Introduction to Search Engine Optimization for Online Sellers
By Trevor Ginn
Consumers are increasingly turning to search engines such as Google and Yahoo as a convenient and quick way of finding products and services. Fifty percent of online purchases start with an online search, and the market is growing by 30 percent per year, representing a huge opportunity to drive traffic to your website, increase sales and acquire customers.
To get significant clicks, your pages will need to appear high up in search results, preferably on the first page. The process of organizing your website so that it appears prominently in the results of searches relevant to your products is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
Many companies underestimate the potential of SEO. However, using some simple techniques it is possible for even organizations with a limited budget to improve their performance.
How Search Engines Rank Web Pages
The inner workings of search engines can seem mysterious. However, whilst they have complex and constantly evolving systems for producing their results, there are two fundamental sets of factors that their software considers when ranking sites.
On-Page Optimization. To produce their results, search engines create a database of the content contained on millions of web pages. When performing a search, the search engines use the position and frequency of the words on the pages to judge how relevant the page is to that search. Pages that feature the search terms more prominently will rank more highly in the results.
Link-building. Search engines consider each link from another web page as a vote for that page. For any given search, pages that have more links will rank higher. It is not just the quantity but also the quality of links that is important. For example, a link from bbc.co.uk carries more weight than that from trevorginn.com (unfortunately).
How to Optimize Your Website
Step 1: Research Keywords
Keyword research and selection is core to success in SEO. Start off by making a list of the areas of your website to which you would like to drive traffic. For each of these areas, brainstorm the phrases that your customers might use if they wished to find your services. To help you find keywords, you can use tools such as Yahoo's keyword tool (http://inventory.uk.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion), Wordtracker (http://www.wordtracker.com), your competitors' websites and, if available, information from your weblog (see web analytics software in Step 5 below).
When you have built your list, select 2-3 key phrases for each page you wish to optimize. Choose phrases that you think will drive targeted traffic to your website, but be careful not to choose phrases that are too generic or too popular. For example, there will be fierce competition to rank highly for the word insurance. However, a more specific phrase such as flood insurance will be less competitive and bring more targeted traffic.
Step 2: Eliminate Barriers to Indexing
Step 3: On Page Optimization Factors
The frequency, position and emphasis of the key phrases on your site are very important for optimization. The challenge is to produce copy that reads well and also contains your relevant keywords. The following is a list of important factors:
- Keyword frequency. Repeat your keywords throughout your page. To do this you can vary the usage of the keywords, e.g. eBay store, eBay stores, eBay stores in the UK
- Position. It is best to position your keywords in the first and last paragraphs
- Emphasis. Include the keywords in your page headings and use bolding in the text
- Tags. The Title tag on a webpage is the most important factor in optimizing a webpage and so it should contain your most important keywords for that page
- Repetition. A keyword will hold more weight if it is included in several areas of the page including the title tag, page content and the URL.
In addition to optimizing current content, consider creating new content for your site. This could take the form of new pages for your products, guides, press releases or a blog. Remember that good quality content will attract visitors.
Step 4: Off-Page Optimization Factors
One of the reasons for the dramatic growth of the Internet is the ease with which related sites and pages within sites can link to each other. Search engines use the number of links to a page as an indication of the importance of a page. All other things being equal, for a given search phrase, the page with the most links will get the highest position in the search engine results. It is therefore important to increase the number of links to your site to improve your rankings. There are five main strategies for increasing links:
- Natural link-building through quality content. Sites with good quality content will naturally receive links from other sites whose owners believe the linked content is a good resource for their visitors.
- Requesting inbound links. Enter your site into online directories and ask your business partners, clients and staff to link to your site. The text that is used in the return link is also very important. For example, a link that says "Click here" is not going to have as much impact with the search engines as "Visit AuctionBytes.com for the latest news on eBay, the online auction industry and ecommerce." It sounds obvious, but the keywords that are used in the return link need to be considered carefully. Many sites that request links from other sites actually include the text that they would like to have used with the return link.
- Reciprocal linking. Requesting link exchanges with other websites to build the number of links to your site.
- Creating your own internal links. Creating links between your internal pages contributes to their rankings.
- Generating a buzz through PR. Submit press releases and articles to relevant websites.
Step 5: Monitor, Monitor, Monitor
It is important to monitor the traffic to your site to see where your visitors are coming from and what search phrases they are using. This information can then be used to refine your site. Google provides a free tracking system called Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics) and there are also other free services such as Statcounter (http://www.statcounter.com) and Webalizer (http://www.mrunix.net/webalizer) web analytics software. Note that Google Analytics and Statcounter are hosted services, while Webalizer is a desktop software program.
About the author:
Trevor Ginn is principal at Internet consultancy VendLab and also runs his own online eCommerce business - Hello Baby. Previously Trevor worked as Head of Consulting at Auctioning4u, the UK's largest eBay drop off shop. Trevor's eBay blog, eBay, ecommerce, life can be found at http://www.trevorginn.com.
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