Understanding the Basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Where Do You Rank?

Your buyers could be online right now, looking for products and information on search engines such as GoogleYahoo!, and others. That’s why entrepreneurs work hard to maximize their chances of getting noticed by employing smart search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. SEO should be a key part of your marketing strategy. If you build and maintain your site to interact well with search engines, you’ll make it easy for your audience to find you.

Consider how you use search engines to find specific information. How often do you look beyond the first few pages of listings before you end your search? Most of us don’t go beyond page five before trying other keyword options and combinations. In fact, 80% of web surfers don’t make it past page two. That’s why it’s so important to work your way to the top.

Of course, everyone wants to be at the top of a list on a search engine, but only a handful make it there. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t any complex, hacker-esque secrets that get them in premier positions. These fortunate few understand how search engines work and use many of the techniques discussed in this post to increase their standings on the listing pages. This is what SEO is all about.

Understand the Process

As with any business initiative, you should first have a plan in place before you take action. Apply the same philosophy to search engine optimization (SEO). It’s not rocket science, but it does require some forethought to maximize your efforts. Generally, the process goes something like this:


Now you should build or alter your site to rank well for particular terms. This is a focused and strategic action plan to increase your odds of top list placement. The section “Tricks of the Trade,” provides a basic overview of tips to help you accomplish this.


This should be your first step to getting noticed. Website submission is like raising your hand to let the search engines know you exist. In most cases, it’s free and it’s simple. Go to the most popular search engines’ submission sites:

Google (http://www.google.com/addurl/): 71% of search traffic

Yahoo! (http://search.yahoo.com/info/submit.html): 14% of search traffic

Bing (https://ssl.bing.com/webmaster/SubmitSitePage.aspx): 9% of search traffic

Ask (http://www.ask.com/about/help/webmasters): 2% of search traffic

AOL Search (handled by http://www.dmoz.org/add.html): 1% of search traffic

Register your site and voila! Mission accomplished. You’re one (very) small step closer to the top. Don’t expect immediate results, however. Sometimes this easy action could take months to increase your standing, especially if it’s the only action you’ve taken. Be patient; there is no need to submit your site multiple times. In fact, you risk being disqualified if you re-submit your site more than once monthly. You can submit different pages of your site, especially those with the most hyperlinks, like site maps, to enhance your presence.


The only way you’ll know if your efforts are successful is if you check your search engine placement on a regular basis. Where do you rank in the search listings? What keywords have you ranking the highest? You can attempt to do this on your own, by typing in keywords into various search engines and hoping for the best. But there’s an easier way.

There are a number of different software providers that will help you track your success. First, start by downloading the Google Toolbar at http://toolbar.google.com/tour/toolbar.html. Other sites that will help you determine your ranking include: WebCEO.com and WebPosition.com. You can also use free online tools such as SeoBook.com and Thumbshots.com.


Now that you’ve seen your plan in action, look for opportunities where it can be modified for improvement. What is your objective? Naturally, everyone would prefer to be in the top ten listings, but determine what keywords can bring you the best results. Then, plan your strategy in phases so you can track what works and what doesn’t, keeping in mind that some tactics require a longer lead-time to achieve results. Sites that will help you in this endeavor are WebCEO.com and SeoBook.com.

The Inner Workings of a Search Engine

There are literally thousands of search engines out there, but only a few that matter to most of us – the top crawler-based search engines listed above. These sites create their listings by using complex formulas, or algorithms, to search and find what visitors seek. Each search engine has its own formula, which explains why your results will slightly differ at each different site. But the methodology is the same. Here’s how it works:


This is another name for crawler. The spidering software will reach out to a website, read it and follow links contained within the site to other places in the site. It returns to the site every few weeks to check for changes. Everything it finds is placed into an index.


This is also known as a catalog, since it’s like an enormous book that contains all the content that’s identified by the spider. It’s updated with the latest changes that are discovered, but this process is not immediate. Your site may be spidered, but it’s not relevant to a web search until the information is added to the index.

Search engine software

This is where the magic happens. The search engine software sifts through millions of pages of information within the index to find matches to a search. It uses engine-specific algorithms to determine relevancy and ranking.

