Search engine optimization can seem like a big black hole to solo entrepreneurs. On the one hand, the cost of most professional SEO services are beyond our budgets; and it's difficult to assess the effectiveness of these services before you buy. On the other hand, if we try to do it ourselves, the process can be bewildering! There is so much to learn about: new terminology; a myriad of “rules” for optimizing your website (that change constantly as search engine algorithms change); lots of tools for analyzing and measuring all kinds of things that may or may not be helpful. Below are a few tips I’ve learned over the last several years as a solo entrepreneur optimizing my own site; I hope they help you navigate the maze of search engine optimization, and save some money in the process.
1. Beware SEO services that promise to get you top ranking for a particular keyword. Aside from the fact that they are often quite expensive, what they are promising is often not even effective. It doesn’t help much to rank highly for “blue ceramic frogs” if only a dozen people search for that term in a month! Also, search engine optimization isn’t a one-time activity; it’s an ongoing process. If you’ve paid someone to do the work for you, and three months later there is a change to search engine algorithms or in your website focus, you’ll be faced with paying for this service all over again!
2. Don’t fall for tools, tricks and “secrets” that attempt to game the system. Known as “black hat SEO”, these tricks are usually only helpful for a short while; they can also get you in trouble (i.e., lower rank) with the search engines. Examples include “keyword stuffing” (filling your page with keywords to the point that it no longer makes sense), tools that help you build links by blindly pushing content onto other people’s blogs, and automatic link exchange tools.
3. Be careful with accepting paid advertisements on your website. I learned this one the hard way earlier this year, when I agreed to put 4 links at the bottom of every page on my site. The links turned out to have nothing to do with my website content; Google penalized me heavily for that mistake! That’s not to say that you can’t accept any paid advertising; just get advice from a professional before you do so.
4. Learn your keywords. Keywords and keyword phrases are the foundation of any SEO strategy. There are many keyword tools available to help you discover and evaluate potential keywords; try a few tools and pick the ones that make the most sense to you. Then use those tools to compare different keyword phrases. Check your website stats (if you don’t have Google Analytics yet now is the time!) to see what keywords are already bringing you traffic, and compare how well different keywords convert (i.e., the visitor buys something, or signs up for your newsletter.) Look at sites similar to yours to see what keywords they are using, too.
5. Write for your audience, not the search engines. Start with your keyword phrases, but don’t let them overly influence how you write your copy. It’s more important to provide content that is relevant to your desired visitors and easy for them to read. Get feedback and revise and improve; this is a never ending process! Hire a professional copywriter to help you. Even if you never learn anything else about SEO, if you keep tweaking your copy to be better and better for readers, you’ll do well – because ultimately, search engines want to serve up pages that their visitors will find helpful!
6. Keep your content fresh. Search engines love new content; it’s also what will keep visitors coming back to your site! A blog is an easy and efficient way to do this. If you add new posts often, the search engine spiders will visit more often, too – meaning that your latest post will get attention sooner, too!
7. Get professional help. Luckily, there are ways to do this that aren’t expensive; some are even free! I recommend the biweekly High Rankings Advisor newsletter, which explains SEO in a laymen-friendly way, all white-hat and practical.