Web marketers have a love/hate relationship with search engines. Those with high rankings and lots of traffic just love ’em. But for most sites, the challenge of pulling traffic from search engines is constant and evolving. There are, however, a few simple techniques that can turn search engines into an excellent targeting tool.
A high rank at popular search engines can generate a significant amount of web site traffic – traffic that costs very little to generate compared to other forms of promotion. The value of search engine promotion is high, of course, because search engines are used to find web sites more than any other method.
There can be several reasons why search engine traffic doesn’t reach its full potential for some sites, such as:
- Text doesn’t describe the product or purpose of the site in the terms actual people use.
- Incorrect use of special hidden keyword tags.
- Design inhibits search engines from indexing content.
- Density of keywords is too low.
- Pages created dynamically “on the fly.”
There are several ways to overcome these problems and ensure high search engine rankings. One of the first things to do when optimizing your site for search engines is to look at how people use the engines to find a site. Typically, when people use a search engine, they:
- Enter only one or two words.
- Do not use advanced capabilities such as the Boolean “AND” or “OR.”
- Look only at the first or second page of results.
This shows how important it is to appear on the first couple of pages when a searcher enters one or two words that generically describe your products and services.
This means that instead of relying heavily on a brand name or product name, it’s better to emphasize the phrases customers use most often to describe your offering, as well as those searchers use to find your site on search engines.
You can take a look at the keywords and phrases people use to find your site on search engines by reviewing your server log. A number of the log analysis tools report the keywords and phrases that appear in the web server log.
It also pays to be aware of how customers describe your products when talking with salespeople or in email inquiries. Many times, people outside of your company will use terms to describe your products that you hadn’t even thought of.
Initially, search engines placed heavy emphasis on the hidden list of keywords called “meta tags.” It was thought that content developers would use the keyword meta tag to accurately describe the document. However, it quickly became a marketing tool used by competitors to snare searchers looking for related material. Today, search engines are programmed to give heavy emphasis to the visible text on a page as they attempt to simulate the way human beings read a page.
This is a problem for pages heavy on graphics, since there are fewer pieces of text for search engines to analyze.
If the design of a site doesn’t allow for long, descriptive text, then “gateway” or “entry” pages can help. These pages are not part of the regular web site, but are designed to contain a significant amount of text with a high frequency of keywords and phrases to achieve high rankings in search engine databases.
By focusing the text of entry pages on individual topics or product categories, the search engines will calculate a higher relevancy score and rank those pages closer to the top. In addition, readers will receive a more detailed description of that category, motivating them to browse the rest of your site.
Many e-commerce sites have pages generated “on the fly” from content stored in databases, rather than the older method of using static, or non-changing, web pages. This can be a problem because the popular search engines are programmed to ignore pages that appear to be dynamically generated from a database. And it means these product pages will never be found by the people searching for them.
If your database-driven content management system or personalization system is not search engine-friendly, then you are probably missing a significant amount of traffic – traffic that is going to your competition.
Once your web pages are optimized, the next step is to make sure the search engines know about your site.
It used to be common for search engines to follow links from page to page, adding to their databases; however, it is now uncommon for search engines to “crawl” sites. Whether this is due to the engines being overloaded with pages to process, or a change in programming, the result is the same – linked pages are not automatically indexed in a timely manner.
The solution is to submit each page to all of the popular search engines, which takes a considerable amount of time if done manually. A good PC-based program for managing the submission process is WebPosition Gold, and a very good web-based submission service is SelfPromotion.com.
For those who prefer manual submissions, Web-Ignite’s AAA Internet Promotions offers corporate and small business listing services including verification and documentation that the engine accepted the request, monthly re-verification that the listing is still in the database, and if not, re-submission and verification. Services are also provided for gateway pages with monthly monitoring and position analysis.
Another recent trend is the pay-per-click search engines that allow sites to bid for high-ranking positions. Two popular search engines that derive revenue this way are GoTo.com and Rocketlinks.com.
In addition to implementing the fundamental search engine optimization techniques described above, it is helpful to keep up with the continually changing search engine environment. There are several good resources for keeping abreast of search engine technology, such as the I-Search Discussion List and Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Watch web site.
As the Internet becomes more competitive, everyone is searching for ways to attract not only more traffic, but also more targeted traffic. So, get friendly with the search engines – you’ll love the result.