THE BLOG
10/24/2013 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2013

5 Steps to Optimizing Your Website for Search Engines

There are many helpful books and websites dedicated to the philosophy, science, and art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While these guides can be enlightening, however, they also can be overwhelming and confusing. Part of my work as a media, marketing, and PR specialist is simplifying a message, so here is what I have distilled about the world of SEO:

The nice people behind search engines want to make sure we find what we are looking for. Period.

In other words, if we type "yoga studios" into a search, we will find websites of yoga studios. We will not find websites of luxury cars or pet supplies or men's tighty-whities. To ensure that we are not let astray, search engines are designed to detect what a website is about and how important that website is on topic -- which is where we get into SEO:

If you run a chocolate chip cookie business, chances are that you will write about chocolate chip cookies, without giving it much thought -- both in the descriptive content and blog posts on your website. Chances are that search engines therefore will recognize that your website is genuinely dedicated to chocolate chip cookies. The problem is that a whole lot of other sites are too -- such as, oh, a multi-million dollar business like Nestle Toll House. So how are you going to stand out from the fray and get your website on the first page of a search on topic? Here are 5 steps to optimizing your website for search engines.

Select Common-Sense Keywords
What it comes down to is this: Who is going to look for your products or services, and how are they going to do the search -- i.e., what keywords are they going to type into the search engine? Don't over-think it. If you run a chocolate chip cookie business, your keywords will be obvious search words, like chocolate chip cookies, desserts, baked goods, sweets, chocolate, and so on. If your business has a geographic base, your keywords also will include your area. If your bakery is in the Silverlake area of Los Angeles, Calif., for example, you will use keywords like Silverlake, Los Angeles, Central LA, California, and Southern California.

Use Keywords as Tags
Go crazy in the "tags" section on the back end of your website: Enter any and all words and phrases related to your topic, separating each word or phrase with a comma. Get creative, thinking about all the angles that might draw someone to your business. Is your chocolate chip cookie bakery gluten-free? vegan? a green business? If so, use those exact words as keywords, and also brainstorm related keywords. In addition to "gluten-free," for example, put "Celiac Disease." In addition to "vegan," put "dairy-free." In addition to "green business," put "eco-friendly."

Determine Your Primary and Secondary Keywords
In addition to using your keywords as "tags" in the back end of your site, be sure to use the most significant keywords as content in the front end of your site. Choose keywords for which your website has a shot at becoming one of the top results for that search. Continuing with the business example above, "chocolate chip cookies" would be a terrible choice for your primary keyword, because you would be competing with millions of other websites dedicated to chocolate chip cookies.

Be sure to qualify your primary and secondary keywords as much as possible, so that you target and corner your niche market. Instead of choosing the keyword "chocolate chip cookies," for example, choose "chocolate chip cookie recipes" to significantly narrow down your competition. In a nutshell, get creative and think "subcategory" instead of "category." Instead of "music," for example, think "1980s punk rock." Instead of "shoes," think "comfort fashion shoes."

Hyperlink Keywords in Your Website Content
Hyperlinked words are those which are emphasized and therefore considered especially relevant on your website. Do not hyperlink words or phrases like "click here." Instead, write "click here for a free sample of my chocolate chip cookie recipes," hyperlinking the phrase, "chocolate chip cookie recipes." Never miss the opportunity to highlight a keyword!

Hyperlinked keywords get extra points with the search engines, especially when they are hyperlinked to other pages with the same hyperlinked keywords. If "chocolate chip cookie recipes" on one page hyperlinks to another page with the phrase "chocolate chip cookie recipes," you get extra mileage out of the hyperlink. Wherever possible, make like a Russian doll with your hyperlinked keywords, ensuring that one hyperlinked keyword leads to another leads to another.

Generate Relevant Incoming Links
Be sure to reach out to others in your field, cross-blogging as much as possible. When you do a guest blog post on someone else's site, you not only will get access to their followers, but you also will get their website pointing to yours, through hyperlinks in your blog post. (In return, do the courtesy of promoting that individual's site through your own network -- including your social media pages and your mailing list.) Also be sure to invite that individual to blog on your site, then ask her to promote the blog post throughout her network. Again, you will increase the links pointing to your site.

If 50 sites dedicated to chocolate chip cookies are pointing to yours, the search engines will see your website as relatively important in the chocolate chip cookie industry. The higher the clout of the websites pointing at yours, the more important the search engines will consider your site. If, for example, corporate websites like Betty Crocker or media websites like Gourmet magazine are pointing to your site, you have struck gold, and your ranking will sky-rocket in the world of search engines. In a future post, I will discuss how to generate media interest in your work and otherwise gain access to these kinds of golden links.