Search Engine Optimization for Small Business | Rank expert SEO
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Search Engine Optimization for Your Small Business

If you own an online business, you have probably heard of Search Engine Optimization -- and if you haven't, you are missing an important business opportunity. Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) refers to the part of streamlining your web site to gain higher search result rankings in various search engines, including MSN, Yahoo! and Google. With a high ranking, your page is more likely to appear on the first few pages of a related keyword search. Research shows that most users will not venture past the second page of online search results, so search engine rankings are an important reason in getting unsolicited online business.

Unfortunately, optimizing a site can be a costly and time-consuming procedure. Even more unfortunately, major companies have been optimizing their sites for years, making it difficult for small businesses to rank on major keywords at all. There is, however, a solution. Although professional search engine optimization is far away for a serious business owner because of the complexity and maintenance of the methods search engines use to return results. There are some steps you can take at home to improve your rankings.

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Beginning a link exchange program with other, related sites is the easiest of those choices. Best of all, a link exchange program is free. In this guide, I will explain exactly what a link exchange program is, why it is helpful to begin one, how to invite links, and how to format links for the best possible benefit.


Link exchange is agreeing to include a link to a related site, in exchange for a similar link. Why would any business want to direct their customers to another site in a competitive market? The answer to this question is simple: link exchange programs can improve a site's search engine ranking, and, when done correctly, will not misdirect users to competitor's sites. How is this possible?

Search engines such as Google use several criteria to decide whether a site should appear on the first few pages of a search result. One of the main criteria includes checking how much "authority" that site has on the subject. Authority is based partly on how many links exist on pages related to that keyword string, and how much authority the linking pages have on the subject.

In essence, Google is checking how many other pages are "talking" about a particular site. Also, just like human beings having a conversation, Google takes more stock in an important page's opinion. People would have an easier time believing you were an excellent golfer, for instance, if Tiger Woodsmentioned it in interview, than if Joe Schmoe down the street said the same thing.

Therefore, your task in creating a link exchange program is to get as many authoritative sites as possible to "talk" about your web site about a specific topic. One-way to do so? Offer to exchange links with sites addressing topics you would like to target, also known as setting up a link exchange program.


Step One: Decide Which Topic, or Keyword String, You Would Like to Target
There are a multitude of causes to consider when deciding which topic, or "keyword string," you would like to focus on.
For one, you must consider what your customers may want from your site. You must also consider how likely it is that a customer would type a particular phrase into a search engine. For instance, if you sell products for cats, it is likely that someone would type "pet supplies" into a search engine to find your product. It is fewer likely that someone would use "Schweat Scoop wheat-enzyme based feline litter from Detroit" as their search term. Finally, you must consider what your competitors are using as their keywords. A large corporation may already be targeting the phrase "pet supplies," and, because they have more resources and clout with the search engine, will beat out your smaller site every time. A good compromise is to select a term that is neither general nor specific, such as "wheat-based kitty litter." Organize an informal survey among your customers to discover which products they buy from your company most often. This helps selecting your targeted search term, think of specific products you would like your company to be known for.

Step Two: Compose a Series of Link Titles
Link titles are the real words that compose a link. If this link to Associated Content, the link title is "this link to Associated Content." In most link exchange programs, you select your preferred link title. The link title is also the primary criteria by which Google decides which topic, or keyword string, the link is relevant to.
Compose about 5 different link titles that incorporate some aspect of your targeted search string. In this example, you might want to use link titles such as "Cat and Kitty Litter," "Pet Supplies and Kitty Litter," "Litter for Cats," "Wheat-Based Kitty Litter" and "Wheat Litter for Cats." This is necessary because Google will respond better to links it believes come from various sources.
Try to keep each link title under 5 words, and natural sounding. For instance, "Litter Kitty Cat Wheat-Based" is not a good link title, because it does not sound like natural writing and the search engine may pick up on that fact.

Step Three: Create a Link Exchange Page
Create a simple page for the links from your link exchange partners. This page must be linked somewhere from your index -- or home -- page. The link may be any font size, but should be called something like "Links" or "Other Resources." Title the page something that relates to your targeted keyword, such as "Other Kitty Litter Resources," using a header tag. Name the file something like "link.html" to make it easier for future link exchange partners to find.
For now, you might want to include links on your own site that relate to your targeted topic. Later, you will remove these in favor of links to other sites. If possible, you may also want to create a new e-mail address specifically for link exchanges, and place that somewhere on the page with notice that you are always looking for more, related links. Remember, this page was not created for mainly for your human customers - it was created for the search engines, so they can tell your page is "talking" about your link exchange partners. Any writing on the page should still sound natural, but you do not have to worry about consistent formatting, or how easy it is to find as long as there is a link to it from your front page.

Step Four: Compile a List of Link Exchange Partners
This step is the most tricky. You may want to start by contacting people in the industry you already know, and who may be open to link exchanges.
Please be aware that unsolicited e-mail which is seems spam. I strongly recommend you only contact partners you already know, who already have a link page, or who have posted an open question for related links. I also recommend looking for pages that you feel are authoritative on a topic, and have been around for at least a year.
Once you find these potential partners, be sure to keep track of the name of the site, the address of the site, the webmaster's name, and the e-mail of the person in charge of screening link exchange partners.

Step Five: Contact the Potential Link Exchange Partners
Send individual e-mails to every person on the list, asking if they would be interested in a link exchange. It is important that you send individual e-mails rather than a single e-mail to a mailing list, or you may be accused of sending out spam.
I also recommend mentioning the intended link exchange partner site by name, and making it clear that you are a private individual. You may also wish to make it known that you believe the target site is related to your own, and that you would like to feature it on your links page in exchange for a similar link. Finally, note that you would be happy to stop further contact with this site at their request, and include your e-mail and business address.
Once a webmaster responds to affirm they would like to exchange links, send them your wanted link exchange title, and ask for their needed title as well. Be sure to cycle your list of link titles, using each of the five titles you composed at least once.

Step Six: Add the Links to the Link Exchange Page
Once you receive the partner's wished link title, be sure to quickly add it to your link exchange page. Add the title with the exact format and any description your link exchange partner requests.

Step Seven: Follow Up with Link Exchange Partners
Once their link is added, send your link exchange partner a polite e-mail letting them know where their link can be found. Also check their links page to make sure your link was properly added.
I also recommend checking your link partners every three to six months to make sure your link is still on their page in the suitable format. If it has disappeared, drop them a polite note letting them know the link is gone, give them a week or so to respond, and then remove their link from your links page if no answer is forthcoming.
Although search engine optimization and link exchange is a complex process, we hope this guide has given you some idea of where you can begin to improve your search engine ranking at home. Please note that beginning a link exchange program is a small fraction of the work you can do to help improve your search engine rankings. If you are interested in professional search engine optimization, there are also various reputable companies that can help your small or home business to produce stellar results, both off- and on-page.

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