The first step is to have a well thought-out content plan. If you just have a simple “business card” site with contact information and key details, your prospects for high search ranking are not as good as if you have additional information about the products you sell. For example, if you make pizzas, you could include details about your hand-tossed dough, information about the locally grown, organic ingredients your pizzeria uses, and other content relevant to your business. Having unique and useful content will help your site stand out.

However, the extra work put into your content will remain unseen if potential viewers don’t know about it, and this is where SEO can help. Search engines generally consider your front page (home page) the most important — it is the gateway to all other content on your site, so there must be a way for the search engine spider to navigate your site. Flash-based navigation might be visually appealing but may not provide a means for the search engine spiders to move from page to page. An entirely Flash site may not be indexed and its content will be completely unreadable by search engines. Flash can also be problematic for people using screen readers. For this reason, we recommend against producing all-Flash sites when search ranking and accessibility is a concern.

Useful page titles and keyword phrases

Each webpage should be titled effectively. Unless you are a well-known brand like Amazon or eBay, the name of your business is not as important as the keywords that describe your business or the contents of the page. People search for “Nike” but few, if any, search for “Al’s Famous Slices.” Think in terms of what words or phrases someone in your target audience might use to search for the products you sell. These words or phrases are the keywords that succinctly capture the topic of a web page or website, and they are the terms that search engines use to display relevant pages in the SERPs. Something like “pizza” is too vague (there is no geographical information associated with it), and even “pizza durham” might have too many competing businesses to do well against initially. The key to developing useful keyword phrases is to pair different terms together. The phrases “gourmet pizza,” “durham gourmet pizza,” or “organic pizza durham” not only describe what you sell, but are more likely to be used by someone with the specific goal of finding information about gourmet pizzerias in Durham.

Excerpt of Google search results for the query 'durham pizza'

This result is returned from a search query for “durham pizza”. Although the phrase appears in the Title (and is bolded there), the keyword phrase appears nowhere in the description. The description could be rewritten to have a stronger appeal to the user looking at the SERP, and it should be lengthened - the current description uses only 106 characters, while most search engines display 160-200 characters from the description in the SERP.

Check out your competition to see what keyword phrases pull up their sites. It is very unlikely your new site is going to immediately bump their rankings, so if certain terms are saturated with results, try some other terms or combinations. When doing a search, the vast majority of users select from the first ten results. If a site does not appear in the first twenty listings, it is very unlikely people will ever find it. If the search query is too broad (there are too few terms), the search engine will usually add more terms to the query. Thus it is best to optimize for longer keyword phrases.

Appealing to potential site visitors

You must select keywords that people are actually using in web searches. Having a top ranking with a seldom-used term won’t do you much practical good. For search engines to work for you, you need to optimize your website for terms your potential visitors will use, not necessarily what terms you would use yourself. This may be a dilemma, since your potential visitors may use terms that are not accepted industry jargon, or even considered correct. Unfortunately, you will need to optimize for them if you want to be found by this type of user.

Search algorithms use the title as a guide, but the actual text of the page is also important. Titling your page “Famous Slices” will not do much good unless that title accurately reflects the content on your page. To a limited extent, the amount of times a key phrase appears on a page can help. But while endlessly repeating a key phrase in your page may boost your rankings, it is a violation of the terms of service on many search engines (including Google), and could lead to the page being labeled as spam and dropped entirely from the search engine. The text on the page should always be logical and readable.

Getting a top listing is still only half the battle—users will decide to click through to your site based on the title and description the search engine provides for your site. This is often your page Title, and Description, so they need to appeal to people, as well as the search engines.