Search engines such as Google will use over 200 factors in determining what pages to show for a given search. While they are very secretive over the exact factors they use and how much weight they give to each one, they provide clues as to what they deem most important.

1. Business, Marketing and Website Goals Provide the Foundation

Proper SEO begins with understanding your business, marketing and website goals. While this isn’t a factor that the search engine sees, it is always the place to begin. Your goals will define the audience you are trying to reach and what you want to achieve with your website. Defining these goals will help drive decisions for your audience, content, and other aspects to your website and SEO campaign to help ensure that you are attracting the right kind of traffic.

2. Quality Content That Is Audience Focused

Search engines love quality content that meets their users’ needs. Your audience also loves quality content. So provide quality content that is unique and relevant.

Avoid Duplicate Content

It is important that you do not copy content, product descriptions, etc. from other websites. This can result in a “duplicate content” penalty. When the search engines find content that is substantially duplicated elsewhere, they will always defer to the original source of that content to the best of their ability.

Use Keyword Research To Understand The Language of Your Audience

You should conduct keyword research prior to writing your content. We’ll go more in-depth on keyword research in an upcoming post. But for now, know that the keyword research helps you to better know the language (keywords and phrases) that your audience uses to search for topics that you discuss. You then use these keywords to help craft your page titles, headings, URLs, and content.

A Word of Warning

Do not “stuff” keywords into your content! While you do want to understand the keywords your audience uses to search for your services or products, you do not want to overload the page with those keywords. You need to remember that you are first writing for your target audience and not for the search engines. Using keywords appropriately will help you better communicate with your audience while providing the proper queues to the search engines.

Content Ideas

Randy has created a great series on Content Marketing, which is very helpful. Check it out for some great ideas for different types of content to serve your audience. We also provide business-writing services and would be happy to help you here as well.

3. Use Semantic HTML Code That Meets Modern Web Standards

For most website owners, this is largely something their web developer should cover. If you are using a content management system such as Joomla or WordPress, the bulk of this will be built into your template or theme. Your web developer should be developing the code (HTML & CSS) according to modern web standards and should avoid old techniques such as table-based layout.

Source Ordered Content – Putting the Most Important Info Up Top

Using CSS, knowledgeable web developers can keep the most important content toward the top of the code while displaying the content in a different order that makes more sense visually. This is called “source ordered content.”

Use Proper Heading Tags

You also need to ensure that you include proper, keyword-focused headings within your content. It is very important that these headings be tagged as headings. It is a common mistake to just try to make heading bold and a slightly larger font without actually tagging them as headings. Although this may achieve the same visual effect, to search engines, unless it is tagged as a heading, then it is just regular text. Search engines give more weight to this text, especially level 1 (H1) and level 2 (H2) headings.

4. Link Your Content Within Your Site Where Relevant

As you develop your content, you can further help your audience by providing links to additional content within your own site that is relevant to their needs. Don’t overwhelm them with links, but do link to the most relevant and important content that can help them. Your internal links also help the search engine better “spider” or index your content.

When you create your internal links, it is important to make the link on the actual text. The search engines look at the text within the link (a.k.a. “Link Text”) to help understand what the target page is about. Try to avoid links on things like “Click Here,” because that text does not provide any context for your audience or the search engines.

5. Off-site SEO: External Link Building and Social Media Engagement

Once you have completed your initial site optimization and created some great content that readers would want to read, you can then look at the next phase of your SEO strategy with “Off-Site SEO”: External Link Building and Social Media Engagement.

External Link Building

External link building is the process of getting links from other websites back to your website, preferably back to specific internal pages of your site. Each link is like a vote for your page. The more “votes” that you get, the more the search engines will see your page as “authoritative”. However, all votes are not created equal. Votes from other popular or authoritative websites will be weighed more heavily than those from smaller sites.

You can build these links by approaching sites and asking for links. You can ask the webmaster to link back to your content that is helpful to his or her readers. You can also guest blog, participate in forums by answering questions and providing your expertise. Often you will be able to include a signature line with a link back to your site.

It is very important to avoid link farms and buying links from other websites. Google is actually de-ranking these types of sites or removing them from their index altogether. They can also penalize the sites that are receiving the links when they suspect that the websites are buying links or otherwise trying to game the system.

Social Media Engagement

Google and Bing have started incorporating feeds from services such as Facebook and Twitter. Google has also introduced its own social media outlet called Google Plus. Many SEO practitioners feel that some of the search engines use the links, text and author authority as search signals. By gaining “Likes” and “Shares” and other mentions in these social media, you can provide additional signals to the search engines as to your authority or relevance for a given topic.

Local Search Directory Listings

For local businesses, it is important to be listed in at least the major local directories: Google Places, Bing Local (Bing Business Portal), and Yahoo Local. You also want to be in the secondary and specialty directories, which are increasingly important. These include directories such as Yelp, InsiderPages, and Angies List. The local directories can be an invaluable source of traffic. We’ll discuss this more in a future post.

Next, we’ll look at the initial two components of your SEO campaign as we discuss Keyword Research and Competitor Research.