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Search Engine Placement
   
 
 
Sites that do well on search engines are those where a little extra time has been spent paying attention not only to what customers want, but also to what search engines need. How easy this process will be for you will depend on many issues including your product or service, how long your site has been around (new sites are penalized), how it has been designed, the keywords you have chosen and how your site has been optimized for search engines (content rich with keywords, inbound links, anchor text, etc.). There are also more and more "for pay" options available and knowing where to spend your money will help you get results.

Definitions:

SEO - Search Engine Optimization

This is code and structure that is put in place to make your site as important to a search engine as possible for the particular keyword phrases that relate to your site. These keyword phrases help direct visitors to your web site.

SEM - Search Engine Marketing

This refers to pay per click efforts, directory listings, paid sponsorships and advertising, etc.

SEO is generally free. SEM generally, but not always, costs money. A strong search engine improvement effort will most likely include both elements. However, regardless of what you spend, SEO is critical to getting your web site found.

The Color of your Hat

You may hear about White, Black or Gray Hat techniques for search engine optimization. White-Hat techniques are good and are generally covered in this document. Black-Hat techniques must be avoided because they are clear efforts to "spam" or trick search engines into visiting your site. Gray-Hat techniques are seemingly benign methods for cloaking your actual purpose and also must be avoided. If a search engine catches you at either black or gray hat techniques, you will likely be permanently banned from being listed on them.

How Search Engines Really Work:

When a search engine visits your web site, it uses a "spider" or "web-bot." Spiders crawl over the pages in your site that they "see" and report back to the search engine about how many pages there are and what keywords are being used on each page.

All search engines have a set of rules called "Algorithms" that govern whatís important and whatís not. For instance when Googleís spider visits your site, it will look for the 100 main categories that Google deems important. Normally web sites do not have all 100. Google breaks these 100 main categories into over 2 million sub-categories. Long equations are assigned representing each keyword it finds on each page of your site. The result of the equation is the value for that keyword on each page. When someone searches for that keyword, Google then list your page appropriately in comparison with other sites that have that same keyword. The web site that has the most relevant content in regard to that keyword gets listed first and so on.

If you only mention a keyword phrase once on a page, it has very little value for that page. If you mention that same keyword in each paragraph on the page, the page will receive a higher value for that keyword.

There are several things you can do to help get your site well listed. Keep in mind that the items below are just a start for doing better with search engines. The more thought and work you put into this effort, the better your site will perform.

Search Engine Optimization Techniques:

Keywords and Keyword Phrases are a misunderstood concept for the majority of web site owners. Most people think they know what keyword phrases to use and they neglect the research needed to discover what people are actually typing into search engines. These owners risk leaving out vital keywords that would have a big impact on their results. Here are some basic rules to follow regarding keywords and how to optimize your site. Remember that you are trying to make the site attractive not only to people but to web-bots that search engines send to visit. People must want to visit, so your site must be made popular, but bots must find what they need, too.

Keywords and Keyword Phrases

  • Find the keyword phrases that people are using. You can use a "Keyword Popularity Tool" to show how many searches were done on each keyword phrase the previous month. This may uncover other keyword phrases you may not have considered.
  • Make a list in a spreadsheet of no less than 30-keyword phrases you plan to emphasize on your site with the number of searches done for each one. Avoid selecting single keywords; it is highly unlikely you will ever be well listed using them. Having said that, it is best search the "Keyword Popularity Tool" with single keywords. This method will show more results for you to choose from. Some web sites might have over 100-keyword phrases depending on their mix of products and services.
  • With your keyword list in mind, register a good domain name that will reflect what your site is about. While not essential, an appropriate name can help influence the value of the keywords used. Sometimes your company name is the best choice for your domain name, but this does not mean that you should absolutely register FredJones.com if you make toy wagons. Rather, you may try to find something like "toywagons.com" or "besttoywagons.com" because these might help inspire confidence in people who may not have heard of Fred Jones the toy-wagon-maker.
  • Your keyword research may give you new ideas. For example: Fred Jones may have many competitors in the toy wagon business, but those competitors may only have one web page dedicated to the product. In your research you may discover that searches were done for "Red Toy Wagons", "Blue Toy Wagons" and "Green Toy Wagons." Armed with this information, you might create a separate page for each of those phrases and gain more influence with the search engines as a result. You can expand this idea by adding pages like "How to Build Your Own Toy Wagon" or "How to Use Your Toy Wagon To Make Money."
  • Use your keyword list to name the pages in your site. There should not be a keyword phrase that doesnít have a page URL associated with it. If you use a multiple word phrase for your page names then use a hyphen rather than an underscore, ie: red-toy-wagon.html. An underscore is seen as a phrase, but a hyphen is seen as the phrase as well as the words. Try to use logical URLs. For example: www.toywagons.com/wagon-colors/red-toy-wagons.html.
  • Focus on only 2 to 3 keyword phrases per page with the exception of the home page which should talk about the site as a whole. This will spread out your keywords and phrases over many web pages in your site and will create additional ways visitors can enter your site through the search engines. Keep in mind that the more pages your site has, the more credibility search engines will give it.
  • Make sure your keywords appear in crucial locations on each page including in the page title, meta description and keyword tags, headers, hyperlinks, text and in image alt tags. If you donít know what these are you can contact support or your webmaster for assistance. Your keywords must also be in the heading, at the beginning of the first paragraph and multiple times throughout the page. Make sure, however, that your text sounds natural and appealing, not artificially packed with keywords. You have to please the human visitor to your site, too.

