I’ve had a number of recent client inquiries about search engine optimization (SEO), so I thought it would be worth sharing some of the best practices I’ve assembled.

First off, just a little color on the role SEO is currently playing in the search marketing landscape.  I always recommend investing in SEO before paid search because it: 1) http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/0,7211,39441,00.html one-time investment (although you’ll have some cost for ongoing maintenance of your site once you get it optimized) that continues to pay off for years and 2) It takes a few months to get your site optimized and start seeing results.  So get your SEO started, buy some paid search ads to drive immediate traffic and test keywords, and in 6 months or so, you should have enough data and experience to have some pretty good integrated SEO/SEM programs running together.

As far as SEO best practices, I’ve found several online sources to be quite good at explaining the mechanics of how search engine crawlers work and what crawlers look for when indexing and ranking Web pages.  Here’s a compilation of practices to optimize your site and improve your rankings in natural search results:

Eliminate barriers to your content.  Search engines cannot index what they cannot access.  This means that content behind firewalls, in graphics, in flash animations, or available only through dynamic links is content a search engine crawler cannot reach.

Increase and organize your site content.  The single most important thing you can do to improve your page rank is to increase the amount of keyword-related content on your site.  This means content that is on-topic, organized in keyword-rich headlines, bullets.

Use tags.  Add keyword-relevant tags to your pages’ html titles, headers, images, content sections.

Increase the volume and quality of your inbound links.  Search engine crawlers view links from other pages to your’s as "votes" that someone else found your site to be "relevant."  But link volume alone won’t boost your rankings.  You want volume from good, quality sites that are also related to your content and keywords.  Avoid buying links or linking to "spammer" sites or link farms.

Build off of your old site. Site age proves "credibility" to Search Engine Crawlers.  This means when considering dumping your old site for a new and improved one, decide instead to do a rebuild of your existing site and where possible continue to leverage your existing domain name.

Update your site regularly.  Search engines will crawl sites with changing content more regularly to make sure they are aware of the updates.  This doesn’t mean anything as drastic as constantly redesigning your site.  But it does mean looking for ways to create content updates is a good thing.  Consider launching a corporate blog where you and your audience will help update content regularly.  Post your email newsletters on your site.  Add press releases to your site or to a blog that links to your site.   

Avoid duplicating content across corporate sites.  Search engines will not index or will assign low rankings to pages with content that duplicates other pages.  Large sites who have multiple constituents should be sure to cut pages that overlap across their different sites as it will hinder their overall visibility.

What best practices have you uncovered through your own efforts?