I keep getting messages from companies offering to improve my clients’ organic search results on the major search engines. They guarantee to get websites listed in the top three organic search results in the first month after enrollment, and then maintain the top listings forever as long as the client pays the $2,500 monthly fee. And they claim to have special tricks that make their solution unique. Don’t believe it. Don’t do it.

When you search for something like “auto insurance” on a search engine, the organic results are those that appear naturally because of their relevance, rather than as various advertisements. There can be literally millions of results listed, so at first an offer to be listed in the top 3 can seem attractive. Watch out. Although Google and Yahoo! don’t publish their specific processes for listing sites, search engine optimization, also known as SEO, is not magic. The process of improving your website’s search engine results is fairly straightforward, but does require regular and ongoing effort and patience.

So without the help of pretty assistants, mirrors, or trap doors, here’s how search engine optimization works, along with a couple of tips for a successful SEO initiative:

  • It’s all about the keywords. Understand the keywords (like “auto insurance”) that clients use to search for your products/services online. Make a list, with an emphasis on more specific and more popular terms. The Google AdWords and Yahoo! Search Marketing websites offer tools to check the popularity of keywords so you know where to focus your efforts.
  • More is better. Use those keywords in website text more times than your competitors. There are tools available, again through Google and Yahoo!, that measure keyword density. See the note below about gaming the system, but you need to write content that makes sense to your visitors, not just to the search engines. Each pages needs to have different content.
  • Change is good. It’s best to make site updates at least every week. At a bare minimum, you should review keywords and update your site at least once per month. Update content on each page in regular intervals. This allows you to make gradual changes to your website without spending all of your time writing and rewriting web copy.
  • Get linked. Build links from other relevant sites to yours, showing the search engines that your site is a popular destination. Add your blog to industry forums, with links to your site. Share news through LinkedIn. Always list your website address along with your firm’s contact information. You can also get free competitive intelligence using link research tools like Yahoo! Site Explorer. This will tell you the sites that are linking to your competitors.

 

Does one minute of reading qualify you to manage SEO efforts for your firm’s website? Not exactly, since this is a high level overview and the rules are constantly changing. But hopefully it will give you some direction for your education. With a little online study (check out the Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide) you can find the right details and tools.

Part II includes some more advice for improving your website’s organic search engine results. That assumes you want to do this yourself. Also consider outsourcing, since so many legitimate firms do this for a living. After Part II, you should be able to compare SEO firm claims with reality and decide for yourself which option is best.

If you can’t measure it, don’t do it.

 

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