Page Elements and Structure

  • The page title is the most important element on a page. It must be there and it must be relevant. It is best to not exceed 64 characters including spaces and 6-12 words. The title of your home page should reflect what your web site is about as a whole. The title of main pages should reflect the services or products (i.e. "Toy Wagons") on that page and each internal page linked from there should reflect the specific details offered on that page (i.e. "Blue Wagons", etc.). A page title should include only those keywords that reflect the content on that page. If possible use the singular and plural of a keyword in the title of a web page. Be sure to use the keywords from your title throughout the whole page.
  • The description meta-tag is still used by some search engines for determining keyword density of a page (how many times a keyword was used on a page). The description meta-tag should not be more than 200 characters long including spaces and 12-24 words. Don't use more than three commas in a description tag. Make sure the keywords you use do not sound artificial or they will have less value.
  • The keyword meta-tag shows the search engines the main keywords that are important to that page. Even though this tag is not very valuable, it does help keyword density on your pages and some smaller search engines will not accept your site without it. The keywords you list here MUST be on the page. The keyword meta-tag should stay below 1000 characters long including spaces and no more than 48 words. You cannot use the same keyword more than 3 times. Always use a comma and a space to separate keyword phrases.
  • HTML heading tags should always be created for your keywords. Every page needs a main heading (H1) tag and secondary (H2) heading tags if possible. The main heading and secondary headings reinforce the title meta-tag and give the page more credibility for search engines. Avoid a single H2 tag, since you cannot have an H2 tag without an H1 tag listed before it.
  • Image alt tags (words that pop up when you place your mouse over a picture) provide value to the keyword density on a page. Although the Alt tag carries a small amount of importance it does add to the value and should help your visitors know more about an image. The image alt tag should have 5 to 8 words in it and use the keyword phrases for that page. Make sure the words do not sound artificial or they will have less value.
  • Frames are not recommended since some search engine spiders find them difficult to navigate and won't be able to report the page content back to the search engine.
  • Minimize nesting of tables and extensive JavaScript or other content that moves your keywords far down in the page's html code. Search engines read from left to right and top to bottom, but they read your code rather than your page directly. So, for example, columns are read in order from left to right, so content on the right will be considered less important.
  • Avoid use of the "?" symbol in URLís that you want search engines to index. Some search engines will test these pages by making up URLís at random to see if a database will generate a page. If it does, the site may be penalized in rankings.
  • Make use of a robots.txt file so search engines know what to do when they arrive at your site.

