Search Engine Optimization for Your Web Site

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Spell Correctly--or Have a Good Reason Not To

Your site and (especially) your keywords need to be free of spelling errors. Typos can be a huge problem for eBay sellers, who can't figure out why no one is bidding on their "Tiffanny" bracelets. On the other hand, including the incorrect form of certain words that are frequently misspelled can work for you. For example, about 5 percent of searchers misspell "absinthe" as "absinth," so it may be wise to include the misspelled term as a secondary keyword to supplement the correctly spelled version of the word.

Mind the Flash

Flash-based Web sites look pretty, but search engines don't care about that. Sullivan notes that the closer your content is to plain text, the more easily and completely search engines will be able to spider it. Search engines today are better at working with Flash than they used to be, but if you're more interested in strong search results than in a flashy interface, text and HTML are still the way to go.

Resist Duplicate Content and Plagiarism

One of the most difficult SEO problems to remedy is the issue of duplicate content--the tendency of others on the Web to steal your work and republish it as their own. All search engines are terrible at recognizing which version of a page is the original one, and you may very well be penalized as a duplicate page if an engine fails to recognize who was copying who. The penalty is severe, too: Duplicate sites won't show up in search results unless the searcher clicks the search engine's link for "repeat the search with the omitted results included," which no one ever does.

To deal with cases of plagiarism, many Web hosts have a mechanism for reporting abuses such as copyright infringement. (For example, the Google Blogger service has a notification system.) The process can be tedious, but your efforts will pay off handsomely if they help you reverse penalties that are unfairly being assessed against you.

Give OnlyWire a Try

Michael Fleischner says that he's seen clients achieve great success in getting word out about their content by using OnlyWire, which lets you automatically submit a page of content to more than 20 social bookmarking sites with a single click. OnlyWire also gives you the option of embedding a "bookmark & share" link on your pages that permits other visitors to do the same. For best results, Fleischner says, "Individuals should bookmark their home page and channel-level pages once per month and get others to do the same." Submitting select content to major social news sites such as Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon can produce occasional floods of traffic, too, but that strategy is very hit-or-miss. And beware of oversubmitting to social news sites, lest you be branded a spammer.

Use Word Clouds to Link Internally

If you drop a word cloud (or tag cloud) on your home page, according to Fleischner, internal linking to your content "takes care of itself." Linking from one page to another within your Web site--no matter how you achieve it--helps improve your site's search result ranking.

Put Quality First

It may seem too obvious to bear mentioning, but the quality of your Web site's content must come first in any SEO strategy. Search-engine results are, to a large extent, driven by the number of incoming links to your content, whether these links come from blogs, news stories, or social news sites like Digg. Unless you give visitors a compelling reason to link to your pages, you won't get these links and you won't rise up in the search rankings--no matter how frequently your keywords appears on your home page. Write provocative blog posts. Create entertaining and original promotional copy for the merchandise in your catalog. Include photos and videos on your pages. Do whatever you can to set yourself apart from and above the millions of other sites on the Web.

Don't Let SEO Get in the Way

A final piece of sound advice from Fishkin: "SEO should never have to compete with user experience or usability. What's good for users is almost always good for engines, too, so building the best Web site you can--with the best content, design, and architecture--will go a long way to bringing you success with search engine rankings. Just make sure that whatever you build, search engines have easy access to it, and you'll be miles ahead of the pack."

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