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If you want good search engine rankings and high traffic, you must have a plan!

by Terry Plank

In the beginning, the Web was thought to be a great new medium that would provide a way to sell nationally and internationally without all the marketing infrastructure that other mediums require. However it's turned out to require the same amount of marketing, promotion and distribution in order to be a profitable strategy.

This article will focus on findability and search engine ranking, two elements of a total search engine marketing strategy. Theoretically, everyone in the world can view your Web site and respond the way you intend, but only if they can find it and are stimulated to act on your offers.

The twin goals of your Web site strategy for search engine findability and search engine ranking are getting customers/clients to your site and then encouraging them to respond. Accomplishing these goals is 25% art and 75% science.

The art we all understand: attractive, engaging, interesting, and professional in appearance. But what is the science of a successful site?

It begins with strategic planning. A sure way to fail is to put less time on promotion than on actual production. One mantra to consider is Plan-Create-Promote-Evaluate.

I start with planning. Creation should not proceed without a detailed plan established. Certainly things will evolve throughout development and the ongoing life of the site, but having a detailed plan helps for integration of new elements and the elimination of others.

Consider the following analogy. Real estate agents usually don't list a new construction home until it is built or well along in construction. A contractor cannot build until the architect designs the home, a design developed to meet certain criteria or specifications. Rooms can be added on later during construction or decades later if the initial design was clear and flexible.

Now, who should be in charge of the Web site strategy? The marketing and sales department is the logical choice for overseeing the work of the Web promotion specialists. The production team should defer at this stage to the needs of the Web site strategic goals as established by the marketing department.

Second is clear navigation: getting clients and customers around the site so they are always oriented to the information or products that make the site profitable. A site that navigates easily and informs the guest clearly where they are at all times and what you have to offer will get them around to the information and leave them pleased not frustrated.

Let's look at just two pieces of the overall strategy, find ability and search engine ranking.

FINDABILITY SEARCH ENGINE RANKING

Web site find ability and search engine ranking begins with being indexed by the major spider search engines: HotBot, Google, AOL Search, Alltheweb, Alta Vista, Lycos, These search engines vie for dominance for use and continually make new liaisons and arrangements to gain that dominance. Each SE spiders your site to index it by traveling through your site, locating information that will be stored in their database.

Next, each SE evaluates differently for inclusion in their database according to different criteria. There is no way to create your site to be found in the top 10 search results in all of the engines. Before beginning a site for Sterling Road Jewelry, we searched 9 SE's using the keyword "custom jewelry" to see who ranked high. Evaluating the top 10 results on each of the 9 SE's, we only found 4 sites that were in more than one of the top 10 results. That means that out of 70+ sites, only 4 were in more than one SE's top 10 results!

To be search engine friendly and get ranking for your keyword phrases, it starts with good organic structure of the pages and of your domain. Later, there can be optimizing strategies set up to fill in the gaps for traffic generation, but the following are the major criteria determining search engine findability and ranking that should be built in from the beginning.

  1. First, it's the text and its structure. Your text should reflect the keyword phrases that users would likely use in searching for you and these keyword phrases should be placed strategically throughout. Pages of around 300-400 words work well and 3% of the total words should be your keyword phrases. That's called keyword weight or density.

  2. The use of keywords in the <title>. These words are not viewed on the actual site, but they are seen at the top of your Browser screen. After text, the <title> is the first place most SE's evaluate. The Online Web Training Training site is a good example of a high findability title, description and keyword tag:
    <title>Search engine marketing training programs by the Web site optimization experts!</title>

    Note that the company name does not appear. There isn't high recognition so few would search for their name. A high recognition company name might be included.

  3. When possible, a short descriptive sentence should be at the top of your page. This descriptive sentence should have your keyword phrase in a simple sentence. Use only those words that searchers might use and eliminate as many adjectives and other descriptive words that are not keywords. This should also be a Header tag <H1> not a font tag <FONT SIZE="4">.
    <h4>Online Web Training offers search engine placement online training workshops to improve search engine ranking and website findability leading to a success E-Business.</h4>

  4. Meta Tags are used by some SE's, but not all. Meta tags should be just a magnifying glass trained on the keyword phrases of your text.
    <meta name="description" content="search engine marketing training programs will solve your search engine optimization woes by helping you learn how to drive traffic to your web site.">
    <meta name="keywords" content="search engine marketing training, search engine optimization training, web site marketing training">

    Different Meta Tags should be used on subsequent pages, whatever keywords you are targeting for each page.

