Guest advice by Hillary Bassett Ross of Kinetic Pencil

The following is a quick guide to help you improve your organic search traffic.

First things first: If you currently have a site (or if you’re about to build one), you need to sign up for the webmaster tools on the respective search engines. Although Google is the leader in gross online searches, both Bing and Yahoo site master/web master tools include some beneficial information you will need. Here are the links to sign up for each tool:

Google Webmaster tools

Bing Webmaster

Authenticating your site with Yahoo Site Explorer*

*Note that Microsoft owns Yahoo, and much of the Yahoo Site Explorer functionality is being transitioned into the Bing Webmaster tools.

Step 1: Select the keywords for your company or business.

When building a site, you want to select a key phrase to target your site around. You can figure out which phrase to target by looking at the monthly search statistics in Google’s keyword tool.

Be sure to select ‘exact’ (instead of broad). You will see the monthly traffic locally, which means in your country, or internationally. This tool will be your best friend when beginning to build or update your site.

Use this guide to determine the keywords or key phrases you will optimize for BEFORE creating your site content.

Step 2: Optimize your site content to align with your chosen keywords

If you are creating a new site or editing an existing site, here are some guidelines to follow to optimize your content:

Page titles

The page title is what you see at the top of the browser—it’s not usually on the actual page. Think about the ‘question’ users have when searching, and how your site is going to be a multi-page response. Include your keyword in the page title where relevant and applicable.

Headlines

Write your page title to include the keyword toward the beginning of the H1 tag. Headlines should be H1s in the HTML of your site. A good way to find out is to check your source code; it will say <h1>The best value on hardwood floors in Seattle</h1>. Be sure H1 tags are the visible headline in your site design—some designers don’t realize their impact on search. Your keywords should be in the H1 tag on the applicable page.

Text

Your keyword should be in the page content up to three times on the page. If the content is long, you can include it a couple more times, but at all costs avoid keyword stuffing.

On Keyword Stuffing.

A lot of people misread the notion that keywords on the page help a site rank for specific keywords, and believe that stuffing the page with the keyword again and again is a clever approach. It’s notclever at all. In fact, because so many people believed this, the search engines built in ways to spot and penalize it. When it comes to optimizing the content on the page, there isn’t a specific formula to follow: just focus on writing thorough, helpful information.

Meta data

Site descriptions also play a role in the ranking, but more poignantly help your site get traffic once search results are served up. When a viewer sees search results, the short description of the site is the ‘meta description’, and helps a user determine if the site will provide the information he or she needs.

This is an opportunity to include a 155-character explanation of what information your site provides… and include the keyword. Years ago it was standard practice to list out keywords, but it is important to emphasize this is no longer used by search engines. A meta description should be created for each page, and to learn more about this, I recommend SEOmoz’s page on Meta Descriptions.

Sitemaps

In order for a site to be returned as a search result, the search engine robots must crawl it and—in a sense—“review” its content. Because this is such an important component of the search puzzle, make it easier for the robots to review each page by creating a sitemap. Google Webmaster tools provide an interface to submit and update sitemaps directly. To learn more about creating sitemaps, I recommend you visit www.sitemaps.org

Once your site has been developed, your next step is to promote your content and go out and chase some traffic. Gone are the days when building a site earned you thousands of visitors, but completing some key steps will keep you in the game… and to learn about that, see our post on increasing traffic through link-building.

This article is written by Hillary Bassett Ross, a Principal with Kinetic Pencil. Kinetic Pencil provides marketing strategy and web development to help small- and medium-sized businesses win on the Web. Read more articles like this at www.kineticpencil.com, and connect with Hillary on Twitter @hillary_br