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On The Scene: Sharpening your SEO edge

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On the Scene
Friday, August 21, 2009

“If you’re not doing it, your competition is, and you’re going to be left in the dust." When someone tells you that, you'd better sit up and take notes.

That was among the parting bits of advice from Colleen Wright, an expert in SEO and owner of the Search Engine Academy of Oregon. About 30 people – mostly self-employed – settled into the air-conditioned comfort of the MacForce training center in southeast Portland this week for a workshop with Wright. The issue at hand: How to effectively use SEO for your website to market your business.

While the workshop was free, implementing SEO methods into a website operation usually isn’t. Yet Wright said that people are still increasing their budgets for SEO, according to research from Forrester, and about 73% of merchants are making optimization a top priority.

Wright covered many of the basics of effectively using SEO, and for someone as unversed as I am in the technicalities of the web, learning the amount of content that needs to be considered was eye opening. On-page factors (e.g. domain names, page names, title tags) need to be meticulously crafted in order to get your website ranked higher in search results; meanwhile, other off-page factors (e.g. getting your site linked from authority sites, online press releases and directories) play a big role in making your site look popular.

The biggest SEO pitfall? Wright said she constantly sees people duplicating title tags (the name of a page which appears at the top of the browser and as a link in search results) on every page of their website. Title tags can make or break you depending on how you use them, so don’t be lazy. “I always tell people that if you’re not going to do anything else, make sure you have unique title tags that describe the page on every single page,” Wright said. “It’s like your advertisement in search engine results.” Particularly if you're a small business, sites like Search Engine Guide are a great resource for learning about other SEO do's and don'ts.

And to avoid getting flagged as spam, don’t stuff keywords into your tags in the hopes of getting higher hits, Wright said. Spend time researching effective keywords with tools like Wordtracker, webconfs.com and SEO Chat and use them throughout the page text instead, at a rate of 1% to 2% of the total text. Any more than that might also be considered spam.

It’s a lot to think about. But SEO can do wonders for your company’s website and business, if you use it strategically. And here’s an added bonus: job security. Companies want people with SEO skills. “If you can get your company onto page one for search terms, you’re going to be the hero,” Wright said.

Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.



Mike Nierengarten
0 #1 Helping the Search EnginesMike Nierengarten 2009-08-21 13:02:58
SEO is really about helping the search engines understand what your site is about. Whereas site usability focuses on a good user experience, SEO focuses on a "good" bot experience. In other words, SEO is telling Google what each page is about. If you are selling used Toyotas on a page, you want to let Google know (through multiple on-site & off-site aspects) that page is about used Toyotas for sale.

For beginners to SEO, I recommend working through Google's or Bing's webmaster tools as it can be a great jumping off point to understanding SEO basics.

SEO agencies focus on combining a good user experience with a good bot experience. SEO agencies help identify keywords where companies can be competitive in the search engine results. Agencies then work with site owners to address on-site & off-site aspects to help gain visibility for targeted keywords.

From an agency perspective, I highly recommend/prefe r my clients to have some SEO knowledge or experience as it can help communication and ultimately, reach our goals more quickly.
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John McPhee
0 #2 Focus on keyword research...John McPhee 2009-08-21 13:34:31
As a search engine marketer, I would add that spending time identifying the right mix of keywords to target on your site is the most important on-site strategy one can do. I see so many sites trying to rank for extremely broad or irrelevant keywords. Even if you do rank for these keywords, you're most likely driving unqualified traffic that doesn't convert. This does you no good. Your strategy should be to identify a mix of both broad and specific keywords to ensure you're attracting the right audience that converts.
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Kent Lewis
0 #3 Don't forget SEMpdx & Related Educational ResourcesKent Lewis 2009-08-21 17:19:58
Great article, thank you Kevin for educating the business executives of Oregon regarding the importance of SEO to the bottom line. While SEA is a fantastic training resource, I do want to add that there are other organizations out there offering educational opportunities, including SEMpdx(.org), a non-profit trade association for search marketers, as well as the SEM Workshop at Portland State University (http://ow.ly/kUKk).
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Colleen Wright
0 #4 Two-cents from Search Engine Academy of OregonColleen Wright 2009-08-28 15:00:17
Mike is absolutely right about the need for a balance between usability and SEO. As an Internet Marketing Strategist and consultant, the first task is educating the client. Communication is key.

I have had companies come through my class to understand how search marketing works to make sure they are receiving value from their SEO companies and I have had companies come through with the intention of doing the optimization work themselves.

I also agree with John that you should spend a fair amount of time researching keywords. In the SEA class, we spend a total of 4 hours on two separate days learning how to do effective keyword research. It's that important.

As Kent points out, there are many resources in Portland to learn about Search Marketing. SEMpdx is a wonderful organization for connecting business owners with search professionals through their networking events. I am a member and supporter of SEMpdx.
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