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Optimize your website for search engines to find

I was recently flying in from Boston when I noticed my native West Pubnico from the air, clearly distinctive because of its 17 power-generating windmills, and I remarked how it reminded me of looking at Google Earth on my computer.

Then, it occurred to me how strange a thought this was: that reality was reminding me of a virtual image rather than the other way around. It was life imitating illustration, if you will.

That’s pretty much the way it is. Our sense of reality is becoming viewed more and more through the lens of the Internet, and this is something you need to take seriously if you’re depending on your website to carry your message.

Many people think that all you need to do is create a website and people will find it. That’s akin to printing stacks of marketing brochures and putting them in a warehouse, hoping someone will stumble upon them.

Others think that registering their website with search engines will do the trick. That would be like putting an ad in a few newspapers telling people where they can go to get your brochures.

Still others feel that if you put in enough keywords, then that will make your website popular. It will definitely help, but it’s far from the full story.

If not done correctly, it will hurt more than help. Why? Because search engines don’t like to be tricked. If the keywords don’t match the content and follow search engine rules, then the search engines may downgrade the site in their listings.

But help is available. There is a whole industry around making sure your website gets found by the right people via search engines, a process called search engine optimization. Here are some of the important facets of search engine optimization:

  1. Start by compiling an initial list of key terms that relate to your home page, your main section pages and the individual content pages. Then you can test these terms out and prioritize them according to their ability to drive traffic to the site. Search sites like Google and MSN provide facilities to help researchers determine which are the most popular and most effective search terms.
  2. Revise the list based on the research. Be prepared to add and remove content based on this revision.
  3. Create unique page titles and descriptions that reflect the key terms, and enter them into your meta tags. Meta tags are hidden areas in your website that contain information for search engines to find.
  4. Adjust your content so that key phrases appear at optimal locations. Search engines change how this works over time. This is an art because now you are modifying your message to suit the search engines. But by doing so, you are also modifying your message to suit your target audience, which is a good thing.
  5. Submit your website to search engines. This consists of going to these search engine sites and following their process for doing so. You can also tell the engines how to display the information on the search pages once your site is found. If your site description is well laid out rather than random snippets of words, chances are higher that it will get selected over the competition.
  6. Check to see what search terms people are using to find your website and which other websites are directing traffic to yours. Google provides training for web professionals to learn how to do this effectively.
  7. Finally, revisit your decisions frequently. It may take a few months before your changes are fully reflected throughout the Internet, so an evaluation every few months would be about right.

I’d like to thank Ryan Grant and Greg Ord for helping me with this article. Where do you find these guys? Simple: use a search engine.

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