Nearly every business has a website and we all know that search engines like Bing and Google help people find products and services they want. The challenge is to make sure that when people look for a business like yours, they actually find your business and not a competitor. This means ensuring that your website is search engine optimised. In other words, help the search engines help you.

There is a lot of snake oil for sale in the search engine optimisation (SEO) business and it’s easy to give up, thinking it’s too difficult, or waste money on non-productive or even counter-productive strategies hawked by ‘specialists’. On the other hand there’s plenty you can do yourself at no cost except your time. That is what this post is about.

  1.  Keywords

Search engines doesn’t understand English. They use maths and programming to search website text for keywords. Your job is to make sure you your keywords accurately describe your company. Make a list of key search words that you want to be known for. For example, if you’re a high-end cabinet maker you may want to consider words like: cabinetry, luxury, hand-made, unique, bespoke, craftsman, artisan etc. You may also want to include words to describe the market you serve, such as South London or UK. Aim to compile a list of about 20-30 of these words. Google’s keyword tool and the Microsoft SEO Toolkit may help.

  1.  Website copy

Make sure your website uses these key words. Most people never get beyond the home page so you definitely need to have them all on that page. If you’ve picked words that represent your business accurately, you’ll have no problem including them in the text and menus of your site. A good copywriter will be able to do weave SEO text that also reads naturally. It’s even better if you use your keywords in headlines and link anchor text because a search engine that these are more important than plain ordinary text. The best time to do this is before your designer starts work on the site but since text is easily changed, it shouldn’t cost a lot to amend what you already did.

  1.  Make sure your designer understands SEO

You shouldn’t have to pay extra to get a site that does the basics for you. This includes making sure that it is standards-compliant (it meets industry standards for the code that describes the site) and accessible (it can be used by people with disabilities such as poor eyesite). This will help search engines parse your site. Errors can make them give up and go home. Your site should have a sensible navigation system to help a search engine spider find all the pages you have created. All this is like buying a car that comes equipped with an engine. Test standards compliance with the W3C validator. (Note that automated tools aren’t perfect arbiters of compliance. You need a certain amount of experience or technical knowledge to interpret the results.)

  1.  Tags and page titles

Meta tags are a way that web designers can embed your keywords invisibly in a page in a way that helps a search engine understand your site. They’re less important than they used to be but it makes sense to have them. A web designer should already include them but it only takes a few minutes to add them so don’t pay through the nose for it. More importantly, you should ensure that your page descriptions – the text that appears in the browser window at the top – accurately reflects the site and your business. Don’t just repeat your site address there.

  1.  Submit

Submit your site to Bing, Google, Yahoo!, DMOZ and any other search engines that take your fancy. You don’t need to pay for this service – it’s free on all the search engines that matter and only takes a few minutes. See Bing for Business for extra tips to raise your site’s profile on Bing.

  1.  Incoming links

Search engines prioritise sites that have a lot of incoming links, especially from other trustworthy sites. Encourage clients, friends, family members, partners, suppliers, industry mavens, bloggers – anyone, really – to link to your site. The more incoming links you have the higher your site will rank. The words people use to describe your site in their links is also important. If they use some of your keywords that will associate your site with those words more strongly in a search engine’s cybernetic mind.

  1.  Bookmark yourself

You can link to your site yourself. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon and similar sites can get you ‘free’ incoming links that are strongly associated with your name and your keywords. Also, try to get your site listed in industry websites etc. If you have a street presence, like a shop or a head office, add it to Bing and Google Maps.

  1.  Metrics

Sign up for a Google Analytics account and track visitors to your site. You’ll see where they come from and what keywords they searched for. This allows you to fine-tune your efforts and thank people who link to you. It’s easy to add the code to your site and your web designer should be able to do it in a few minutes.

  1.  Search engine advertising

It’s easy to advertise on search engines like Bing. You only pay when someone clicks on your link and visits your site. You can also set daily and monthly budgets so you can experiment with online advertising on the cheap. If you advertise against a carefully selected set of keywords you can drive qualified traffic to your site relatively cheaply. Using advertising in conjunction with analytic lets you track what your paid-for visitors did when they got to the site – did they buy?

  1.  Useful content

If you publish useful content (in addition to and alongside sales material) on your site, it will help a search engine identify your site with your keywords and it will bring visitors looking for information about your area of expertise. For example, you could publish a white paper, buyer’s guide or a blog. Use your expertise to promote your site. This is an area where a good copywriter can really help.

  1.  Social media

Set up a blog, join Twitter, read other blogs, leave comments, use social bookmarking sites like Digg, Reddit, etc., set up a fan site on FaceBook, build a network on LinkedIn. All these activities help to get your name out on the internet, along with your website address. Put in the effort and you will get traffic from it.

  1.  Use your website address offline

Make sure it is on your business card, carrier bags, leaflets, shop window, the side of your van, receipts, invoices, letters etc. If you do PR, try to make sure that journalists mention your URL. Include it in the footer of every email you send.