How Do You Rank?

Fine-tuning your SEO strategy is sure to lure Web traffic and sales

With so much to worry about when it comes to Web marketing, it’s easy to overlook more complex areas. We’re so busy with Facebook, Twitter, and blogs that we neglect the basics—like SEO, or search engine optimization.

At its core, SEO is the art of getting your site found on search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo by using relevant keywords. Jewelers often compete to be first on the list when a consumer does a search for, say, Long Island jewelers. Studies estimate that more than 90 percent of users click on first-page results, with almost half going to the very first result. So if you want to make the Web a big piece of your business, you need to get serious about raising your rankings.

In creating a keyword strategy, you may find your­self tempted by broad terms such as engagement ring, or the names of brands your store carries. But you’ll face national competition for these terms—and the more competition, the harder it is to rank. Focus on local, where you stand a much better chance of rising to the top. Think about the products you sell and the keywords your customers would use to find them. Combining search phrases like engagement ring with the name of your city is a good start. Use the Google AdWords tool to find keywords, and Google Places to optimize your site for a local search.

Now, if you use free tools like Google Analytics to measure your Web traffic (and we suggest you do), you likely know that a significant amount comes directly from search engines. Getting found by those is the best way to boost traffic to your site.

Making your site more appealing to Google and Co. begins with on-page factors, or what the text on your site tells search engines. You’ll want to consult a professional to maximize things such as meta descriptions, title tags, and ALT text; an array of tweaks can make a big difference in how search engines see and rank your pages. Off-page factors are tougher to control, yet have a greater impact on rankings. Like a good referral, getting relevant and well-ranked websites to link to your content is paramount.

A note of caution: You may be tempted to hire the first (or cheapest) SEO expert you meet. But there are a lot of snake-oil salesmen who can get you into trouble with search engines. Some “black hat” practices can even get you banned from search sites altogether. (In February, The New York Times published a scathing report on J.C. Penney’s alleged SEO abuses.)

Wondering what all this is going to cost you? Well, just like social media, SEO is theoretically free—meaning that you can do it on your own if you are willing to commit the time to create a keyword strategy, to write content, and to seek out the links needed to succeed. That said, it requires significantly more time to see results and a level of expertise to get to the top of search engines like Google. Each case will be unique based on competition, but basic or local campaigns would likely start at roughly $1,500 a month. Higher competition keywords can easily run between $5,000 and $10,000 per month.

For those looking for a 101 overview on how SEO can impact your business, is an ideal starting point. If you know the basics and are looking for tools and tactics to get to the next level, is one of the most robust sources you’ll find. When it’s done right, nothing drives traffic and rankings better than SEO. When done wrong, nothing sends customers running away faster.

For more on SEO best practices, check out:

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