Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : August 2008

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

If you own a website, you are probably familiar with the term SEO, or Search Engine Optimization; if not, then you are familiar with site rankings. Bragging rights go to those with the higher position. “Google has me ranked number eight on page one.” “Oh yeah, well, I’m at ten and five.” Of course the only response is to march right back to the office and review your Meta Data. (Meta Data? Don’t worry we’ll get to that.)

Of course, your website is only a piece of your marketing portfolio (and probably not the biggest player), but you should still try to get the most out of your investment. Search Engine Optimization is what helps ensure that your website ends up near the top of the list when people come looking for the assistance you can provide. This is sometimes more important for those whose Internet presence is a larger part of what they are doing. Those with blogs will always crave more traffic for their site. But whether you are a blogger, have a website with content that changes frequently, infrequently or not at all, I do not suggest becoming an SEO expert. You should have a basic understanding, which is what this article is about, but focus on the other things at which you are already best. Leave the SEO to the, well…experts.

There are a myriad of companies and individuals that would happily provide this service to you. What you need to do is to separate the promisers from the performers. Some companies work on volume and slap down generic changes that might improve your ranking somewhat but not perform as well as it could. Some may use practices that try to manipulate rankings using unapproved methods that may result in your site being banned from certain search engines.

It is best to hire a Search Engine Optimizer (which economically uses the same acronym) in the beginning stages of your site design or when you’re redesigning your site. It is easier to optimize a new site than working with an existing site. However, a good SEO can also help improve an existing site. The company you hire may also offer an SEO service, but most cases, depending on the size and staff of the company, their sills will be in design. Whether you choose an outside optimizer or one provided by your designer, here is what to ask for to make sure you will get what you pay for:

• Examples of previous work
• Adherence to the Google Webmaster Guidelines
• Additional online marketing services
• Expected results and timeframe
• How much experience do you have in my industry?
• How long have you been in business?
Before you even get to the point of asking the questions above, run potential providers through a filter.
• Did you contact them or did they contact you? Many unethical SEOs send out spam messages hoping to hook new business. Begin with companies that you find or are recommended to you.
• Do they offer a guaranteed #1 ranking? No one can guarantee a #1 ranking, and results can change over time depending on many factors.
• Are they clear on their methods? If the company is secretive on their methods, they may be using deceptive techniques to boost site ranking, which will eventually backfire on your efforts.
• Paid advertising is not the same as a good site ranking. Search engines will display paid advertising at the top of their results. These “results” are only for the term of the advertising agreement and will not benefit your site rank.

But What Do SEOs Do?

An SEO will review and provide recommendations on your site content or structure. Bringing in an SEO early will help them coordinate with the designer. They also offer technical advice on website development in the areas of hosting, error pages and the use of JavaScript on your web pages. JavaScript is responsible for many of the “special effects” you see on websites. SEOs also offer maximizing related marketing campaigns as well as keyword research and training. Training often consists of a short list of procedures to follow when you making future updates to your site. If new pages are added that do not follow the guidelines set by the SEO, it may undo all the work that you have paid for. This is usually a small, simple check list. For an idea of some of the items it contains, check out the DIY section below.

For you do-it-yourselfers out there, here are some tips to giving your rank a boost.
• Have other relevant sites link to yours.
• Check to make sure that each page has a descriptive title. This appears between <title> and </title> in the page code.
• Use Text links for navigation, not images.
• Keep fewer than 100 links on a page, including your site map.
• Keywords are king. Think of the words people would use to find you. Put these in the page content and the Meta Data Keywords. Meta Data is info specifically for search engines and includes important keywords and page description.
• Don’t use irrelevant keywords, hidden text or links.
When you site is ready, go ahead and submit it to the various search engines and then periodically test the results.

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: August 2008

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