There are also human powered search engines such as dMoz.com, LookSmart.com, Gimpsy.com, GoGuides.com and Zeal.com that find and rank websites in a more basic way. They depend on human submissions of website descriptions, and then identify search matches based on relevance to these descriptions.

For the purposes of this post, we’ve focused on common approaches to SEO with crawler-based search engines because that is where you’ll receive most of your traffic. Still, you should not ignore human-powered search engines all together because some of your customers may be searching there. Strategic descriptions and creative use of keywords play a large role in your success in this area.

Location. Location. Location. (And Frequency!)

Type in the same keyword into two different search engines and you’re likely to get different results. That’s because there are so many variables to each search engine’s algorithm, you’ll never know exactly how to crack it. But there are two constants that you can count on to help you rank well:


Search engines are busy by nature, so they skim through web page content as quickly as possible. Where’s the first place they look? Your page titles, of course. Keywords that appear in the HTML title tag are likely to be more relevant than others to your topic. If you sell camping gear, for example, you should always include the word “camp” along with the product name in your titles.

The second place search engines look for keywords are in content near the top of your web pages. Pack your headlines and introductory paragraphs with as many search-relevant terms as possible.


The second key factor to determining your ranking is how often keywords appear within the site. Search engines will assess the number of times these words are found in your web copy compared to other words on the page. Those with higher frequency are deemed more relevant and thus, ranked higher.

In the past, webmasters have tried to trick search engines with a number of different schemes that attempt to take advantage of these rules. In response, the algorithms have become smarter. Here are some ways that search engines combat spammers and tricky webmasters.

Page exclusion

If spamming is detected, a search engine will ignore it. For instance, when a word is repeated hundreds of times on a page, the search engines recognize it as a fraud. They also rely on complaints from their users to weed out non-relevant pages.

“Off the page” factors

Webmasters used to change their sites frequently so that crawlers would continually update them in their indexes. This “new” content helped the site rank higher, even if it wasn’t any more relevant than the old content. So search engines look for factors that cannot easily be changed by webmasters to overcome this problem. The main factor is link analysis. If your site links to multiple pages of content, it helps the search engine find the most important content to boost rankings. See more on this below.

Click thru measurement

Simply put, the search engine will watch the results of keyword searches. Then, if top ranking sites aren’t pulling in traffic, it will increase the ranking of the lower ranking pages that do.

SEO Tricks of the Trade

Choose Your Keywords Carefully

If you were searching for your products, what words would you type into Google? Conduct a quick brainstorming session to come up with a list that reflects your products and their attributes. You can also use tools from WebCEO.comSeoBook.com and KeyCompete.com to help you develop targeted lists.

If you’re selling a common item, such as tents, you’ll probably have plenty of competition. Be more specific to stand apart. Use detailed phrases with two or more words, such as “Family tents,” “Ultra light tents” or “Self-assembly tents.”

Additionally, you can also use variations on the same keyword within your text as an easy way to broaden your list without seeming reiterative. You may sell camp equipment, but pepper your text with references to “camping” or “campers” to reinforce your relevancy in a logical way.

Write Great Metatags

In the past, metatags were one surefire way to enhance your ranking on the search engines. Today, they’re less essential in the formula, but they’re still a key factor. One of the biggest benefits of using metatags is that you can have some control over how your site is described by search engines.

Some search engines pull directly from the metatag for the descriptions, others pull from the content. Regardless, you’ll want to infuse your metatag with keywords so that search engines pick it up. Be careful not to overload it, however, because it may be the statement that compels someone to click through to your site. You want it to make sense to both your audience and the search engines.

So what’s a metatag? The full definition is too complex to provide here but, at the most basic level, it’s information inserted into the technical areas of your web pages that human visitors may not be concerned about. It helps direct the browsers and communicates behind the scenes information that supports site functionality. For SEO purposes, there are a few types of metatags that you may want to know: Meta Robots, Meta Description and Meta Keywords.

Integrate Keywords Into Content

As noted above, keyword location is imperative to being identified by a search engine. Be sure to include your best keywords in high-profile locations of each web page, including HTML title tags, heading titles (h1 & h2) and introductory paragraphs. However, be careful that your title tags are related to the topic at hand. Your title words must be reflected in the page content for the search engines to deem it relevant.

