Oh, to be number one! Isn't it everyone's dream? To punch
in a set of keywords and see your site rise to the top of
the heap, of 101,896 hits... you're number one! Or, at the
very least, in the first page. Being number one, of course,
translates into more hits. In July of 2002 Professor Oren
Etzioni of the University of Washington went on record as
estimating that search engine users are three times more likely
to click on the top sites, as opposed to those four or below.
If you have a brand new site you'll need
to announce that site to the various search engines. How you
do that will depend on how much you'd like to spend. Almost
every search engine on the web now charges a fee for prompt
listing. Although some allow you to submit your site for free,
there are no guarantees your site will be included in the
rankings in anything even vaguely approximating a timely manner.
Some sites, like "Yahoo" charge an annual fee (around
$200 per year as of this writing) others a one time $35 fee.
All in all it adds up quickly.
Submission services have sprung up to bundle
submission to multiple sites into a single fee (and form).
The fact that a service promises submission to "thousands"
of engines means nothing if Google, AOL, Netscape, and MSN
are not included in those thousands. For that reason we suggest
get your site listed on Excite.com
a one-stop submission service. Remember: a submission service
is NOT a bid-for-placement service. All the submission service
does is check your site for errors, and then announce it to
the search engines. Now the engines know you exist, but existance
does not guarantee good ranking.
The king of the engines is Google. Rank high on Google and
you'll rank high anywhere. What does it take to rank high
on Google? According to the people at Google the way to good
ranking is to build a good site that people want to use. The
zen way to search engine bliss. In fact, this is a bit disingenuous.
Flash Animations. So you could have a lovely site, which everyone
wanted to use, based Flash... and be invisible to the Google
Google likes straight HTML content. Lots of text with plenty
of keywords and phrases. Headings with keywords in them. Links
that link to you using your keywords (what is often called
"anchor text"), and links that you use to "deepen"
your site. Which is why many sites with high Google ranking
look less than cutting edge. They're not designed to look
attractive to viewers. They're designed to Google well.
This can represent a challenge to your web designer.
Graphically interesting, interactive, sites may not fare as
well on the search engines as a plain vanilla site heavy with
text. Which, even if you achieve the page rank you desire,
may not improve your sales because your client base isn't
interested in reading a treatise on your bed and breakfast.
They want to see pictures! What to do?
Enter the SEO's or Search Engine Optomizers,
who claim they can take your current site and through a little
sleight of hand, manipulation of file names, tweaking of the
meta tags... lift you up on the search engine pages. And,
in certain cases, particularly with older sites, they can
help. They are also not inexpensive services, running in the
neighborhood of $300-600 per year. The plus of using an SEO
service is it may help your site. The minus? The truth of
it is, not everyone can be number one. The SEO is not selling
his service to you and you alone. He's making the same promises
to your friends and competitors. And you can't all be number
To keep everyone happy, SEO's try to spread the keywords
around between competitors. So your site may be optomized
for someone searching on "Stowe Vermont Weddings,"
while one competitor may be optomized for "Weddings in
Stowe Vermont," and another for "Stowe Vermont Wedding."
Think it doesn't make a difference?
Stowe Vermont Weddings places our wedding
pages hosted on the GatewaytoStowe.com site on the second
page of listings.
Stowe Vermont Wedding places us at number
one in the listings. Number one, two, and three, no less.
Weddings in Stowe Vermont places us at the
bottom of the first page of listings.
This is pretty good placement for a set
of pages we put up only a month before we ran this test. The
placement is a credit to the work we've done to achieve good
standing for the GatewaytoStowe pages. But it also graphically
illustrates how an SEO can claim to be lifting all his clients
up the search engine ladder.
Are SEO's worth the money they're charging? For
people with older sites, quite possibly yes, although your
webmaster should be able to make file name changes and metatag
adjustments without the help of an outside agent. A better
use of your resources, however, is probably to bid on traffic
with a pay to play search engine placement.
Bidding, or paying, for clicks is rapidly becoming
the preferred method of driving traffic to a site. You pay
only for the traffic you receive, and bid only on
the keywords you think will generate business for your site.
So, for example, you are a manufacturer of whiggits and gimlets.
Whiggits are not a high profit item for you, and there is
a lot of competition in the whiggit market. But gimlets have
high margins, and they're very profitable for you. Naturally,
you'll optomize your site to come up when people search on
whiggits and gimlets... but you'll buy top placement for your
gimlets. Even if it costs you $20 a month to be number one
under "gimlets," you'll more than make that up with
what your new customers buy and the exposure you receive.
Paying for traffic has two side benefits rarely discussed,
even by the services themselves, which in and of themselves
are worth the monthly fee. These services allow you to see
what your competitors are bidding for their placement, hence
creating transparency in the marketplace. And they allow you
to see how often your keywords were searched on in the month
Going back to our example of "Stowe Vermont Weddings"
we can see which combination of words or phrases was searched
on the most frequently. In fact, we learn that "Vermont
wedding" is number one, and placement in the top three
positions under "Vermont Wedding" has been bid up
until it is quite pricey. We can choose to compete in that
category, or buy our way to the top of a "Stowe Vermont
Wedding" combination we're not optomized for. We can
bid high in critical months, low in less critical months,
or take ourselves off the page entirely when our goals have
been met. Bang for the buck, I'm much more comfortable with
bidding for placement, which I have control over, than search
engine optomization, which I don't.
If you're a new site, you'll probably want to budget for
announcing yourself to, at the very least, Google. If you
know you're listed on the engines, but aren't seeing the placement
you'd like there are two top services in the bid for placement
- Advertise your Web site with Overture
search listings. Overture allows you to set a budget you're
comfortable with (minimum $20/month), and then places your
URL at the top of the search engine hit list under "sponsor
matches." You pay only for those that actually
click through, making this one of the most affordable long
term methods of increasing traffic available. Sign up now
and get a $10 credit, equivalent to 200 free sales leads.
- Advertise on LookSmart. I know, I know...
you've heard you shouldn't pay for listings. Problem is,
for most of you... your competitor is paying for listings.
Which is why they come flying up on the first page... and
you don't. Looksmart is a little less expensive, $15/month,
but doesn't allow you to bid for placement. Still, $15/month
buys you 100 click throughs, on your choice of keywords.
You need to weigh these two options... or budget $35-50/month
and do both. How much exposure can you buy for $420 in print
media, vs. the exposure you'll get coming up in the first
slots of a search? Pick one, pick both, sign up yourself,
or delegate the responsibility to your webmaster, and ask
for regular reports.
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Targeting Your Market: Demographics,
Marketing, and You