Demystifying Search Engine Optimization: Part 1

By Jennifer Shaheen | Posted March 17, 2008

Every small business owner with a Web site should, at this point in the game, understand that having your business listed on – and found through – the major search engines is an important piece of an effective Web-marketing strategy.

On any given day you can open your e-mail inbox to find an SEO pitch promising to get you to the top of Google, Yahoo, MSN and every other search engine out there. How is it then that some of these companies promise you first-page ranking at such a low cost while others charge thousands? Is there really a difference between them?

Many of my clients mistakenly believe that there's a secret formula for getting ranked on the first page of a search engine. This myth leads to confusion about what it takes to achieve that goal. Let's clarify the myths and talk about what really makes your Web site rise to the top.

Keywords and Keyword Phrases
These are the words and expressions you think your customers are most likely to type into a search engine when they're looking for products or services that you offer. Choosing the right keywords is a very important decision in building a successful SEO strategy.

Those low-cost companies typically suck you in with offers like, “Get ranked on the first page of the search engines with 10 keywords for a low price of $49.95”. While this seems like a great deal, these companies generally use lower-quality, less competitive words that fewer people actually use when searching.

These “factory SEO services” create a system and apply it to all the companies that fall into the same industry with little interest in your business or your customers. Instead of offering their expertise, they rely on you by asking; “What keywords do you want people to use to find you?” How are you supposed to know? Isn’t that why you reached out to them?

Michael Coppola of Path Interactive, a New York City-based search-marketing firm, explained that choosing the right keyword phrases is the most critical part of any SEO campaign. "First you need to map out your audience. That drives your search optimization efforts. Company’s focus on keywords and misunderstand the big picture – the customer,” he said.

Simply put, if you're optimizing your Web site with keywords used by shoppers who aren't your audience, your business may rank on a search engine's first page. However, if it's the wrong audience, you won't see the return you were hoping to gain from your position.

The point, Michael said, is to go back to the basics. Before you hire an SEO company or taking on the project yourself, look at your true goals and ask yourself, who is your market? Who are you looking to attract? This is how SEO should really begin, not by throwing keywords at your Web site.

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