Search Engine Nirvana

By Patrick Gaul

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It's a mystic science, little understood and rarely applied, yet search engine optimization, or SEO, is on every CIO's to-do list.

But just what should you do? Search engine companies are constantly refining indexing techniques to offer more accurate results. So even if you make it through the maze of current SEO strategies, there are no guarantees you'll keep top placement after a few months.

And that's partly the beauty of it. No guarantees presents us with an even business playing field, where in a keyword search of "chicken wings," KFC's website can be outranked by a home-based recipe site with keyword-rich content.

What it all comes down to is this: a site that's continually optimized for search engines gets more traffic, gets more business.

In fact, the Georgia Institute of Technology reports that search engines account for more than 85% of new visitors to some sites. What this means for many online companies is a steady flow of new business.

Knowing these facts, you want to make sure your website is deeply immersed in this potential revenue stream. The good news is, there are several foolproof strategies to achieving your company's SEO success:

Povide information that's, well, informative. Sounds like a no-brainer, but this concept sends a lot of companies back to the website drawing board. Have 15 pages that drone on about your company? You're probably not going to achieve SEO Zen.

You need an audience; your audience needs information -- objective, relevant content that's well thought out and well written. When creating a website about your company, intermingle company information with industry insights that educate your audience and show your expertise. Become a resource. Customers will like it, and so will the search engine "spiders."

Satisfy the spiders' appetite for keywords. The vast majority of search engines are not human indexed. Instead, they are indexed by a software program, called a spider, which scans each site's content to categorize it appropriately. These critters look for a density of keywords, not just hidden metatags. Selling riding lawn mowers? Hopefully, the phrase "riding lawn mower" is repeated multiple times on your home page. Another tactic is to specialize. "Green grass eaters" will have less competition and move your site up in the index hierarchy (but someone has to search for the term first).

Don't forget the title. Sounds simple enough, but a website's title tags, different from metatags, have a much greater influence in SEO than most people know. A page's title tag should match the page's main keywords and the metatags behind it. Just remember, a cohesive approach to these elements is an enlightened approach.

Just say "No" to flash and frames. If SEO nirvana is your goal, then you'll want to skip the fancy Flash site and give the search engine spider something it can read -- html. A touch of Flash is okay for graphic jazz, some javascript won't hurt, but a site built with frames will get you passed over by the search engines of today. The text has to be html for the spider to recognize the keyword. For this reason, graphic text is also a no-no.

Create an in-bound link strategy and make invaluable friends. Not only do search engines read in-bound links as a sign of good content, your customers do too. A higher search engine ranking and increased site traffic can result. But it's important to have a structured link strategy so you can carefully choose which sites to approach. It's not the number of in-bound links you get -- it's the quality of the sites that link to you.

Do-it-yourself when it comes to registering your site. To bring your site to the search engine's attention, it must be registered. While there are software programs that can register your site with multiple engines at once, some search engines now reject software submissions.

Stay at the top with professional support, not professional scams. There are numerous qualified and experienced companies in the search engine optimization field that can provide a lucrative service to your company. They are experts in current SEO trends and they monitor the search engines to adjust to changes of index techniques to keep your website at the top.

But as with any new rage, SEO has its share of frauds. The way to spot the black sheep is to call references, ask for quantifiable results, and be wary of any "double-your-traffic-in-a-week" promises.

Within a month, you should see a steady traffic increase. Later, maybe even a healthier bottom line. Better yet, a pleasant sensation of SEO nirvana could hit once you achieve top search engine ranking. And then you have arrived.

CIO Update guest columnist Patrick Gaul is President of VIA NET.WORKS USA, an Atlanta-based provider of Web solutions, ranging from managed Web hosting to professional services. VIA works with companies in 98 countries. For more information visit our Website or call 800.749.1706.