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Search Engine Optimization: Back To Basics

Mark Jackson
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It's tough to run a business, spend time with the family (did I mention that I have a 4-year-old and twin 18-month-olds?) and write a weekly SEO column (70 weeks straight, now). After completing a 2,500-word article for another publication, wrapping up my preparations for Search Engine Strategies in San Jose (where I'll be speaking and moderating), and getting four new client projects rolling last week, I was fried.

That's when it occurred to me: we're all busy (some more than others). And, for some of you, you are the one who's trying to find those easy/quick things that will help your Web site do better in the search engines. There just isn't enough time in the day for you to do everything, but, at the moment, you can't afford to outsource to a firm that specializes in SEO.

Because I haven't covered the SEO basics in a while, let's look at a few things that will help your site rank well organically.

Domain Age

Nothing beats a domain/URL that has existed for a while. If you're still in the early stages of developing a Web site, consider buying a domain that already has links to it (i.e., relevant links from Web sites within your industry) and has a clean track record (hasn't been blacklisted in the past).

Some of the best options for using the power of a used domain name include:

  • Find an expired domain name on your topic and use it as your main domain name.
  • Pick a new brandable domain name and find an expired domain name; redirect the expired domain name to your new domain name using a 301 permanent redirect.
  • Find an existing Web site on your topic and buy it from the owner.

Whichever option you choose, do some research to find an "aged" domain name that has the appropriate on-topic links going to it. One option is to look at authority Web directories (Open Directory Project, Best of the Web, Yahoo Directory, Business.com) that list Web sites on your topic. Can you buy any of the listed domain names or Web sites?

Expired domain name auctions are another option. GoDaddy has a tdnam.com auction service, and there are others -- Snapnames, NameJet, and Sedo.

If you want to search for a domain name that's on-topic, try searching for: "this domain name expired on" keyword (where "keyword" is the topic of your new Web site's topic). There are other variations of this search that you can do. Also, look at domain "parking pages" for a common element or phrase that might help you find more domain names.

Once you find a potential domain name, there are two things that you'll want to do.

  1. Perform a linkdomain search (linkdomain:example.com) for the domain name at Yahoo, where example.com is the domain name you want to look up. A linkdomain search shows all of the links to the domain name, not just the links to the site's home page. Also, visit the sites to verify that the links to the domain name still exist.
  2. Look at the Internet Archive to see the domain name's history. What did the site used to be? What really was the former topic? Important note: verify that the site that's revealed is the same domain name that you're looking up. If a domain name was formerly redirected to another domain name, the domain name may change.

You can also look up the domain name at Google by searching for the domain name in quotes (i.e., "example.com") to see where the domain name was previously mentioned on other Web sites. If the domain name still is in the Google index, great; if not, find out why.

Content

All things being equal, the search engines want to rank a Web site with copy. When I say copy, I don't mean 10 words. The search engines want you to have at least 150 words of copy on a given Web page, with a decent percentage of these words including the keywords that you want to be found for when people are searching. You would be best served to include these words that you are focused on within the first paragraph of text, and in your header/H1 tag.

When you're trying to determine which keywords you might want to focus on, you can refer to your paid search activities, to see which keywords get a decent amount of impressions, CTR and conversions (leads/sales). If you don't have any past PPC activities to refer to, then you'll need to turn to some of the keyword research tools available.

Google provides a pretty cool tool for helping you determine which keywords you might want to select. This tool is fairly accurate with the synonyms it suggests, it has a 'negative' filter to leave out words you aren't interested in, it gives you keyword volume as a number, and you can enter a URL to see what keywords it thinks are relevant for that given page or for a full Web site.

Once you have good content on a given Web page, you must realize that if given a choice, a search engine would rather rank a Web site that has 1,000 pages of content than a Web site with 20 page of content. Be sure to be mindful of the usability of your Web site, but organize your content and create many pages of it.

Title Tags

Every page of content that you've created is unique (hopefully), so make sure your title tags are unique. Use the keyword of focus first, and try to limit the size of the title tag to around 68 characters, including spaces.

Links

With links, it's not just the quantity of links that matter...quality truly matters. Break out a spreadsheet and start finding the common links that the top ranking Web sites share. You can find these by going to Yahoo and conducting this search:

linkdomain:www.example.com (for each of the Web sites that you would like to reference in this competitive analysis).

Once you get a list of target Web sites, this is where you'll be spending a lot of time. Reach out to these individual Web sites and request a link. Hopefully, you have enough quality content on your Web site that people will accept your link request.

Social media can be very effective here, as well. If you create a blog on your Web site (I recommend www.example.com/blog) and promote it to the masses, relevant links will come your way.

That's all I have time for today. Here's hoping that you're able to find balance in your life, and still succeed with SEO!


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