Having a Web site that can’t be found in search engines is not much good to either the people who made it or the people who could benefit from finding it. But a full-blown SEO campaign is a lot of effort and often requires expensive specialists. Luckily, there is a lot of work you can do yourself without much training (if you are already a Web designer, developer, or Webmaster) to improve your site’s search engine rankings, and they won’t cost you any money. Here are 10 things you can do.

1: Produce good content

We often forget what the purpose of a search engine is: to allow people to find what they are looking for! All the algorithms of a search engine are designed to support this end. It’s been my experience that good, high quality content tends to rise to the top in search engines. They recognize it as being good, and when other people see it, they will link to it.

2: Analyze your traffic

Looking at your Web traffic with a tool like Google Analytics will help you get a handle on what kinds of things your users are looking for. Once you know what keywords attract them and what types of sites point to which pages on your site, you can play to your strengths and try to bring up your weaknesses. For example, if you are trying to score well for one keyword but you see than another keyword is bringing you a lot more traffic, it may mean that you need to change strategies or perhaps focus on the more popular keyword.

3: Go with text, not images, AJAX, or other multimedia

Search engines have made great strides in improving their ability to read text in Flash, run AJAX applications, and so on. But still, it’s best to not depend on it happening. While presenting a different set of content to a search engine (aka “cloaking”) can get you in trouble with them, there is no reason why you shouldn’t make your site easier for search engines to work with, like making sure that there are text-only versions of your content available.

4: Write quality HTML

Writing clean HTML goes a long way toward signaling to the search engines what text is important and what isn’t. It also makes it easier for the search engines to get at that oh-so-important content that users are trying to find. By writing clean HTML, you are making it easier for the search engine to send traffic to your site.

5: Use a sitemap

Making a sitemap and submitting it to the search engines is like giving them a GPS for your site. Instead of counting on their crawlers to discover all the hard-to-find pages (remember, crawlers have a time budget they spend on each page), the sitemap tells them exactly where to go and how often to go there. It speeds up the time to get indexed and ensures that important pages are found. There are even automated tools to make the sitemap for you.

6: Do not pay for links…

We all know that inbound links are important to your site’s rankings. But did you know that paying for them can get you penalized pretty badly? A number of high profile sites have been burned because their SEO team paid for links. How did they get caught? In some cases, they were turned in by other sites that noticed fishy links. But the engines are starting to use algorithms to detect it, too. Don’t pay for links; you will regret it in the long run.

7: …but work for links!

Just because you can’t pay for links doesn’t mean that you can or should rely on them to grow in a purely organic fashion. There are lots of honest, legitimate ways to encourage other sites to give you links. Remember, most sites now set up their comments and forums so that you don’t get much (if any) “link juice” from putting your Web site’s URL there. At the same time, there is nothing stopping you from writing an article for a site and asking them to link to yours or requesting that they give a link to your site where appropriate. Look for sites that complement your offerings instead of competing.

8: Use canonical URLs

Search engines like it when only one URL on your site contains any particular piece of content; otherwise, they start spreading the ranking across multiple URLs. It’s even worse for you when those different URLs all actually point to the same page. By using canonical URLs, you can make sure that only one URL to a page is used by the search engines.

9: Include metadata

No, I don’t mean the “meta” tags like keywords, which search engines stopped paying attention to years ago. I mean things like the alt text on images, titles to links, page titles, and so on. These are all useful cues to search engines. Adding them to your existing content is fairly easy, albeit time consuming and tedious. Also, metadata should be relevant. Putting alt text like “img001.jpg” on a file named “img001.jpg” is not going to help you too much.

10: Cut the fat

As mentioned previously, search engines limit the time they spend on any given site each time they make an indexing pass. In addition, they are starting to take page load speed into account in their rankings. Slow pages make their users unhappy, so they prefer to rank fast pages higher. Shrinking your file sizes by minifying your HTML, CSS, and JavaScript not only allows the search engine to index more pages at a time, but it can provide a small boost in rankings. Oh, and it will make your users happier too!

Other tips?

What steps have you taken to boost your site’s search engine rankings? What seems to have helped the most?