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Four tips for high rankings

For online businesses getting that all-important top — or top three — ranking on the major search engines often feels like the quest for the Holy Grail. But Internet marketing expert Jason Baer, senior director at Mighty Interactive, which just re-launched its Web site to make it more search engine friendly, says to succeed you just need to follow four simple rules.


Rule #1: Pick Specific Search Terms
First and foremost says Baer, you need to be realistic and judicious about which search terms you're going to optimize for. "You're not going to be number one for 'Internet marketing' or number one for 'Web site design'. There are literally millions of Web pages that come up when you search for something that broad, and the chances of you being on the first page of Google for something that broad is, for the most part, zero," he says. "So you've got to think a little more strategically about what search terms really make sense for your business."


There's been a lot of research done to show that the more specific the search term, the greater likelihood of somebody actually converting to be a customer, says Baer. "If somebody searches for 'digital camera,' they're probably just kicking the tires. But if somebody searches for 'Canon PowerShot SD600 digital camera,' he or she is probably much closer to buying." So try using longer, more specific search terms that will attract serious customers to your site and/or products or services.


Once you've decided on your search terms, make sure you place them in your page titles, because that's where those search engine spiders look to determine what the page is about. And, says Baer, have different page titles for every page on your site.


Rule #2: Minimize Flash and Graphics
Graphics are invisible to search engines, so make sure all of the links on your site are text links, not graphics, says Baer.


Similarly, don't turn text into a graphic. It may look nicer, he says, "but then it's invisible to search engines."


Baer also suggests avoiding Flash as much as possible. "It's very difficult for search engines to read and index Flash," he explains, "so typically most content that's included in Flash is invisible.


Maximize Your Site Map
Another good way of getting your site noticed is by including a site map.


"You definitely want to have a site map that has a text link to it and links to every page on the site," says Baer, "because search engine spiders will come and hit that site map page and then they'll click on every link. That way the search engines find all the pages on your site, not just the top level pages. So even if you're site is not very big, you definitely want to have a site map."


Rule #3: Write Great Copy With Relevant Search Terms
"Copy is king to search engines," says Baer. So, once you've got your search terms programmed, minimized the amount of graphics on your site, and gotten rid of all that Flash, "then it really becomes a copywriting contest."


That's because search engines read every page of copy. "They determine what words are on the page, what words are important and how frequently each word is mentioned [what is known as key word density]," explains Baer. "And they use that to help determine whether that page should come up first or last for a particular search term."


So if, for example, you want to be ranked for 'Delaware Web design firm,' "you need to have a page on your Web site that says 'Delaware Web design firm,' and says it in an artful way a few different times," says Baer. And you have to use exactly that phrase, not something like it, because otherwise the spiders won't count it.


You also need to liberally sprinkle those key search terms on appropriate pages throughout your site, as key word density determines rankings. So, for example, if one of your search terms is 'e-mail marketing,' "if you have 300 words on the page and 30 of those words are 'e-mail marketing,' your key word density would be 10 percent," explains Baer.


Although key word density varies from search engine to search engine, typically you want to be in the 4 - 6 percent rage.


Another copy tip: the more frequently you add new content to your site, the more search engines will come back to your site. "And that typically gives you a little extra credit," says Baer.


Rule #4: Reciprocity Rules, Get Links
"If you don't have links to your site, you're never going to get ranked, because that is the element of the equation that the search engines put the most emphasis on, because it's the toughest to fake," says Baer. "I can write good copy, even if my site's terrible. But most likely I can't get a bunch of links from good sites if my site's terrible. And Google and Yahoo! and MSN recognize that. So that's why they treat links so much more valuably than they do anything else."


So whether you are building or updating or re-launching your site, "you want to make sure that all your clients link to you," says Baer. "You want to make sure that you're listed in all of the online directories that might relate to your business," as well as post comments on blogs and discussion boards with links to your site. And every time you do a press release, "make sure you put it on PRWeb or one of the other online news distribution services," he adds, "because those then get picked up by Web sites, and that creates more links to your site."


Who links to you also matters. "A link from a .edu gives you huge credit in search engines, because they know it's difficult to get," explains Baer. "And links from big sites count more than links from little sites. So a link from the New York Times to your Web site is going to count a lot more than a link from Mighty Interactive." That's why a big part of Mighty Interactive's client work involves going out and getting them links.


Learn To Play Geek Chess
If these rules are new or intimidating to you, don't feel overwhelmed. "Part of the evolution of search engines is that they have made their algorithms, the formulas they use to determine rankings, massively more complicated and nuanced in the last five years. It used to be the content was pretty much all that mattered. Then they introduced links and made other changes," which raised the bar, says Baer.


"It's really just geek chess," he says. "Google's geeks do something and then my geeks have to react. And then once we figure out the formula then Google's geeks make other changes and then my geeks have to react. And it keeps going around like that." But, says Baer, who has helped dozens of company's of all sizes with search engine optimization, if you follow these four simple rules, you can play chess with the big boys, get noticed online and drive more — and better — traffic to your site.

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