SEO Master Class: 10 Steps to Success

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SEO is complex, but it does not need to be. As with any strategic activity, if you develop a methodology or process you can give yourself a predefined set of stages that simplifies the process.


Because of SEO's mystique and tons of articles on elements of search engine optimization and marketing, I decided it was time someone wrote an article dealing with the big picture. Companies that cannot afford to outsource their SEO to an expert need an overview of all the stages involved, not just snippets that have limited value on their own.


SEO best practices involve 10 stages:


1. Site performance audit. Before beginning work, measure how your site performs with SEO currently. It's a mistake to start work unless you have a clear picture of where you are now, because a change could make things worse without you knowing. You should measure:


· Search engine inclusion: This tells you how many pages of your site are included on each major search engine index.


· Link popularity check: This tells you how many incoming links you have to your site. Having incoming links from "relevant" sites is crucial for improving rankings.


· Search engine rankings: An obvious one.


· Traffic statistics: Get a free trial of a Web analytics package that shows your site's unique visitors and referring search phrases. Crucially, you will be able to calculate your site's conversion rate (info request, free trial, etc.), which is the ratio of unique visitors to conversions. Referring search phrases is also crucial, as you could be getting good rankings but no resulting traffic!


2. Set objectives. Set clear goals for your campaign. Without smart objectives, you will lack focus and feedback measurables.


3. Project plan and time scales. This might seem dull, but it's crucial. Without it, you have no structure to what you are doing and when you are going to do it. Even the most disciplined person would find this useful, as it breaks down all stages into manageable chunks.


4. Search phrase analysis and selection. Don't skim this section if you think it's good enough to get your keywords from your Google Adwords account or Overture's Suggestion Tool. Though useful, the information is far too basic to provide intelligent information to guide you. This is the most important stage of your SEO campaign, so it's vital to get it right. Here are some golden rules:


· Do not simply choose keywords that generate the most impressions or relevant searches.


· Consider the competitiveness of each keyword. Trying to achieve rankings for phrases that have 10 million competing sites will be difficult, if not impossible.


· Look for niche keywords that generate good impressions yet have relatively low numbers of competing sites.


5. Content development. Once you identify the best phrases to target for your SEO campaign, you need to provide content that appeals to people searching for these phrases. Do not simply provide content that you think will appeal to search engines, as this is classed as spamming and may result in your site being dropped by the engine.


It is critical that you adopt safe strategies that are consistent with the guidelines provided by the search engines and SEM industry. As an agency, we have no tolerance of any person or agency that advocates the use of non-ethical techniques and spamming.


6. Structure optimization. The objective here is to ensure your site is search engine friendly. Your inclusion analysis in the first stage will have told you whether the search engines are spidering your site successfully. If you have submitted your site to all the engines, but all your pages are still not indexed properly, then your site lacks the right technical characteristics and structure to be indexed or spidered successfully.


7. Link building. Maximizing the number of relevant sites that link to your site is very important as it establishes your site in the online marketplace that already exists for your industry. A linking strategy involves:


· Content strategy: Building content of value on your site that will attract other sites to link to you. Ask yourself, "Why would people link to me?"


· Outbound strategy: Publishing outbound links that your surfers will find valuable.


· Inbound strategy: Create a list of other sites that you can request a link from.


Remember:


· Do not use link farms, as they will do more harm than good.


· Do not link to sites that provide no value.


· Do not request links from low-traffic sites that are not relevant.


The benefits of link building are higher rankings, driving relevant traffic, brand building and integration with your relevant online community or target market.


8. Search engine submission. Remember to avoid automated submission tools that might save you time, but can result in delays, being ignored or even banned.


If your site is not coded or structured correctly, then it's a waste of time to submit your site to the engines because it will have little or no effect. You need to submit your site to the crawler-based engines and the human-edited directories such as Yahoo, dmoz and business.com. The good news is, contrary to popular belief, once a site is properly indexed by the crawler-based engines you don't need to re-submit your site ever again.


9. Reporting and analysis. It's important to measure where you are in relation to your objectives set at the start. At the very least, any serious SEO campaign must be backed up with this reporting information:


· Search engine positions: For all relevant phrases across all the search engines.


· Web analytics tool: Referring traffic, unique visitors, source of traffic.


Many ranking reporting tools are on the market. Many are difficult to use and provide unreliable reporting. The best one we know of is called Advanced Web Ranking.


As for Web analytics tools, we have tested many and they vary in price, quality and ease of use. We suggest getting a tool that does not involve installing software and maintaining yourself, as this can be a pain. You can get excellent analytics services on low monthly rental schemes, where you access your live reports via a Web login password. The best analytics tool we found is called ClickMetrix.


10. Maintenance and improvement. SEO is not a one-off activity. It requires ongoing improvement. Search engine algorithms constantly change their relevancy criteria. Therefore, a Web site that is No. 1 today may be No. 13 tomorrow. The golden rules are:


· Link building: Make link building an ongoing activity.


· Reporting: Continue to report all measurables at least monthly.


· New content: Continue to update and create new relevant content.


· Monitor ranking algorithms: This requires lots of time. You can use the many forums available.


· Optimization reviews.


· Search phrase analysis: Continue to monitor new phrases and revisit original keyword research as a reference point.


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