The Search Engine Optimization Fundamentals in 11 Steps

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Introduction to Search Engines

People use search engines to find things. Although you should avoid making your business dependent entirely on free traffic from search engines, it is still important to consider search engines in your overall internet marketing strategy. Ignoring searchers means leaving a big chunk of your business to go to waste, which will make it much harder to impossible to stay competitive depending on the industry you are in and what your competition is doing. SEO is not rocket science and to a certain degree not technical. It has nothing to do with magic and fairy dust will do nothing to help you with it. It also requires a long term strategy and commitment in order to become and remain successful. There is no silver bullet and no shortcuts. There are ways to cheat, but cheating in this space will always be discovered eventually and never be without negative to catastrophic consequences for sites that did it.

Introduction to SEO

SEO is not magic and there is no magic bullet either. SEO is a long term marketing strategy with high ROI opportunities. Because of its long term commitment necessary, it is a well formed strategy key to success, a strategy that is followed and verified and scrutinized along the way.

While all 11 steps below are part of a repeating cycle over the time while you are doing business on the internet, only steps 6 to 11 are tasks that need to be on going on a much more frequent basis. Due to the fact that steps 1 to 5 are not repeated very often, is it necessary to give them special attention and care to get them right at the beginning. Errors made there will affect all the others in a negative way and hurt your efforts along the way.

This guide is for new and existing websites. If you are in the planning phase of creating a new website, then you are at an advantage because you will be able to avoid mistakes right from the start.

Less Frequent Steps that do not Repeat Very Often

1. Keyword Research

Keyword research is the most important first step that should not be taken too lightly. While you can easily test and change hundreds of keywords in paid search campaigns, this not possible for organic search optimization. You usually concentrate on one to five key phrases for the whole site (theme) and one to three phrases for a single page. For large sites with thousands of pages is it hard to optimize every single page to the full extent due to the limits in time and other resources.

2. Competitive Intelligence

Know your competition! What are they doing? Where do they rank, for which terms? Who is linking to them and why? The things you have to do depend on what your competitors are doing. The less competitive your competition is online the easier is it for you to outperform your competition. This is important to determining cost and resources for your SEO efforts.

See: Lists of keyword researchcompetitive intelligence software tools and services.

3. Web Design and Development

Fixing something that is broken is always harder than building it right from the beginning. If you are in the process of creating a new website, make sure to consider search engine friendly design and architecture before and during the actual development of the website. This will save you a lot of time and money and in most cases put you already ahead of a considerable number of your competitors. Search engine friendly design is not rocket science and search engine friendly design does not have to be ugly. Search engine friendly design is for the most part user friendly design as well, but there are some exceptions where compromises have to be made.

See the following beginners guide/article for some of the technical aspects of SEO here on Experts-Exchange.com
SEO Articles: A Beginner's Guide to Onsite SEO Best Practices

4. Get Your First Inbound Links

Don't submit your new site to search engines and by no means pay anybody to do it for you. There are plenty of very cheap services and software products out there that offer for less than $100 to submission to thousands of search engines and in some cases even guarantee ranking #1 at them. Especially the second part is causing many businesses to fall for such offers. Don't do it. If you see an offer like that, hold your wallet tightly closed and run. Your site should be found by search engines naturally and they will find your site if a page that is already in their index links to you. Why? Because this is what search engines do, following links to discover content. There are plenty of methods to get your first inbound links. There are some web directories that are recognized by search engines and a listing there will do your site good. Except for the Dmoz directory all of those are recognized as commercial in nature and charge a fee for reviewing your site and the consideration for the inclusion in their directory. For that reason is it important to wait with the submission to any of those directories until your website is live and ready for visitors. Also check with vendors or good customers (B2B) who have a website for the opportunity to have them place a link to your website.

