According to an oft-quoted study, 93 percent of Web users don't look beyond the first page of search results. The study, by famed Web-usability expert Jakob Nielsen, first appeared in Prioritizing Web Usability (2006), a book that Nielsen coauthored. "Even though the specific percentages are a few years old," Nielsen wrote recently in an e-mail, "the general conclusion definitely still holds."
With odds like that, it's no wonder every business wants its site to land in the top ten results for relevant queries.
But with billions of Web pages in existence, hitting that sweet spot is a serious challenge. That's where search engine optimization comes in. With legitimate, "white-hat" SEO, a small business can greatly improve its chances of landing in the first page of relevant search results.
"The good news is, there are billions of keyword searches performed every month,” says Dave Bascom, CEO of SEO.com, a search engine optimization agency. "So you have billions of opportunities."
Improving your site's "organic" (non-paid) search ranking happens gradually, however. To kick-start your SEO, consider running a small pay-per-click (PPC) keyword ad campaign with Google AdWords linked to a relevant landing page on your site with an explicit call to action, such as an invitation to call for a free phone consultation, suggests Jamie O'Donnell, vice president and cofounder of SEO-PR. PPC ads can begin delivering targeted traffic to your site within minutes or hours, versus the months that organic SEO efforts can take.
Here are the top five SEO tips for boosting your site's search engine status.
1. Determine Goals, Priorities, and Measurements
Before starting an SEO campaign, develop measurable goals and priorities, and plan to revise them periodically. Some questions to answer: What are your current business needs? Which of your products or services are most important to promote now? What do you want visitors to your site to do, buy, or learn?
Next, decide how to measure success. If you haven't already done so, add Google Analytics to each page of your site. Google Analytics reveals which keywords visitors used to find your site, and much more. You can find many Web traffic analysis tools out there, but Google's includes all of the features that most small businesses need.
2. Research Keywords
Often, a business doesn't describe its products using the same keywords that its clients use. You may be promoting "portable media players," for instance, but your potential customers call them "MP3 players." That's why it's important to talk to employees, partners, current and potential clients, and your sales staff to determine which words are most frequently used when people seek out your company and its products or services. Use those phrases to develop an initial list of SEO keyword candidates.
Several keyword-research tools are available to help you choose the best terms for SEO. The free Google AdWords Keyword Tool helps you gauge how frequently keywords are searched in the United States (and globally), and how competitive a keyword is. The tool is designed to help marketers choose keywords for Google PPC ads, but it's useful for organic keyword research, too. You'll also get lots of keyword variations that you might not have thought of.
When choosing keywords, some site managers take into account the Keyword Effectiveness Index (KEI), a mathematical equation that comes up with a score based on the number of times a keyword has been searched and the number of Web pages containing the keyword. The higher the KEI score, the better your chances are for "winning" that keyword.
The mathematically inclined can read a detailed KEI explanation to get the formula. Alternatively, you could sign up for Wordtracker ($329 yearly) or Trellian Keyword Discovery ($599 to $1895 annually). Both offer KEI and other analytics that the Google tool lacks. SEO Sniper is a $97 Windows utility that applies KEI scores (and other analytics) to Google AdWords Keyword data.