Complete Idiot's Guide to the Internet." He has been online since 1984 and envolved with online marketing since 1990.

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