In the context of search engine optimization, many people equate an optimized site to a site with impressive search engine rankings. Sprinkle a little fairy dust over here and wave the magic wand over there and wallah... a magnificent dish of first page rankings for the Internet's most competitive keyword terms. [enter annoying alarm clock signaling the end of euphoric online marketing dream sequence]
The fact is, if you think you are going to achieve rankings for competitive keyword terms simply by adding a few keywords to your website, you need to pinch yourself because you're dreaming. Perform a search for your primary keyword terms and you will see a descending list, several pages deep of websites that have been "optimized" with varying degrees of success. The key is to understand the factors that differentiate those that rank on the first page from those that don't.
The attributes that determine search engine rankings can be classified into two basic categories; "on-page factors" and "off-page factors". In the most basic sense, on-page factors have to do with attributes within your website and off-page factors have to do with attributes that occur outside of your website. In a way, on-page factors tell the engines what you think of yourself, while off-page factors tell the engines what the Internet at large thinks of you.
Let’s tackle the on-page factors first, shall we? The first step is to determine the keywords that people search for when they are looking for the products or services you have to offer. Keyword tools such as WordTracker and Google's Keyword tool let you know how many people search for a particular search term and provide suggestions for related keyword terms. Use the tool to match two to three appropriate keywords to each of the web pages within your site. Once you’ve selected your keywords, incorporate then into the various HTML elements of your web pages including the title tags, meta tags, header tags, ALT tags, and body content. This will ensure that the search engines categorize your pages for the keywords you are targeting.
OK, so now we've got all the "on page" stuff hammered out, your site should start its meteoric rise to the top of the engines, right? Well, not exactly. It depends on how competitive your keyword terms are. [enter off-page factors] Off-page factors have to do with the quantity and quality of incoming links from external web pages. The algorithms that determine search engine rankings depend heavily on external linking in assessing the authority or trustworthiness of websites. In turn, sites that have achieved "authority status" end up ranking higher than those who have yet to achieve such status.
A quality backlink is a link from a subject relevant web page that contains the keyword you are trying to rank for in the anchor text of the link. There are many ways to obtain quality backlinks. Submit your site to Internet directories such as Yahoo or DMOZ.org, ask your business partners or other friendly websites to link to you, or consult with a professional search engine marketing firm who is credentialed in the art of link building.