Content and Navigation

  • Good, relevant, original content helps make you an authority on a subject. When a visitor asks about a subject, search engines want to deliver the most useful information. If you are an authority, search engines will love you. Write lots of original content. Give it away. Change it often. Add a blog. Generate an RSS feed. Submit articles to directories linking back to your site... and so on.
  • As a good rule of thumb, for a page that is dedicated to any keyword or subject, you should have between 250 and 500 words of good, interesting, relevant, original content on each page. Search engines are looking for unique and original content that will interest the searcher. It should not be the exact same content as is found on your other pages or anyone else's pages. Remember that search engines are more interested in helping the searcher than helping your web site, so make your content as appealing as possible with keywords and meaning.
  • Remember that search engines want content they can read and the language they read is html. Search engines cannot see text in a picture or a Flash movie. If you are using text in an image, be sure to use an appropriate alt tag since the keyword phrase on the image will not be seen by the search engine. Flash can enhance a siteís appearance but it should be used in moderation and not in a way that will keep spiders from reading your content. "Full Page Flash" should only be used on web pages that you do not need the search engine to visit or pages that are duplicated in html somewhere else on your site.
  • A web site not only needs to look attractive, but navigation for the search engine spiders is equally important. "Dropdown Menus" for navigation are normally created in JavaScript or flash. This type of navigation is attractive and can make visitors more interested in a web site, but Google is the only search engine that can read JavaScript, and even then has limitations, and as mentioned above, Flash canít be read by any search engine yet. An easy way around this is to have straight html links at the bottom of your pages. This allows the spiders from all the search engines navigate through your site without any restrictions and these links are rarely seen by your visitors. No matter how nice your site looks, if the spiders cannot find each page, your site will have fewer visitors from the search engines.
  • Be sure to have links using keywords on each page so search engines can find their way to the rest of your site. Keep in mind that you should use the keyword list you have created to name the links. For example: "Red Toy Wagons" would point to the page for "Red Toy Wagons." These are called "Anchor Text Links" and are given more weight with the search engines.
  • Avoid bad links or links to URLs that go nowhere. If are redesigning your site or you have a page whose URL has changed for some other reason, don't leave it dead because it may still be listed on search engines. Use a 301 redirect rather than a meta refresh to redirect traffic to the correct page.
  • A site map linked from your home page can be very helpful for spiders to find all your content easily. A large web site may have thousands of web-pages. In that case listing only the main pages would be more appropriate. Thus a site map may only have 100 main pages and the spiders can easily find the rest of the internal pages from there.

Other SEO Considerations

Inbound Links:

Inbound links are critical to your success. Make an effort to get other web sites to add a link from their web site to your site. This not only drives more traffic to you, but search engines will list you higher because of the number and quality of incoming links from other sites. You can ask other webmasters with sites that have similar themes to yours for a link. If you must include a link on your site in exchange for a link back, it's much less valuable than a one-way link to your site from elsewhere. Always ask for anchor text links like "Red Toy Wagon." You may occasionally be asked by other webmasters if they can link to your site. If this happens, look at their site to make sure it is relevant, that it has some Page Rank value (not buried so deep that no one will ever find your link), that it just "feels" good and that it has no nasty surprises like redirects or unexpected pop-ups. You don't want to be associated with a "bad neighborhood!" When contacting other webmasters, the telephone or other personal contact is best in these efforts rather than email so that you don't seem to be sending spam.

Database Based Web Sites:

Web sites content can be delivered in one of two ways. It can be entered directly by a webmaster into the html code of the pages, or the code can instead include calls to a database where the content is stored, often using a non-technical content management system. The visitor sees no difference, but from a search engine standpoint, not all databases are created equally. A basic database will allow you to add content to your pages. Some more sophisticated systems allow you to change the page title, description tag, keyword tag, alt tags, navigation links, and even web page addresses. The more capability you have, the more it will help you influence your search engine listings.

The Age of a Web Site:

The age of your web site is measured from the time it was submitted to a particular search engine. This is one of those hurdles you just canít do anything about. All you can do is submit your site to search engines as soon as it is built and wait.

Search engines consider the age of a site important for reasons of credibility. Some search engines, like Google, lower the value of a new web site compared to older ones. This is called the "sandbox" effect and it lowers the chance you will be found, even under your own company name. It can take 6-8 months before your results improve and it may take several more months to finally get well listed. While this is frustrating, it is done to make sure that sites found by searchers are not some fly-by-night company trying to trick the search engine into believing it has substantial content.

Landing Pages:

A landing page is a single page dedicated to a certain keyword or keyword phrase. A site owner will often dedicate pay-per-click efforts to direct people to a landing page. Once visitors arrive, the objective is to steer them directly to a "call to action" with a specific agenda. They can either do what you want or leave. There are no other buttons or options for them. This strategy is useful for purposes such as gathering an email address, downloading a product, delivering a freebie, buying a particular product or other single purpose.

Patience and Hard Work Pay Off:

It may take from one month to several months for your pages to appear in a search engine, and some search engines may not list every page from your site. Once your pages are listed, check on them every couple of weeks and resubmit if they disappear. Be prepared to resubmit your site any time you make significant changes. You can ask your webmaster about submitting your web site for you to all the major and medium size search engines. You can also visit newsgroups and web forums to promote your site personally with good results.

