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I am a website and graphic designer. Clients have been asking me to do SEO for their sites, including blogs, because they need them in the top ranks to be visible. How can I improve my SEO skills so I can market myself as an expert? —F.M., Doha, Qatar
Search engine optimization has become a must-have for any company with a Web presence, but it is especially important for small businesses with limited brand recognition. Learning to do SEO will not only give you a valuable new service to sell existing clients; it will probably help you find new clients as well.
Here's the good news: SEO experts are basically self-taught, so your investment in upgrading your skills is likely to be more time-oriented than financial. "The good thing is that the SEO online community is large, passionate, and can be of great help. If you are new to SEO, then the best thing is to read, research, learn, and read some more," says Michael Weiss, an Internet consultant in Los Angeles.
The bad news? Because SEO does not follow an exact methodology taught in most business schools, and the algorithms that power Google and other search engines are not fully disclosed, there is a lot of bad information floating around on the topic.
"People are putting out nonsense and BS about SEO in order to sell their services, or e-books, or software that doesn't really work," says Michael David, the owner of Austin (Tex.) SEO consultancy Tasty Placement.com and author of a book on search engine optimization for blogs, Word Press 3.0 Search Engine Optimization, due out next month from Packt Publishing.
Rather than purchasing dubious how-to products, go straight to the source, he says. Google (GOOG) publishes a starter guide to search engine optimization and has a dedicated YouTube channel for webmasters that includes instructional videos on search engine optimization.
Grant Simmons, group account director at the Search Agency, which has its headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., says good SEO involves long-term strategy, not just short-term success. Any designer wishing to improve small business clients' website visibility must "ensure effective keyword research, planning of site structure, development of valuable content, and promotion of the site post-launch," Simmons says.
Weiss agrees. "Of course, trial and error is the best way to learn," he says. "I would suggest using your own site as a test site and continually try out new things."