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A SEO Checklist

Search engine optimization is on every webmaster’s mind these days. Achieving a favorable ranking for the right keywords can mean a steady stream of targeted traffic to your site, and all for free – that’s hard to beat. The key to high search engine rankings is structuring your website correctly, including plenty of content that is relevant to your keywords, and making sure your website is spider-friendly. You can use this checklist to make sure all of your Web pages can be found, indexed and ranked correctly:

Your website is themed. Your site deals with an identifiable theme which is obvious from the text on the home page and reinforced by all the other pages on your site. In other words, all the individual Web pages relate to each other and deal with various aspects of some central theme. The text on your home page should state clearly what that theme is and what your website is about, and the other pages should reinforce that.

Your Web pages have enough high quality, relevant content. Spiders come to your website looking for content. If a page doesn’t have much content, or the content doesn’t appear closely related to the page’s title and your website’s theme, the page probably won’t be indexed or if it is indexed it won’t rank well. Search engines love quality content and lots of it – content is what Web searchers are looking for and search engines try to provide.

Your website’s navigational structure is relatively flat. You don’t want important pages to be too “deep” within your website, meaning it takes several clicks to get there from the home page. Search engines typically index the home page first, then gradually index other pages on a site over time. Many spiders are programmed to only go three layers deep – if some of your important content is buried deeper than that, it may never be found and indexed at all.

You’ve created a unique “Title” tag for each page. The title is one of the most important aspects of any Web page from an SEO standpoint, especially for Google (which is the most important search engine to optimize for). Don’t use a generic title for all your pages, use the keywords your targeting for that page and keep it brief but descriptive.

You use the “Description” meta tag. Contains a highly descriptive sentence about the content and purpose of your page, and contains your most important keyword phrase early in the sentence. Not all of the search engines will display this “canned” description when they list the page in search results, but many of them will, so it’s worth getting it right.

You use the “Keywords” meta tag. As with the meta tag description, not every search engine will use the keywords meta tag. But some will use it and none will penalize you for having it. Also, having a short list of the keywords you’re targeting will help you write appropriate content for each page. The keyword tage should contain your targeted keyword phrase and common variations, common misspellings and related terms. Make sure your keywords relate closely to the page content and tie into the overall theme of your site.

Your keywords are included in the visible page content, preferably high up on the page. You have to achieve a balance here – you want to include keyword phrases (and variations) a number of times within your text, but not so many times that you appear to be guilty of “keyword stuffing”. The trick is to work the keywords into the text so that it reads as naturally as possible for your site visitors. Remember, you can incorporate keywords into any Web page element that is potentially viewable by site visitors – header text, link text and titles, table captions, the “Alt” attribute of the image tag, the “title” attribute of the link tag, etc.

Every page of your website can be reached by search engine spiders. This is critical – if your pages can’t be found, they can’t be indexed and included in search results, let alone rank well. Search engines use spiders to explore your website and index the pages, so every page must be accessible by following text links. If pages require a password to view, are generated by a script in response to a query, or have a long and complicated URL, spiders may not be able to read them. You need to have simple text links to the pages you want indexed.

You’ve included a site map. Unless your site is very small, it’s a good idea to create a site map with text links that you link to the site map from your home page. In addition to a link, include descriptive text for containing the relevant keywords for each page.

You link to your most important pages from other pages on your site. Internal links help determine page rank since they show which pages of your site are most important. The more links you have to have to a page, relative to other pages on your site, the more importance search engines will assign to it.

You use keywords in your link text. When you create a text link to another page on your site, use that page’s targeted keywords as the text for the link (inside the anchor tags that create the link). Make it as descriptive as possible. For example, a link that says “Premium Customized Widgets” is much better than one that says simply “Product Page”, and indicates to search engine spiders what that linked page is about.

Your site doesn’t use frames. If possible, don’t use frames on any page you want to get indexed by search engines. If you feel you simply must use frames for a page, then also make use of the “noframes” HTML tags to provide alternative text that spiders can read (and make that text descriptive rather than just a notice that “This site uses frames etc. etc.”).

You don’t use automatic page redirects. Don’t make any pages automatically redirect the visitor to another page (the exception is a page you’ve deleted for good – in which case you should use a “301 redirect”, a permanent redirect which is acceptable to search engines).

Your important content is in plain text and not contained in images. Search engine spiders can’t “read” content in JPEG, GIF, or PNG files. If you really feel that using an image rather than text is crucial to your design, at least put the same text in the image’s “Alt” tag (or in the “title” tag if you’re using the image as a hyperlink).

Your important content is not contained in Flash files. Flash is a wonderful technology, but unfortunately spiders don’t have the required “plugin” to view Flash files. As a result, Flash content is mostly inaccessible to search engine spiders. Some can find and follow hyperlinks within the Flash file, but unless those links lead to pages with readable HTML content this won’t help you much. Don’t create all-Flash pages for any content you want to get indexed – instead, put that content in the HTML portion of the page.

