Search engine optimization is not an exact science. Search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) are constantly evolving and adjusting their algorithms in order to stay ahead of the SEO professionals that doggedly strive to find the perfect SEO solution for their clients. There really is no way to know 100% for sure what will work and what won’t.

What about all those SEO companies guaranteeing results, you ask? Consider them either tragically misguided or scam artists. Whatever the reason, there are no absolute guarantees in SEO and anyone promising otherwise is probably not the best bet to hire.

While we SEO experts may not have the answers in stone, we’re a clever sort and there are a number of techniques that can be applied to a website to improve search engine rankings and increase site traffic.  We also know some of the mistakes that can be made resulting in an ineffective SEO campaign.

Focus – A successful SEO campaign needs a specific focus. Depending on the size of the campaign, the number of keywords should be limited to between approximately 8 and 20 phrases. Any more than that and you’ll have too much going on. One of my favorite phrases is keyword cannibalism, which is what occurs when the keyword focus is split on a page and the search engines don’t know how to index the page so they end up splitting the page value. You don’t want this because both keywords end up devalued and the page probably won’t rank well.

Duplication – One of the cardinal rules of SEO is no duplicate content. This includes titles and tags, multiple domains, having the same paragraph of text on every page, or copying and pasting your content from someone else (aka plagiarism).  Having duplicate content on your site, no matter how innocent your intentions may be, is considered spamming by search engines and will not help your rankings.

Antisocial Behavior – If you want more people to know about your website and to increase website visibility in the search engines, get out there and spread the word! Social media and linking have two distinct benefits you’ll be missing out on if you don’t join in. First, you have access to millions of people, allowing you opportunities to promote brand recognition. Social media sites were created for users to share cool websites. It’s always possible that your site will be discovered and become the next big thing (Hampster Dance, anyone?). Second, the number of links pointing to your site are monitored by the engine and are seen as a virtual thumbs up, making your site appear more attractive. More attractive = more likely to rank well.

The Big Picture – The last common reason (for today’s blog post at least) as to why SEO campaigns fail is called “forgetting the big picture.” What’s the big picture? The audience! The user, net surfer, web geek, online shopper, client, gamer, whoever. Above all else, if you want a successful website, you want a user-friendly website. It’s easy to become so caught up in search engine optimization and rankings that the big picture is forgotten. So, the next time you make a change to your website, pause for a moment first to contemplate your audience’s perspective.