5. Sitemaps

The larger search engines allow webmasters to submit a sitemap to them via a webmaster console. The search engines also provide reports and other useful information, such as technical problems with your websites you might not be aware of via their console. Even if you decide against the submission of a site map to the search engines, is it advisable to create an account and register your website with them, just for the reports and statistics they provide free of charge and which are invaluable for your internet marketing efforts.
Ongoing Efforts on a Frequent Basis

6. Web Analytics

You can't determine success or failure of any of your internet marketing activities if you do not track and measure their effectiveness. Engaging in any type of marketing campaign online, be it SEO, paid search, display advertising, email marketing, social media or affiliate marketing is like fishing in the dark without any type of web analytics solution in place. It is up to you to decide if you want a hosted web analytics solution or run software on your own servers. The options range from free services to very expensive and heavily customizable packages. You have to determine which solution will work for you, but you have to start with one so don't put it off.

Web analytics helps you to determine where to improve your site and your marketing campaigns to channel your resources and money to the things that work and pull it away from the things that don't work. Web analytics is not a cost center if it is done properly. It will pay for itself many times over and can make the difference between making and breaking it on the internet.

See: List of web analytics software solutions & services providers

7. Content Building

A website is never finished. It has to change and grow over time. This is a natural process to adjust to changes in the market, with maturation in this type of medium and your normal business growth. Providing good quality content that is related to what you do, but not necessarily aimed to sell something directly is the best opportunity to increase traffic and exposure of your business. Most people do not link to pages that only serve the purpose to make a sale. This leads to the next step in the process of successful search engine optimization of your website.

8. Link Building

The internet wouldn't be a net without links. It would only be a collection of independent pages that are not connected to each other. Disconnected pages cannot be found and that defeats the purpose of them, doesn't it? Inbound links and internal site linking are important for organic traffic, meaning people seeing and clicking on those links to get to your website, but they are also important for SEO. Inbound links play an important role in virtually every search engine when it comes to ranking pages in their search results. Links are added and removed constantly. This is a never-ending process and while it happens naturally, it is advisable to be a bit more proactive to get more and good inbound links. There are plenty of sites out there that should link to you, but don't know you and your content. Help them to find your content and encourage linking to it.

9. Engagement, Trust and Community Building

Social media and Web 2.0 might be buzz words, but the underlying core elements they are made of are much more elementary and fundamental. Don't live in a bubble and talk to people while allowing people to respond and to interact with you. People will talk about you, with or without you being around. Take the opportunity to become part of the discussion to build trust and deeper relationships with your customers or potential customers. Listen to what they say and learn about their wants and their needs. Hear what they say about you and your products, especially the criticism and improve on them. You probably spend money on focus groups and surveys. You can get the same and more, free of charge, on the internet if you allow it to happen while you are around. It also provides the opportunity to expand your link building and exposure of your brand on the internet for a fraction of the cost of traditional intrusive advertising campaigns that are less effective.

10. Ranking and Traffic Analysis

Check where you are today to be able to compare it with data in the future. Look for trends and evaluate the success of your goals, which you should have specified before you engage in any type of marketing campaign. You did set goals that are measurable, I hope? Improving ranking is important for SEO, but more important than the ranking is the traffic that comes with it.

Does the change in ranking yield the traffic you expected? Does this traffic actually convert? This leads to the last step.

11. Conversion Analysis

No matter what you do, everything will come down to one critical factor at the very end. What is your bottom line? Did you make profit or did you lose money? While losing money in the short term for strategic reasons is okay, losing money in the long run is deemed to be a failure and the end of your business altogether. Whatever you do, it has to contribute directly or indirectly to a positive Return On Investment. Web Analytics is part of the process of making this determination among other tools and methods. Expand the things that work and help your bottom line and rid yourself of the things that don't. Improve details to increase conversion. This requires testing. Don't reject anything upfront without testing it first. Things that work for others might not work for you, but the same is true the other way around.
Conclusion and Further Resources

This article is of course only a summarization of the necessary steps that you should take. What each step actually means for you depends on your business, the industry where you are operating in, your available resources in time and money, and your specific business goals. You can find additional information as well as lists of resources, articles and directories of vendors who offer services related to each step at my (the authors) web site at: Cumbrowski.com

Note: I do not offer any SEO services myself, but can refer you to companies who I respect and can recommend if you happen to seek such services right now.
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