By Keli Etscorn, email@example.com, ©2006 Keli Etscorn
When it comes to using search engines to find information on the Web, most Internet users don’t look beyond the first several pages of results. If you’re doing business on the Internet, it’s crucial that your site show up in those first few pages. This is where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes in.
SEO is not an exact science now, nor will it ever be. Good ranking does not happen overnight; it takes time, patience, and commitment from both the SEO professional and the client. And once a site achieves a desired ranking, you must continue to monitor the site, as search engine algorithms change constantly.
So what can you expect from SEO? How does it work? Here are some common questions, misconceptions, and myths about the SEO world, as well as an explanation of some popular practices.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Defined
Search engine optimization is the process of creating Web pages with unique content that abide by the rules of the search engine. The end goal of SEO is increased search engine visibility and increased targeted traffic to your Web site. In other words: SEO takes aim at improving a Web page’s search engine ranking and visibility in the search engines; which makes SEO a vital piece of a successful online marketing strategy. Each Search Engine uses a unique “algorithm,” the set of rules that govern the way a Web page is ranked and viewed by the search engine. A well optimized site includes all of the necessary ranking elements to be “search engine friendly” while following the rules of these algorithms. In my company, I examine approximately 100 different elements and practices of a Web site to ensure its optimized property.
Basically, good optimization is achieved by following the search engine rules, utilizing researched keyword phrases properly, avoiding spam techniques, having well constructed meta tags (you should only need a keyword and description meta tag), offering great content (and PLENTY of it), and link popularity.
As an SEO professional, the most important part of what I do is keyword research. It’s my starting point and it draws the roadmap for the rest of an SEO project. The “competitiveness” of the selected keyword phrases dictates the amount of time necessary to obtain desirable search engine rankings.
Keyword phrases must be thoroughly researched, analyzed, and tested. Why optimize for a keyword phrase that no human will use? A good SEO professional should provide a list of keyword phrases pertaining to your service and/or business that are not too competitive while still being popular enough to drive your site targeted traffic.
How Long Does it Take to Achieve Desired Ranking?
Keep in mind that simply submitting your Web site to the free search engines and directories provides no guarantee that you will be indexed; much less achieve a high ranking.
If your site existed at least a year before it was optimized it can take between 3 to 6 months to achieve a good rankings in the popular search engines (9-12 months for a brand new site). Web sites with low link popularity and poor search engine rankings for their keyword phrases can expect to reach their ranking goals in 6 to 12 months.
The timeline varies from site to site. The complexity of the SEO strategy depends on the competitiveness of the keyword phrases, the amount of redesign the Web site needs, special SEO copywriting, architecture restructure, and many other factors.
SEO is a patience game.
How is Good Ranking Obtained?
Desired ranking comes from great home page copy, high link popularity (with one way, incoming links being the most desirable type of link), and the use of well researched keyword phrases in proper areas of your Web site.
A search engine spider (or crawler) looks for two things: 1) text and 2) text links. Spiders follow text links and look in your copy for reiterations of your keyword phrases. Make sure you have PLENTY of good copy on your homepage. (“Good” means good writing, of course, but also the smooth, logical inclusion of your keyword phrases in the copy.) I like to see at LEAST 200 words on the homepage of a client’s site. In some cases, I bring in a professional SEO copywriter.
“We’ll submit your site to thousands of search engines!”
I regularly get this E-mail in my “admin” or “webmaster” accounts for most of the domains I manage and I bet you’ve seen it too. What are these 1000 search engines? Are human Web site visitors using them? No. The following statistics show search engines that we humans actually use:
The 5 largest search engines on the Web are:
1. Google 48.5 %
2. Yahoo 22.5 %
3. MSN Search 10.7 %
4. AOL Search 6.6 %
5. My Web 2.7 %
Feb 2006 / Source:
Research by Nielsen Media Research
These search engines are where YOU want your Web site to be. Not “FredsCoolSearchEngine.com.” Listing your site in second-rate search engines – even 1000’s of them! – will only generate spam and end up wasting your time. Concentrate on the search engines people use – THAT’S where your traffic will come from.
“Guaranteed #1 Ranking!”
