Basic search engine optimization (SEO) steps EVERY enterprise should take (Part 1 -- overview)

If you have any involvement with public-facing websites, you need to know about search engine optimization (SEO) -- the practice and process of affecting search engine results. SEO can be disgustingly deceptive, or even criminally spammy. But it also can be simple, straightforward, helpful to customers, and utterly ethical. Above all, it can have a huge effect on your business success.

How big a deal should SEO be to you? Well, that depends greatly on the nature of your business. If you work for a large consumer marketing company, or any size of web-only business, you probably are already highly involved in SEO - and hopefully you know a lot more about SEO than I'm going to post here.

But even the most stodgy, mid-sized business-to-business enterprise should master some SEO basics. Just in case you've been neglecting them, here's a checklist to get you started.

Refine your objectives

  • Figure out who you're trying to reach, and what they're likely to be looking for.
  • Figure out which keywords you want to and can rank for.

Participate in the web

  • Figure out who'll gladly link to you, and get those links.
  • Start and promote satellite websites.
  • Provide SEO help to your business partners.

Clean up your website

  • Make sure your listing looks attractive in the search engine results
  • Use static URLs, with keywords
  • Have a clean linking structure
    • No forced Flash intros
    • No frames
    • Limited tables (<div> is better)
    • Sitemap
  • Pluck the HTML low-hanging fruit
    • Use your <ALT> tags
    • Use <nofollow> tags

Details will follow in subsequent posts.

Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about SEO, there are a ton of resources on the Web. Five of the best are:

  • SEOmoz.org, a general educational/community SEO site (it's quite commercial, the "org" domain name notwithstanding, and quite unrelated to DMOZ)
  • Search Engine Watch, which was long the undisputedly leading website tracking search trends and issues, with a strong SEO/SEM (Search Engine Marketing) orientation
  • Search Engine Land, the new flagship site for Search Engine Watch founder Danny Sullivan
  • DMOZ's SEO blogs category -- I'm the editor, and have listed 77 pretty high quality sites (458 more sites of mixed quality grace the category's unreviewed backlog)
  • Google webmaster tools' About page, illustrating a whole lot of things you can do that you may not have previously realized.
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