Be careful not to bog down your text with words that don’t fit the context. Writing nonsensical, overly long paragraphs filled with keywords will not help you sell product. It will only annoy your customers. First and foremost, your content should relate to what’s on the page. Think short and sweet when writing headlines and be descriptive with your product detail. Then, your keywords should come into play naturally.

Keep Design in Mind

Make sure your text is in HTML, not graphics or art. Many times designers will use creative fonts that must be transitioned into graphics to be placed on a site. It may look great, but it’s invisible to search engines.

Another rule of thumb is that if your content is hardly visible to your readers’ eyes – small fonts or colored text – you can bet the search engine may have a hard time finding it as well. Some web designers have attempted to “hide” content from the reader by making it the same color as the background. In theory, your customer won’t see this content, but the search engine will. Not so! The search engines have caught on to this trick and will ignore your efforts.

Direct your graphic artist to design with SEO in mind. Use formatted text for almost all of your content – product descriptions, company information, etc. But be sure to integrate imagery to make a strong visual impact and set your site apart.

Make Connections with Hyperlinks

Your home page may not be your most relevant page to any search, especially if your product pages are rich with descriptive content. Help the search engines find this valuable copy by linking to pages inside your site within your home page text. You may think that your navigation bars are enough, but search engines aren’t likely to read these image map links.

HTML hyperlinks not only assist your readers, but they increase your relevancy dramatically. Here’s an example:

Welcome to GreatCampingGear.com. We’ve got all the equipment and clothing you need to make your next great escape a great success…

Then, once the reader/search engine clicks on one of these hyperlinks, they’ll be taken to a page with even more hyperlinks:

Looking for quality camping equipment? You’ve come to the right place. Here, you’ll find everything from tents and sleeping bags to headlamps and boot gators.

Finally, if you have an extensive or diverse product listing, you should also include a site map page with text links to all pages on your site. If you submit this page to the search engines, it will help them locate pages within your site.

Link with Others

Search engines find relevancy in websites that link to other sites. This is because it is difficult for webmasters to “fake” quality links, so a site with link listings tells crawlers that your site is legitimate. The more websites that link to your site, the more legitimate you seem as well.

You should aim for quality over quantity when you build link partnerships. All links that go to and from your site must be related to your product listing in some way. Create a “favorite links” page on your site. Then, approach popular websites where your potential buyers may be visiting. Your links may include some friendly competitors, but think creatively to determine categories that are indirectly associated with your products. For example, campers may be seeking out deals on travel sites or looking for maps on park sites. Type some of your keywords into a search engine, and then contact some of the top listings for link sharing opportunities.

In Summary

SEO is often the first step online retailers take to get noticed among a growing stream of competitors. Why? Landing at the top of a search list can increase traffic exponentially. Plus, initial investment is virtually non-existent and a few strategic enhancements can pay off big time. Still, you should consider SEO to be a small, but necessary, part in an overall marketing strategy. It may take some time and experimentation to see tangible results, but remember to be patient and track carefully. Keeping a cautious eye on keywords, design and links to increase the odds of success.

IMPress Action Checklist

Increase your rank and exposure to potential customers by optimizing your site for search engine crawlers. This action list will help you put your SEO plan into action. Check off each step as you complete it to keep track of your progress.

  1. Familiarize yourself with basic search engine methodologies
    1. Location/Frequency
  2. Brainstorm keywords
  3. Integrate keywords into title pages, headlines and introductory copy
  4. Double check design for search engine roadblocks
    1. Tables
    2. JavaScript
    3. Frame links
  5. Submit your website to popular crawler-based search engines
  6. Build link partnerships with other sites
  7. Track your results
  8. Adjust your keywords as necessary

Written by

In 1999, Lisa Rae created her first online small business eCommerce website. She successfully achieved a client base of over 15,000 active customers by implementing customer creation and retention projects. Her execution of online advertising campaigns, as well as print media campaigns that lead to annual revenue of over a million dollars annually. After six years of leadership, Lisa Rae sold the company and began offering marketing consultant and website services on short and long term contracts for businesses of various sizes. She meets her clients’ objectives through customized marketing plans using a wide range of marketing tools including WordPress website creation, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Social Media Marketing, print collateral, email marketing, and more.