This is just as popular a gimmick as the “we’ll submit your site to 1000’s of search engines” E-mail. No reputable SEO firm promises this. Why? We don’t own Google, Yahoo, or any other of the major search engines. I’d love to make this promise to my clients, but to do so would be highly unethical and untrue at best. Usually this claim involves picking some obscure keyword phrase that’s easy to optimized a site with AND is never actually searched for by humans! RUN away from SEO firms that make this type of promise.
Google has the following to say about firms that guarantee #1 rankings:
“Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or through the Google Sitemaps (Beta) program, and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.”
Is Using Automated Submit Software OK to use?
Absolutely not. It is a direct violation of most search engine rules to use this type of software. The best method to get into search engines is by having your site “found” through other Web sites. This means having your Web site linked from other sites. The second best method is “hand” submitting your site to the search engines. It’s free and it’s easy. Since there are only a handful of search engines/directories you need your Web site in, it doesn’t take very long. I have a list of these submit areas on the www.kelie.com site under “Search Engine Tips.”
This is what Google has to say about automated submitting software:
“Don’t use unauthorized computer programs to submit pages, check rankings, etc. Such programs consume computing resources and violate our Terms of Service. Google does not recommend the use of products such as WebPosition Gold™ that send automatic or programmatic queries to Google.”
Do I resubmit my site every week?
If your site is already in a search engine, why resubmit it? It wastes bandwidth and time. Many services tout this as a feature to their program when it’s really not necessary at all; in fact, this practice is construed as spam by some search engines. Multiple submissions may result in your Web site getting permanently removed from a search engine.
Organic SEO (or “natural” SEO) is what I’ve practiced since 1999. It is based on common sense optimization that doesn’t utilize Pay-Per-Click (PPC) programs (buying traffic) or spammy techniques that can get you banned. Spammy techniques usually don’t keep your site ranked high for very long and that sends you right back to your SEO professional again. Do it right the first time.
With organic SEO, you submit your optimized Web site to the free search engines and directories. I use only organic SEO for my clients as it serves them well without paying the high costs of a PPC program. Organic SEO is a great way to increase targeted traffic to your Web site over time. It is also the cheapest route to site optimization.
All Eggs in One Basket
I can’t stress the following point enough.
A Web site is not a marketing plan.
A Web site is not a marketing plan.
A Web site is not a marketing plan.
It is only one resource to be woven into the entire fabric of your business. Marketing starts after a Web site is completed and live on the Internet.
People familiar with the search engine industry probably remember the major Google update in November of 2003 known as the “Florida Update”; this major algorithm change devastated and even closed many businesses. Who suffered? Business owners who relied on Google as their sole means of getting sales, and made it their ONLY marketing plan. It was a hard lesson to learn for many.
A good monthly monitoring plan, along with other marketing practices, makes for a successful online business. A Web site should complement marketing efforts that are already in place – or at the very least, already planned! My most successful clients run ads in newspapers, major magazines and publications, and offer coupons. They also join trade shows, affiliate programs, and much more. The Internet is a wonderful tool – but it’s not magic! It takes WORK and lots of it!
In order to watch how your Web site is doing in the search engines, it should be monitored closely and regularly. Some clients don’t realize the importance of monitoring until it’s too late and they’ve lost their high ranking.
Trends on what people search on change as well. This is especially noticeable around big holidays. Do you think people will be searching on “valentine’s gifts” in the summer? Not! Constant keyword research allows you to make changes and optimize your site for seasonal trends.
The biggest changes that your site will need are usually after the search engines undergo a big algorithm change, but consistent monitoring also allows you to tweak the site if need be. Most monitoring packages include incorporating the changes needed for your Web site to maintain good rankings.
After the “Florida update,” panicked clients E-mailed me about losing their first page ranking. I advised them to purchase our monthly monitoring service, which would allow me to make the necessary changes for them at a cheaper rate than my normal consulting fee.
One person wanted to receive monitoring services “every other month.” A little like turning on your alarm security system every other month – not wise at all! Unfortunately, this person was a victim of the “all eggs in one basket” syndrome. Google didn’t owe this client anything for the free listing and, unfortunately, a lot of sales were lost.
Do people call the newspaper classified ads when their product doesn’t sell? Probably not. Again, if your SEO strategy is part of a larger marketing plan, it’s easier to remember that SEO is simply advertising and marketing – in a different medium.
When you’re considering hiring an SEO professional, be sure to ask what kind of monitoring service is included. Some SEO professionals include 6 months of monitoring with your SEO services; others charge a monthly fee. And if you’re not paying for monthly monitoring, and your site ranking drops, you’ll usually pay a consulting fee (much higher!) to correct the problem.
