I'm going through an SEO overhaul of our company's website. There is definitely a combination of art and science that I never appreciated until having to do it. So, to save others some time, here are some very basic things that any business should do to optimize the ranking of its website in search engine results. Nothing explained here is necessarily a secret or difficult to find out. The trick is to find a good cookbook and a process that is easy to follow.

  1. Keywords. Decide on a manageable number of keywords to weave into the content of your website (I chose 10). This falls into the category of art. You need to think of words that people would potentially use to search for what you're offering, similar to the process you go through when starting an AdWords campaign. You need to climb into the brain of your customer and understand how he or she might try to find you. For example, our company often refers to itself as a SaaS company. However, potential customers might first think of the words "online" or "hosted," instead of SaaS. Tools exist that can help with this, but the end goal is to list important keywords.
  2. Site changes. Depending on what software or hosting services you use, you may need to tweak this process differently, but here are some general ways to influence how your site gets indexed:
    • Page title. These are the words at the top of the browser window that describe the current page. Search engines look at these words. Be strategic here. For example, if you have a page devoted to a product that allows online document collaboration, don't use "Product" in the page title. Use "Online document collaboration" instead. Also, don't put your product name first. Search engines will hopefully already know what that is; they tend to look at the first three words, so make them the most important.
    • H1 tags. Use the same strategy. Search engines prioritize H1 tags, so use important keywords here. Try to stick to one H1 tag per page.
    • URLs. Same deal here: use keywords. For example, instead of http://mycompany.com/product, use http://mycompany.com/online-document-collaboration. Separating words with hyphens is best.
    • Keyword density. Make sure to use your keywords in the body of your pages. Density is important; i.e. 2 keywords for every 5 words counts more than 2 for every 15.
    • Meta description tags. This will sound redundant but... use keywords. This is also where you should put a 25-word description of your site. Search engines sometimes display this description under links in search results.
    • Links. Link to other pages on your website, but (get ready for it!) use keywords. For our example, use "online document collaboration" as the link text, not "product name."
    • Content. Create pages on your site that focus on your most important keywords and topics. And then link to those pages using the method described above. Do not copy content from other sites because this only confuses search engines.
  3. Link love. We all know that the more inbound links pointing to your site, the better. Get people to write and comment about your business. We also know that the quality of the site linking to yours is very important. What you may not know is that the words in links are important, too. Try to ensure that the text in those inbound links contains keywords; for example, use "business collaboration software" (see how I'm learning) instead of something generic like "click here."

You can do other, more technical things, like create an XML site map and submit it to search engines. Our company brought in SEO experts, and that can be very beneficial if you need help in this area. Regardless, the entire process makes you really focus on what your company does and how you describe it. It isn't easy, but it can pay great dividends with leads and site traffic. How do you practice SEO? Any tips or strategies that I missed?