Links and keywords are not hidden inside JavaScript code. If your links use JavaScript to direct the user to the appropriate page (for instance, a drop-down list) or important content is contained within JavaScript code (when it’s displayed dynamically using DHTML, for instance) search engine spiders won’t be able to “see” it. You can, however, use the “noscript” HTML tags to provide an alternative that can be read by spiders.

You’ve optimized every important page of your website individually. Don’t stop at your home page. Take the trouble to optimize any page which has a reasonable chance of being indexed by the major search engines, targeting appropriate keywords for each. If you face a lot of competition it may be nearly impossible to get a top ranking for your home page, but you can still get a lot of search engine traffic to your site from other pages which are focused on very specific keyword phrases.

You didn’t duplicate content. Each page of your site should have unique content that distinguishes it from every other page on your site. Duplicating content or having pages that are only slightly different might be seen as “search engine spamming” (trying to manipulate search engine results).

You provide linking instructions for those who want to link to your site. Somewhere on your site state your policies about other people linking to your site and provide the wording you’d like them to use in their link. You want to encourage other people to link to your site, preferably using link text and a description that reflect the keywords for that page. For their convenience provide the ready-made HTML code for the link – not everyone will use it, but most often they will use your preferred text as a courtesy as long as it is truly descriptive of your site and doesn’t contain “marketing hype”.

You provide linking instructions for those who want to link to your site. Somewhere on your site state your policies about other people linking to your site and provide the wording you’d like them to use in their link. You want to encourage other people to link to your site, preferably using link text and a description that reflect the keywords for that page. For their convenience provide the ready-made HTML code for the link – not everyone will use it, but many will use your preferred text as a courtesy as long as it doesn’t contain “marketing hype”.

Important hyperlinks are plain text links and not image links or image maps. Text links are better from an SEO standpoint than image links, as spiders can’t read text from an image file. If you feel you really must use a graphic as a link, at least include a text description which (including the relevant keywords) by using the “title” attribute of the link tag.

Your website is free of coding errors and broken links. HTML coding errors and non-working links can keep search engine spiders from correctly reading and indexing your pages. For that reason, it’s a good idea to use a Web page validation utility to check your HTML code to make sure it’s error-free.


Beyond Search Engines

Some webmasters report that search engines account for 75% or more of their total website traffic. However, it’s important not to become too dependent on search engines for new business. Achieving a top listing from a major search engine is becoming more and more difficult over time. The competition for top spots is intense and it’s getting harder every day to get listed at all. Also more and more search engines are moving to a pay-per-click model, and paying for top listings may not be in your budget.

The major search engine companies tend to be secretive about the details of their ranking process, so you have to rely on trial and error when optimizing your site to get a higher ranking. Also, search engines change their algorithms every now and then, and when they do you might find your Web pages bumped down to a lower position. To keep up with the latest search engine ranking procedures you’ll either need to spend considerable time on it yourself or pay for the services of an SEO specialist.

While search engines can be a great source of targeted traffic, the visitors they send are not always your best prospects. True, the traffic is targeted in the sense that the visitor has actively searched for keywords which your site is relevant to, but that searcher is also viewing (and presumably visiting) the links of some of your closest competitors who also appear in the search results. In other words, they’re “shopping around”, and your site is a contender but not the only choice. In contrast, someone who visits your website after reading your article, seeing your ad in a respected ezine, or being referred by a friend is interested in your site in particular.

For all of these reasons, your marketing plan should not rely too heavily on search engine placement. You should never become too dependent on any one source of website traffic, and search engine rankings are particularly vulnerable to sudden changes. Being bumped from the first page of results to the second, or going from the second page to the third, can mean a significant drop in traffic. You should diversify your marketing efforts and use a variety of promotional techniques to bring visitors to your site rather than putting all your time and effort into getting a search engine listing.

Here are ten other ways you can promote your online business:

1) Get your articles published in ezines and on websites. Find high quality ezines and websites that offer plenty of useful and relevant content that would appeal to your target market (but which are not your direct competitors). Contact the publisher or webmaster and offer free reprint rights to an article you’ve written which would be a good fit for their readers or site visitors. They get extra content and you get new leads – it’s a win-win situation.

2) Exchange links with other webmasters. Go to your favorite search engine and search for other quality websites with content related to the theme of your site. Then contact the webmaster and offer swap links – you link to their site from a resource page on your website and in exchange they link to yours. You’ll both benefit from the extra traffic, plus you’ll be adding useful content to your site.

3) Participate in banner ad and link exchanges. Swap banner or text link ads with other webmasters who share your market. You could join a banner exchange network or just arrange swaps on your own, but either way make sure your banner will be displayed to a targeted audience (those most likely to be interested in your product or service).

4) Practice viral marketing. Encourage your site visitors and existing customers to tell their friends and colleagues about your business. Make it easy for them to email a recommendation by providing a link on your site and in your ezine that will fill in the URL and other information in a form which they can personalize and send.

5) Run ezine ads. Place your ad in an ezine that appeals to your potential customers. If your budget allows consider sponsoring a whole issue; you get several ads throughout a single issue, which increases the impact of your sales message.

