Ahh, Search Engine Optimization. Everyone wants their company to be at the top of the search results for their industry. But just how do the SEOs do it? What’s in the secret sauce? And can I do it myself?

The answer to this last question is yes, you can do it yourself, but sometimes hiring an expert is the way to go. It’s up to you and how much you want to learn.

What are the ingredients to a solid SEO campaign?

1. Site Structure

To start, your site should be built in a search engine friendly manner. This means with valid XHTML code, semantically correct, with a Google sitemap, and so on. All the technical stuff should be correct first and foremost. If you have a site built with tables from the late 90s, it’ll be much harder for crawlers to “digest” the information on your site and figure out what’s all there. Your website designer/developer should’ve done this if the site was built in the last, say, 5 years or so. This is something you may well need to delegate if it’s not done already.

2. Content

Secondly, you need great quality content. What do you offer? What problems do you solve for people? Your site shouldn’t be just an internet billboard that says, “Call us, we’re the best!” No – you should seize the opportunity to actually talk to people. Write about the problems your customers have had and how your product helped them. Write about the good, the bad AND the ugly of your industry. Prove to people that you are the expert at what you do. These days people don’t expect perfection from you, but they do expect honesty. And what your goal should be is for your site to the the ultimate repository of information on what you do, on your industry. Whether it’s a blog, twitter, a series of articles, PDFs – it doesn’t really matter what the format is, just get it out there.

This is a really important concept so I’ll stress it: YOU are the expert in your field. So prove it.

3. Backlinks

Third is quality backlinks. That is, incoming links to your site from other sites. You can get them in many ways. One is over time by creating excellent content and naturally having people link to you. This is great and how Google envisions the world working – but if you rely only on this, you’re at a pretty big disadvantage.

The ethics of linkbuilding will be saved for another article, but suffice to say that there are ways SEOs can create inbound links to your site with certain keywords targeted. Having a bunch of links to your site is like having individual “votes” for it, or rather those sites are vouching for it. The bigger and better the linking site, the more value the link has. There are companies that only do this one aspect of SEO – and some can be really pricy.

So that’s the basics of SEO: Site structure, Content and Backlinks. You typically  need all three to do well these days.