    By using different keywords in the title and Meta tags on subsequent pages, you can weight different pages for findability for different keyword phrases. If you use too many keywords on your home page, the most important keywords related to the total number you use is reduced and your relevance is reduced. Be aware also that SE's will bump you if they find that you are spamming by repeatedly using the same keywords to get a high ranking. So do not insert "search engine marketing, search engine marketing, search engine marketing."

  5. Have links to all your other pages on the Home page and on every other page of your site if possible. This ensures that the SE robot gets to all the other pages and considers what you have provided for them to determine your ranking.

  6. Popularity has become an essential element to good ranking. Popularity has to do with quality links pointing to your site from other sites. These links indicate to the SE that others consider you important enough to link to, so the SE may consider you an important site for the content area they are indexing. This means that you should have as many links to your site as possible that are part of the theme of your page and of your site. SE's also note the popularity and the theme appropriateness of the pages that are linking to you.

The above are important variables, but there are other things that can be included in the structure of the site to push up your search engine rankings. The average Web developer or talented graphics/production team in your company will usually not have the training and marketing expertise to do this crucial first-level strategic planning. Make sure you use a Web development company who will strategize from the beginning with you on your findability and ranking . Or, hire a Web marketing/promotion specialist to work with you and your development team.

Now, what about the submission process? Search engine findability and ranking requires some initial submissions of the site to the search engines.

Some SE's will index your whole site from your Home Page (index.html), while others need you to submit every page you want them to index. This process can be done by automatic submissions programs like Web Position Gold. But, some SE's don't recognize these automatic programs. We have found that submissions have a better guarantee of being accepted if you take the time to submit individually to each search engine. Or by using Position Technologies. They have a spam free process and are respected by the search engines.

Another strategy that is becoming more necessary is to pay for Inclusion at Inktomi, AltaVista, AskJeeves, and AllTheWeb. For a per page fee, per year, you can insure that your pages are indexed and kept indexed. This has nothing to do with ranking, but it will ensure that the search engine has at least indexed your selected pages.

Apart for Inclusion, can you submit once and then be finished with the process? Definitely not! An ongoing evaluation of the site's placement is essential. Even if you don't make changes to your site, sites are being submitted by the thousands every day, and many will be your competitors. You may be found very high, even the top 10, on any given week and find yourself #25 a week later. Not only will new sites be coming out that push you down, but other Web marketing teams will study your site and copy how you got such a high rating. They will then try to do you even one better.

If you are serious about using the Web to increase revenue for your company or get the information out, you must consider doing this process quarterly at a minimum, preferably monthly. Do the research on your location, look at your competitors, and follow up with modification of your site to raise placement. There are many modifications that can be made to help your chosen search engines recognize you as the one who fits the keyword used in their search.

DIRECTORIES, LINKAGES AND ADVERTISING

As important as SE's are to findability, you must also submit the major directories in order to have a successful site. Yahoo, Open Directory Project, and Look Smart are necessary for two reasons. First, because they are directories, many people use for finding information. Second, a significant number of SE's use the information and the status of your listings with these directories.

Industry-specific directories are important to consider. In real estate for example, an agent would consider the International Real Estate Digest important.

Linkages with other sites takes time, but is a great broadcast medium for your site. Linking strategies include: intra-site linking, linking within your site to your other pages; inter-site linking, linking to other sites chosen according to a predetermined criteria of usefulness; reciprocal linking, trading links with other sites on an equal basis; and banner linking, your banner is found on another Web site and links to yours.

Web news releases sites, sponsorship or banner advertising on high-traffic sites, email marketing, and the use of newsgroups are other ways of getting your information out.

An ongoing evaluation of your Web site's position was mentioned earlier as another essential tool. A good statistical package that shows where users came from and where they went within your site is useful. Web Trends, for example, is a program that uses your Internet Service Provider's server log to evaluate your site and provide an HTML document to use on your browser.

Finally, update your site regularly with current information or new products and submit new pages to the search engines on a monthly basis. Once you have been found by a user, make sure you keep them by having something there for them to use regularly!

TRADITIONAL MARKETING

Lastly, don't forget to market your site on your business cards, brochures, stationary, voice mail, newspaper advertising, professional or trade journals, and any other printed communication, advertising or marketing.

Now, what about the allocation of funds to finance a profitable site, if it is truly 25% art and 75% science? For every $2.50 dollars you spend on development and updating, spend $7.50 dollars on findability and ongoing promotion and marketing.

Happy Marketing!


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