6) Place print ads. Run a series of classified ads in your local newspaper or business publications. Also, seek out special interest publications and trade journals of interest to your potential customers – the cost is usually reasonable and you’ll reach a highly targeted market.

7) Give away logoware. Print your URL and logo on t-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs, mouse pads, keychains, pens, or other promotional giveaways. Include them with catalogs, slip them into order shipments, and give them away at public events.

8) Try mobile marketing. Have you ever thought about how much time you spend on the road? Putting your URL on a car window decal or on an ad panel in a bus or taxi reaches a broad audience for very little money. Put a decal or magnetic sign on your own car and ask your friends and family members to put your Web decal on their cars, too.

9) Distribute flyers and handouts. A flyer can usually be printed up and distributed for pennies. Just have a simple one page sheet printed up with a description of your business and your website URL and other contact information. Hand them out at a shopping center or supermarket or during a fair or special events, or pay a flyer distribution company to deliver them door-to-door for you.

10) Do a postcard mailing. Get some postcards printed up with a screenshot of your website’s home page or photograph of your place of business on the front and a description of your business and website URL on the back. Bulk mail them yourself or pay to have them included in a “card pack” mailer that goes out in your community.

Search engines are clearly too important to ignore, but don’t overlook the many other possibilities for driving traffic to your site. Even if you succeed in getting your website listed and ranking well, don’t depend on search engines alone to bring you new customers. And if you’ve tried repeatedly to get indexed by major search engines only to find your site rejected or ignored, don’t despair – you do have other options. Don’t be afraid to try something new and different. Experiment with new marketing methods and track your results to find out which methods work best for you.


Choosing a good domain name isn't always so simple.

So you need a domain name for your brand new internet business. You may even have some cool ideas for a new domain name combination that will really impress your friends. Question is, is your new domain name going to help your business or hurt it?

What could be simpler than choosing a domain name right? Wrong. There are a number of things you need to consider and research before you register your favorite domain name.

First off, what is a domain name and why would I want one?

A domain name makes our lives much easier when surfing the internet. You see, all computers on the internet are actually referenced with what is called IP addresses. On the internet, IP addresses are four sets of numbers that serve like street addresses allowing two computers to talk over a network. An example of an IP address is the one for Google.com. It is 216.239.39.99. If you enter this IP address into the address bar of your browser it will bring you to Google’s home page in that very same way that typing http://www.google.com would get you there. Unfortunately, we humans have difficulty remembering our phone numbers let alone so many digits for all kinds of sites. That’s one of the main reasons domain names were invented.

Domain names make it easy for us humans to remember how to find a site. Most people know Google.com and anyone familiar with the internet knows that to reach Google, you simply type http://www.google.com in your address bar and you are transported to their website. The same goes for Disney.com, Microsoft.com, CNN.com, etc…

Now you would think that choosing a domain name would simply be a matter of choosing something that is unique and that people would remember. The problem with that approach is that most of us don’t have the money needed to turn our name into a brand name on the mass market. Most of us need to rely on our prospects reaching our website through other means. The best of these are search engines.

Choosing a good domain name for your site starts with the main keywords you have chosen to focus on for your website. Before you launch your business, you should conduct some preliminary research online to determine which keywords have the most traffic and the least number of other websites competing for that particular keyword. Some tools that help in this are the Overture keyword suggestion tool and Wordtracker.com. Both of these tools will give you a rough idea of how much traffic each of your chosen keywords will likely get each month. This helps to determine which keywords to focus on.

Should you choose a domain name that includes your main keywords?

In most cases, the answer is yes. Google and to some degree Yahoo both give you a small boost for your domain name. If your domain name happens to contain your targeted keywords, your domain name will help you in your quest for higher search engine rankings. Now if you do everything else wrong, having your main keywords in your domain name will not magically catapult you to the top of the listings. Many other parts of your site must be working for you as well. Other things you can do to improve rankings are beyond the scope of this article.

Choosing a keyword rich domain is a smart business move.

For some sites, it could be the edge they need to move up a few spots in the search engines. When choosing a keyword rich domain name, you may want to consider hyphens between your keywords. An example is cheap-airline-tickets.com. Current research trends for Google and Yahoo suggest that hyphens are the only way to separate keywords within a URL that will give you a rankings boost.

Why not simply choose your company name? Simple. Is your company a household name? Are you so dominant in a category that people have stopped referring to the generic name of your category and use your brand name like Kleenex has for tissue paper? If so, register your company name. If not, register a keyword rich domain wherever possible.

You may be thinking, “But I already own a domain name that is my company name. Should I go and register a new domain and point it to the same site? The short answer is no. Years ago, you could improve your rankings on search engines simply by setting up lots of doorway pages and having them all link back to your home page with all kinds of domain names. That tactic nowadays can backfire. You are better off optimizing individual pages within your existing website than you are creating a whole bunch of “fluff” sites just to increase rankings.

The technique I suggest above is really best suited for brand new business ventures. If you still have not registered your domain name for that special online business you are about to start, then make it keyword rich wherever possible. If you have already launched your business, you’ll just have to take advantage of this information next time you start another online venture.