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The word seo

Jakub Krechowicz/Getty Images/iStockphoto

While most business owners want their websites to be found easily online, they don't necessarily want to spend a fortune making it happen. There are two main ways to improve the likelihood that your website will display when someone searches on Google, Yahoo! or Bing: a no‑advertising approach based on website best practices and search engine guidelines – known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – or a paid advertising approach that displays results based how much you've paid for keywords – known as Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

The following tips are for those who want to improve their website's search engine rankings and to work more effectively with their SEO provider.

1. Your website's home page – also known as a landing page – is the first thing your potential customer sees after clicking on a link. Because you don't have much time to convince them this is the right place, ensure there is an easy way to purchase your product or sign up for something as soon as possible. Make sure the design is clean, intuitive and easy to navigate so that they can take action right away.

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2. After people arrive on your website and visit a few pages, what page do they leave to go to another website? Known as the 'exit page,' and available to evaluate in Google Analytics , it is important to think about why they are leaving your site from this specific page. How can you improve the user experience so they don't leave? What content is on the exit page that might be turning them away?

3. Keywords aren't just keywords; every keyword, phrase and variation has its own audience. There may be a bigger audience for 'red shoes' rather than 'red shoe.' Use the Google Keyword Tool to check and see how many people a re in your global and local audience. Use these keywords on your website and in your ads.

4. Many people make it their goal to increase the amount of organic traffic to their websites, which is earned through word-of-mouth and great content. The Traffic Flow report (filtered by Source/Medium in Google Analytics) can help you evaluate where people are coming from and determine the pages that are the most popular as a destination. Are people going straight to the 'contact us' page after the home page? If so, why not put a compelling offer there?

5. If you are running Google AdWords , are you paying per click or by impression? With clicks, you only pay when someone clicks your ad. Paying per impression means you're paying even if your ads are just shown to someone online. This may be beneficial when you need to create an overall awareness campaign using images on a popular website, but typically, a pay-per-click campaign (PPC) may be all you need.

6. One of the most important ways to measure your ad success is by evaluating the click-through rate (CTR). This rate is calculated by the total number of clicks divided by how many times your ad is shown. Record a benchmark CTR on an ad and see if it goes up the next month. It should rise if you are delivering quality content to your audience and offering a place they can purchase or get in contact with you. Google rewards successful ads and you may pay less money overall if you have a high CTR.

7. If your business has a Facebook page or other social media accounts, find out how many users are visiting your website through these social networks. Available in Google Analytics, the Network Referral report shows you how many people have visited your website through a social network. Is your Facebook audience visiting your website? If so, you are more likely to turn social network visitors into customers.

8. Avoid posting 'bait blogs' with repeated, obvious keywords and internal links to other pages within your site. This is poor content to try and fool the search engine robots into giving your website high rankings. In the end, search engines will penalize your website and your ads. Remember, Google wants overall quality for human consumption because that's how they make the most money – with good website listings and online advertising that results in sales.

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9. Poor grammar and spelling mistakes on your website reduce the overall experience for your users, and you can lose credibility and potential customers – often with just one error.

10. Don't dismiss Social Media Optimization (SMO). Links shared in other networks drive website traffic and people are more likely to purchase when services and products are recommended by friends. Also, Facebook is about to change the game with its new search engine called Graph Search – a way to find people with common interests on Facebook without being friends. This could mean that a post with a link to your website could reach hundreds of thousands more people than before.

There are numerous best practises for optimizing your website and getting started in search engine advertising. Ask people about how they search for your products or services and explore some of the technical terms – it will help you get better service and provide additional insight about where to spend your digital marketing dollars.

Susan Varty is managing partner of HeadStart Social Inc., a social media strategy and communications agency. HeadStart Social helps companies leverage social media to engage their customers, build targeted communities and increase sales.

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