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If you have been doing SEO for a long time, you may have an almost intuitive sense of what you need to do to optimize a website. You may work on several things at once rather than following a step-by-step process. But when you’re learning SEO or trying to understand what your SEO is doing to your site, it can seem a little overwhelming, especially when it’s your first campaign. This article will hopefully help to begin SEOs to think more clearly about the SEO process, and veteran SEOs to communicate more clearly with their clients. I owe most of the information you’ll read here to SEO Chat forum member Maximum Tadpole. He noticed that many of his clients wanted a step-by-step guide to the SEO process. To help answer that need, he recorded what he did for one recent site that he took on as an SEO client.

The very first step he took for the site was opening a Google Analytics account. This free service from Google is designed to help you discover where your visitors come from and how they interact with your site. This important information can help you make changes to your site to increase your traffic and make your site friendlier to visitors. Once you have that account, the next few steps involve some serious site contemplation. What value does the site have to offer? Is it selling products or offering content? What kind of content – articles, classified ads, what? To use SEO Chat as an example, our site offers articles, SEO tools, and a set of forums with plenty of networking opportunities.

Now that you know what value the site has to offer, you need to figure out who would benefit from that value. Maximum Tadpole was working on a free website with job opportunity listings and career advice for nurses. Clearly, this information would be of most benefit to nurses, especially nurses who were just graduating from nursing school. Keep this audience clearly in mind, because much of the rest of your strategy is going to depend on them. Indeed, the next steps in this phase of your campaign involve figuring out how to get in touch with those people – and figuring out how to get them to come to you. After you’ve thought about all these points for the site as a whole, you want to think about them again (though not in quite as much depth) for the parts of the site to which you will want to build links aggressively, such as category pages.

At this point, you need to start thinking like the people you’re targeting. When they search for the valuable products and/or information you’re offering, what kinds of keywords are they likely to use? Temper this by also considering which keywords the site even has a chance of competing for, at least at first. You can go for the more competitive ones later.

To use the example of the free website on which Maximum Tadpole was working, he explained that “I decided ‘Nurse Careers’ and ‘Nursing Job Advice’ were better choices than ‘Nurse Jobs’ and ‘Nursing Careers’ for the home page.” The secret behind this is that by “first optimizing for less competitive keywords” you’re actually in a “better position to go after the more competitive ones in the future.” Don’t limit yourself to the home page, of course; you want to write down the best keywords for each page of the site. At this point, you’re ready to do your on-page optimization. Using your keywords, place unique targeted title tags on each page. This is the title element. If you’re having a hard time coming up with a title for the page, Maximum Tadpole suggests a way to think about it: “If each page of your site is a book, what would you title it? Make sure your title matches the content of the page.” He also suggests trying to keep your title tag under five words. It’s very important to make sure that your title matches the content of your pages; if it doesn’t, change either the title or the content until they match.

As for other tags, you’ll want to use Meta and keyword tags for your home page, but the jury’s out as to whether those are valuable for any other pages on your site. But there are other details you’ll want to tend to – doing a 301 redirect to send non-www pages to the www versions. You should also optimize every internal link on your site with relevant text, including alt tags for images. Maximum Tadpole gives an example of having a site focused on soccer with a soccer ball logo in the upper left-hand corner that takes visitors to the home page when they click on it. Rather than “home” as your alt text, you might consider making it “soccer.” You can probably come up with something even better, perhaps “soccer home.”Once you’ve completed the on-page optimization, it’s time to start the off-page optimization of your website. That means building links. You don’t want to go the route of doing reciprocal link trades or link farms. What you really want to do is think back to the very first steps you took to optimize the site. What value does the site offer? Who would find it most valuable? Where do these people “hang out” online, and how can you get them to come to you?

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