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11 Insider Tactics to Improve Search Results

SEO Guru Mike Grehan wrote this column for us: www.mikegrehan.com We're honored. Mike is an SEO Expert's expert. In other words, all the SEO insiders know him and follow what he says. I've learned lots from this chap.

Below are the 11 top SEO tactics Mike suggests we employ. But he doesn't just give you marching orders; he often explains why things work a certain way. I find these insights very useful in my business. -Larry Chase

1. First, stop fixating over how many keywords or phrases you could possibly rank for and only concentrate on those which send qualified traffic. Anyone can be number one at Google for their street address or their own name spelt backwards - or whatever. So, if your SEO firm is selling you keyword rankings, then suck the referrer data from your log files and find out how much traffic all of those keywords send you, and from which search engines. Dump the ones that send nothing... and consider dumping your SEO firm if pure rankings is the best they can do for you. It's transactions and conversions your business needs, not vanity listings.

2. Before you even start talking about rankings at search engines, immerse yourself in some real competitor analysis. And not just looking at which keywords are less competitive than others. If you become completely myopic about search and keywords only, and forget to research your competitors' overall marketing strategies, then you could be setting yourself up for a fall. If your competitors have complete integrated marketing strategies, then anything from a TV campaign to an email marketing campaign can impact on search. End user data plays a role in ranking now, so you need to have some kind of online and offline "buzz parity" to compete. Differentiate!

3. If it's all too much for you and you're losing sleep over this while still thinking "keywords, keywords, keywords - what keywords are my competitor targeting? And is he getting more traffic than me?" Then you may wish to indulge in some slightly more revealing surveillance. There are vendors who have access to proxy server data from ISPs, which gives them access not just to what keywords people are searching for, but also which sites they're clicking through to. Hitwise and Trellian's Search Term Intelligence tool spring to mind here. Imagine how much more easily you'd sleep if you knew you had beautifully optimized pages for all the search terms your competitors are targeting.

4. Did I say stop fixating over rankings? Yes I did. But positioning is still important. At one time in the SEO industry we used to say "if you're not in the top 40 results, you may as well not be there at all". Then it became "if you're not in the top 20" and then "top 10". In fact, you really need to be in the top six to have maximum visibility. As search engines such as Google add more PPC listings at the top of the page (there are now three instead of two in many cases) and then throw in a little Froogle and maybe some news, you're being pushed below the fold. Then, as your potential customers add toolbars to their browsers and maybe have desktop results added at the top of their searches, you're going down even more. Studies show that not only do people not click through to the second page of results anymore, they can't even be bothered to scroll either. So set realistic expectations about your possible visibility in the organic listings.

5. It's a fact that certain keywords or phrases you rank for don't necessarily have to appear on your pages. But it helps if they do. And remember, search engines return web pages following a query, not websites. That means every page on your site has ranking potential. Whenever possible, try and focus your copy around one or two phrases, maximum, for each page. In my experience, the title tag of your web page is still the most powerful place to have your keywords. But then be sure to support that tag with keywords and phrases in your headline, intro passage and conclusion. Give the search engine every opportunity to know exactly what the "gist" of your page is.

Then, for maximum effect, try and match the title tag, and link anchor text exactly to the end user query. What's known as a local ranking mechanism (the online community you belong to) based on anchor text relies heavily on the cues it gets from these three sources. The closer the match, the more relevant you are.

6. Being indexed doesn't mean you'll eventually get ranked. There are two sides to getting results in the organic listings:

a) Having a website which is easily "crawlable" by search engine spiders in order to be indexed in the first instance.

b) Having great content that other website owners will want to link to and end users will find useful.

Getting in the index is not difficult. To make life easier for crawlers, be sure to have a clean site map. You can then feed your site map, for instance, directly to Google here .

There will always be certain technical barriers that may prove problematic. Don't worry, most of them have a work around. And most solutions are explained in Aaron Wall's constantly updated SEO book at SEObook.com .

7. Content is still king. And linking is vital to any SEO success. Your first major boost in ranking is via linkage data; in particular, how many authoritative (or already popular) websites link to you.

Other websites are keen to link to great content. Try my honesty test. Be brutal. Take a look at your website now with a pen and a piece of paper in hand. See if you can write down ten reasons why someone would want to link to your site. If you can't get past three or four, you may want to reevaluate what the purpose of your website is.

Remember, content is not just text on a page. Think about cool tools, fun features and downloads which would be really appreciated by your potential customers.

8. If you're certain you have great reasons for other sites to link to yours, let them know about it! Yes, there's a "chicken and egg" thing going on here. You have great content, but people can't find it in search engines. And in order to be found in search engines, you need good inbound links!

First think about the integrated marketing process already mentioned and consider different ways to get your message out there. Be sure to get the press to write about you and bloggers cross-talking about you.

Another good place to start looking for good business partners (and that's what a good linking strategy is all about) is by interrogating search engines.

For instance, at Google, do a back link check like this:
link:www.mywebsite.com - to find out who may already be linking to you. Then do:
link:www.mycompetitorswebsite.com - to find out who links to your competitors.

Do this to all of your competitors at all of the major search engines and you'll soon build up a list of non-conflicting websites that will also likely link to you.

9. More links? An oldie but a goodie. Use keyword searches to find business directories and verticals in your market. Try this. Go to Google and search for: golf+submit your site - if you're targeting the golfing community. Then try variations such as: golf+add url - and then golf course+submit your site, and so on.

Do this with as many variations as you can and you'll find all kinds of directories and websites in vertical markets where you'll be able to get a listing (link) that won't cost you anyting, or just a small fee.

10. The power of advertising. Years back, I used to look for newsletters and ezines in just the same way as mentioned above. I have lists of hundreds of niche newsletters in many markets which cost very little to sponsor or advertise in.

The beauty of these types of newsletters is that first they get your message to a highly targeted audience. And then, when each newsletter is archived, the sponsor's link usually remains.

This means you get a good on-topic link which could age beautifully, both sending qualified traffic and helping to maintain those top rankings at search engines. Try: golf+newsletter and golf+ezine, those types of searches, just as above.

11. Factor in the human touch at search engines. Long gone are the days of technology tricks trying to fool search engines. Most simply don't work anymore. More to the point, end users can vote with their clicks, just as webmasters can vote with links.

Don't create web pages for search engines. Remember, the ultimate goal for a search engine is to create a unique and satisfying experience for the end user. The better the content you create for people, the more search engines will be happy to return it in their results.

Ranking is one thing, but if you consistently rank and no one clicks through to your site, or if they stay on the page for a couple of seconds and hit the back button, that's a sure sign to search engine that the page may be relevant for the keyword or phrase, but it's certainly not relevant to the end user.