And, of course, sending daily E-mails about your ranking is generally not part of the SEO service unless you’ve signed up for monthly monitoring that includes this. An SEO professional’s time – like yours – is very valuable, so treat it with respect!
What To Do If Your Search Engine Ranking Falls
Search engine rankings constantly fluctuate, mainly due to three factors:
There are literally thousands of new sites going live on the Internet every day;
People are becoming more and more aware of SEO; and Algorithms constantly change to work around spamming practices and to provide more relevant results.
If you notice that your ranking falls drastically or drops out of the index completely, the first thing to remember is not to panic! The search engines are a very dynamic beast and will constantly change. Your listing may reappear in the same position – and it may not. If your ranking doesn’t come back after a few weeks of monitoring, it’s possible that the search engine made a major change in the algorithm.
The worst mistake you can make during this time is to try and “chase the algorithm,” making many frantic changes to your Web site. You’ll never know what’s actually working and what isn’t. This is where patience comes in. After a major change, it’s best to wait at least a month before analyzing and making changes to your site. A monthly monitoring service usually includes these changes for you.
Search Engines and Directories
Directories are search indexes that are arranged and edited by humans. They are typically arranged in alphabetical order and by category. The results are static, so for a Web site owner, they are effective and save a lot of time.
A search engine is a service that uses automated search engine spiders to review, index and rank your Web site.
NEVER submit your site to the search engines before it’s been properly optimized. I’ve found that many people submit their Web site first and optimize it later. When they don’t get the rankings they hoped for, THEN they consult with an SEO professional! Save yourself time and frustration – submit your site to directories and search engines after optimization.
Once a Web site is optimized, it’s important that you NOT make any changes to the Web site without talking to your SEO consultant. Months of SEO work – and your search engine rankings – can be flushed down the drain in a matter of seconds when Web pages are modified haphazardly. To protect your investment and search engine rankings, don’t alter the site without some consideration of your SEO strategy.
Keeping it Fresh
When Google released their patent (April 2004) that stated how they “might” be evaluating Web sites, some very important points became apparent.
Google more than likely looks at historical data. This includes how long your domain has been registered, how many years has it been registered for, how often do you make changes to your site (Google likes a site that is updated frequently, this tells Google there’s some importance to it), link inflation (did the number of backlinks drastically increase all at once?) as well as many similar items.
Keep it fresh
Keep it unique
Keep it spam free
Keep it updated
Keep it error free
Use thoroughly researched keywords wisely
Use your head.
The set of rules each search engine follows to rank your site. Each search engine uses a unique algorithm that is constantly being updated and changed.
Links from other Web sites to your Web site. This is also referred to as incoming links. Quality (linking to site related to the theme of your site) incoming links will help your site the most.
Keyword phrases are multi-word phrases used in search engine queries. SEO is the process of optimizing Web sites for keyword phrases so that the sites rank highly in the search query results.
Link popularity is the total number of Web sites that link to your site. It’s best if the sites linking “to” and “from” you are related in theme to your site.
Some directories will only consider placing your URL/Web address into their database if you pay them a fee. I don’t use any of these type services for my clients.
Pay Per Click. Paying for your traffic by bidding on search terms and keyword phrases. Bidding price is determined by popularity – generic keyword phrases cost more than precise, highly targeted keyword phases. Competitive keyword phrases drive lower amounts of traffic but result in a higher ROI (return on investment) and sales conversion.
Return on investment.
Search Engine Friendly
A user-friendly Web site that can be easily found in the search engines without violating any search engine policies, spamming or any other techniques frowned upon in the SEO industry.
Search Engine Results Page. This is the list of results that appear in a search engine from a keyword phrase query.
With respect to search engines, spam is defined as any technique used to give your Web site an unfair ranking advantage over other pages. If you employ tricks to obtain high ranking, it is probably spam and will not keep your site ranked high for long. Spam techniques also violate search engine terms-of-service (TOS) in most cases – and can get your site banned permanently.
Spiders are also known as a “robots” or “crawlers.” These programs are used by search engines for indexing a Web site and gathering the content on Web pages within a Web site. Spiders crawl a Web site by following the links between Web pages. This is why it is essential that all the Web pages within your Web site be linked to each other.