Avoid Spamming:

Spamming is an effort to "beat the system" by unethical means like the repeated use of keywords, making keywords invisible on your pages, excessive submissions to search engines and other such practices. Search engines may detect your spamming attempt and penalize or ban your page from their listings.

Search Engine Marketing Techniques:

Analytics & Marketing

Increased traffic is fun to watch, but it's the quality of your visits rather than the quantity that make all the difference. As a result, you must use your web usage reports to evaluate the quality of your visits and make adjustments to your site and your search engine marketing strategies accordingly.

Analytics are important because besides the number of hits and visitors you have they can tell you important information for making decisions. Did the person who searched for "red wagons" research other products? Did they add anything to their shopping basket? Did they complete the sale? Where did they leave your site? Did they happen to submit any information, such as an email address, that you can use for follow up?

You can use analytics to help you achieve business goals such as sales, newsletter signups, downloads, RSS subscriptions, account creation or other metrics depending on your business. You can track such analytics as the percentage of traffic coming from search engines, which search engines generate it, the number of conversions (leads, sales, subscriptions) from search traffic, the average visit duration, top search queries so you can target the right terms, top entry pages so you can have the right information there and the bounce rate from your top exit pages so you can see why they leave your site.

We provide good usage statistics at no cost with our hosting, but there are more comprehensive third party tools out there that you might consider adding to your site. Google Analytics, Omniture, Enquisite and others provide more detailed analytics. Advanced users should consider Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo! Search Site Explorer, Alexa and Compete.com to help their efforts. Some of these tools can even help you determine what search spiders are seeing when they visit your site so you can make appropriate adjustments.

Free Search Engines:

Before you pay for any listings anywhere, you must optimize the site according to the suggestions above. Many search engines, including Google, AOL Search and Ask.com, include directory listings from the Open Directory Project located at http://www.dmoz.org. You should definitely submit your site there.

Paid Search Engines and Directories:

Some search engines like Yahoo charge a fee to list your web site but also offer free listings. You can try to get listed for free, but it may take 6 months or longer or you may never get listed at all. There are hundreds of search engines and directories that charge a fee, so enlisting the assistance of experts can be an economical decision since they will know which ones offer the best value. Contact us for our recommendation.

Pay Per Clicks:

This option is good if you don't often change the content on each page or if you have so many different products that extensive optimization would be too expensive. Your products must have a little higher profit margin to offset the cost, but this can be an effective way to get great listings and drive focused traffic to your site. With pay-per-click, you just buy your way to the top by bidding against your competitors for top listings. The price can range from $0.05 cents per click to well over $1.00 per click depending on the field your company is in. You normally have full control on how much you want to spend each month. Unfortunately there are about 640 different Pay Per Click Services out there to choose from and that number is growing so assistance of an expert can be helpful here as well.

You need to decide whether you want to run a pay-per-click campaign yourself or pay someone else to run it for you. If you decide to try your hand at it, you may find it to be difficult and you may learn some costly lessons. You must be diligent at learning not only how pay per click works, but you must attend to it every day and at different times of the day and night.

Running a pay per click campaign is very much like playing poker. You must know how to bluff, when to hold your cards and when to raise the pot. Many people make the mistake of thinking they can read a book or take a class on Pay Per Clicks and they will do well at it. You might compare this idea to reading a book on "How to Play Poker" and sitting down with a bunch of card sharks. No matter how well you read that book, the chances are you will lose for quite a while before you win anything. It takes serious dedication and money to pay for learning this game.

Having outside help can be good or bad depending on the company you choose. Some companies use "Automated Systems" to handle your pay per click service. However, automated systems donít care if you are making money or not. They use algorithms that say, "When this happens do this and when that happens do that." Companies that use automated systems may not admit it readily and may try to let you think a human is watching over the automated system at all times. These systems do drive focused traffic to your web site, but they can bid too high or too low for important keywords or may bid on keywords you should have avoided altogether.

Another option is to use a company that handles pay per clicks manually. While manually run pay per click services are typically more expensive, the management expense is usually offset because very focused traffic is driven to your site at a lower pay per click price. These experts can also help run competitors out of funds faster because of the special attention you are getting, thereby lowering the cost of each click that you pay for. Hiring experts also frees up the time you must spend to learn how to run a pay per click campaign yourself and the months of everyday observation it will take to become an expert at it. Just like poker, the more time you spend playing, the better you get at it.

