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(Article for Atlantic Business magazine.)

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SEO Appeal
Tips to improve your website's virtual magnetism

Entrepreneurs often overlook an enormous yet invisible part of web design. It's an oversight which, if corrected, could potentially generate a 200 per cent or more increase in visits from prospective customers. Where have they fallen down?

They've failed to maximize their SEO appeal. In other words, they haven't taken full advantage of opportunities to increase the quality and quantity of search engine hits on their website. In technical terms, the practice is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

Susan Sweeney, an international e-marketing expert, says that when website users visit a site for the first time, 81 per cent of them find that particular website through search engines and directories. A website that doesn't show up in web searches, then, will require a great many other time-consuming e-marketing techniques to bring in Internet traffic. But it's more likely to lose out on that traffic altogether.

John Leahy, vice president of ITANS (the Information Technology Association of Nova Scotia), agrees that entrepreneurs aren't utilizing a rapidly-growing Internet population that routinely surfs and shops online. Only five per cent of websites in general are optimized, he says. Tom Quigg of DDA Solutions (an IT solutions provider in Halifax, NS) is another SEO specialist. He concurs with Leahy's analysis, saying that less than 10 per cent of his clients were optimized before coming to his company for help.

Many entrepreneurs mistakenly view SEO as a mysterious process outside their area of expertise. One of the most basic and fundamental methods of SEO, however, is about selecting the right words or phrases, or keywords, that describes one's services or products, and then using those keywords in webpages and their meta-tags* (see sidebar). Automated search programs will carry that information back to their search engines. The engines will then index these webpages and rank them accordingly to its algorithms. The more often one's keywords are used, the higher the website will be ranked in an Internet user's search results.

Toronto-based Paul Lima writes articles about SEO for Profit, The Globe and Mail, CRN Canada and other publications, and has published an e-book on this topic as well. His websites, which he never originally optimized, were so keyword-heavy, he says, that people in search of his services would type in "freelance writer, copywriter, Toronto" and end up with at least one to three mentions of either his name or his websites. Now that his two self-designed business websites are optimized, Lima says that 75 per cent of his new corporate work now comes his way through one of those channels ...

NEXT PAGE: Taken to the next level, SEO will ensure that appropriate strategies are successfully employed.

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