Click Fraud:

Click fraud is when you pay more for your pay-per-click traffic than you should because a person or computer program masquerades as a legitimate visitor and clicks on a link that you have to pay for. If you think click fraud is occurring, there are things you can do to check on it. Generally, reputable search engines go to a lot of trouble to be sure you are not being abused. It is in their best interest to keep customers happy in the belief that they are getting value for their dollars spent.

Search Engine Optimizers (SEOs):

Some companies charge thousands of dollars per year to insure that you get listed on search engines and stay there. Some will be good for you and others will not. Stay away from those who put useless key words not related to your business on your site just to generate traffic. Be wary of guarantees - they will usually have a gimmick worked into the contract to insure that they meet their guarantees. Don't try to get around search engine algorithms and undermine search indexes by generating doorway pages designed for search engine spiders rather than humans, containing hidden text, hidden links, cloaking and other "tricks." Rather than providing high placement, such techniques can penalize your site with a ranking penalty or get you permanently banned from an index. It can take a long time for search engines to lift such penalties, if they decide to at all.

Good SEOs will provide four basic services for you that will help considerably with your placement:
  • an analysis of your site compared to an analysis of your market to determine your correct key words
  • optimization of your site to keep search results as relevant as possible by revising the visible site content and following the guidelines shown here
  • teach you how to write content that is relevant to both your visitors and to search engines
  • manual submission to search engines and directories
What we can do: Site optimization can be made part of the design process, so if we do a design for you, we can give you a head start. This decision should be made before building the web site. Besides making recommendations on design elements necessary for the most effective search engine placement during the planning phase, we can also optimize your site as we build it. For a typical size site, the addition of necessary optimization elements to the main pages takes about 2 hours of our time, but it does vary from one web site to another.

Once this process is complete, your site is submitted with software designed for this purpose. We subscribe to a knowledge database that is updated daily with preferences and procedural changes from all the major and mid-level search engine companies. Analysts and field testers modify the database to be sure our submissions won't ever offend. Our software provides a maintenance service, re-submitting the site as needed. However, there is no substitute for personal attention and a dedicated SEO effort from our staff expert should be requested if you are counting on search engines for most of your traffic.

Non-Web Promotion:

The web is so crowded now, that it has become more and more important to focus on alternative methods of promotion. You should consider using the web site to turn a small ad into a big one by steering people there with conventional advertising. In other words, use all those methods you have always used successfully to drive people to your door and promote your business - word-of-mouth, traditional advertising, the traditional media, etc.

Formal SEO / SEM Plans

We have established a few SEO / SEM plans to meet the needs of various budgets. Each includes a setup fee and an ongoing monthly fee. Each of these plans is focused on generating a return on your investment (ROI). The initial setup work includes establishing a set of measurable results so that the value of the effort can be clearly shown as work progresses. A three month commitment to the ongoing service is recommended, after which time the value of the effort can be evaluated fairly and a decision to continue further can be made.

In some plans, half of the monthly fee is spent on SEO work on the site and half is dedicated to PPC key word purchases on search engines. The actual SEO work done each month is based on the results obtained from previous efforts, so the process is dynamic and flexible.

In other plans all the work is SEO related and no PPC search listings are purchased. It should be noted that without PPC, the ROI not seen right away. Measurable results simply take longer with SEO only, so there is not as rapid a payback on the investment in these plans. They eventually generate a satisfactory return, but because it is slower, it is harder to measure and point results directly to the SEO efforts. For this reason, a longer commitment should be considered with these options.

The initial setup fee includes such items as:
  • Establish guidelines for logging measurable results
  • Convert meta and image tags to properly target keyword basket
  • Submit website to free directories per month
  • Submit website to yahoo paid directory.
  • Format home page copy and links to target keyword basket
  • Individual landing page web sites
  • Add Google Analytics
  • Weekly Search Rankings Report
  • Link Building
  • Monthly Customized submission to Google, Yahoo, MSN index
  • HTML page of focused copy each monthly
  • Blog/forum entries including an html link to the website, monthly
  • Pay per click management (if PPC is included)
The ongoing SEO work done includes such items as:
  • Website copy and meta optimization
  • Link building
  • Blog/forum postings
  • Website registration and directory listing
  • Traffic analysis, optimization, and reporting
  • Bulk email marketing/tracking/reporting
  • Pay-per-click campaign management and optimization (if PPC is included)
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