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Simple search engine savvy

The smart Internet marketer knows that she must go beyond the search engine to produce good quality traffic. Granted, search engines do help. But they are not a panacea. (And most people they are.) They're simply a lazy way to do so with results that can often be mediocre at best.

Unquestionably, obtaining a favorable position on the search engines is both an art and a science. Unfortunately, the web is replete with marketers who rely quite heavily on search engines alone for building their traffic or, worse yet, on search engine tactics that amount to meager results.

I'm far from being a search engine expert.

But, I'd like to give you some of my own tips and tricks that have helped me, and which could benefit your overall strategy or at the very least enlighten you and hopefully dispel some common myths.

First, successful Internet marketing is not a single process -- or a simple one, for that matter. It is a combination of multiple principles, strategies and tactics that are, directly or indirectly, focused on three essential elements:

  1. Building traffic,
  2. building trust and
  3. building sales.

Every single marketing activity you perform must revert to, result in or improve upon any if not all of the above three guiding principles. The less you adhere to any one of these three rules, the more attention, time and energy that rule will demand of you. A vicious cycle.

Here's an example.

Will top positioning on the search engines bring you a lot of traffic? Ostensibly, the answer is "sure." But the more important question to ask is: will that traffic be qualified for, and interested in, what I have to offer?

And therein lies the key: should your website be ranked higher based on a broad, general keyword? No. Of course, being visible on search engines based on generic words may generate a lot of traffic. But keep in mind that the more generic the keyword is, the more generic the visitor will be.

The quality of your traffic hinges greatly on the quality of the manner in which your site was discovered. Similarly, the quality of your traffic hinges greatly on the quality of the keywords under which your site was ranked.

I agree that the above may appear simplistic. But you would be amazed to learn how many people try to rank higher using single, generic keywords in order to produce an abundant quantity of traffic, which in the end will never be qualified for, or genuinely interested in, what is offered.

Some proponents argue that search engines drive up to 75% of the Internet's traffic. While true, it is somewhat misleading. When you distribute that traffic among 30 million websites, it amounts to little per site, while keeping in mind that only a handful of websites is relevant to any given search and that an even smaller number enjoys the majority of this traffic.

About 85% of people using search engines leave after the first two search result pages given. Unless a site is located in the top 10 or 20 listings, search engines will never be helpful. So, how do you become visible (i.e., in the top 20) in a way that it generates targeted, qualified traffic to your site?

The key to obtaining optimal ranking is through more audience- targeted keywords. And note that I used the word "optimal" and not "top," here. Achieving top rankings requires hard work and persistence. Since search engines change sporadically, there is no rock-solid way of doing it.

As my friend Jim Daniels of http://www.bizweb2000.com/ once rightfully noted, his best rankings occurred when he abandoned his search engine efforts altogether (mostly by happenstance, if you will). It's a perfect example of the adage "a watched pot never boils."

Should you abandon your search engine efforts completely? Not at all. Far from it. In fact, if you read Jim's article, he attributes his success with the search engines to continually adding fresh, keyword-rich content to his website, and to focusing more on his customers rather than on search engines (see http://www.bizweb2000.com/confess.htm.)

Simply stated, Jim followed the Pareto Principle.

The Pareto Principle (a.k.a., "80:20 Rule") applies to search engines, too. Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist and sociologist (1848-1923), studied the distribution of wealth in a variety of countries in which he discovered a common thread: about 80% of the wealth in most countries was controlled by a predictable and consistent minority (about 20% of the people).

Since then, his rule has been applied to other areas, such as 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the people (or the activities). With search engines, it means only 20% of your efforts will yield 80% of your results. It also means that 80% of your traffic will stem from 20% of search engines.

Therefore, forget broad, generic keywords or expressions. Look at it another way: the more targeted the keyword is, the more targeted the visitor will be. To help you, read http://successdoctor.com/articles/article79.htm and check out the "Targeting Model." In the same way, attract quality traffic by choosing keywords that are:

  1. audience-specific,
  2. audience-related or
  3. audience-oriented.

The same goes for checking your visibility.

If you use web-based services or software that analyze your position in the search engines based on specific search words or terms, you could be easily misled if you use generic or untargeted keywords.

But using market- or product-oriented keywords can make a big difference, which offers another reason why niche marketing is vitally important on the competitive Internet. The more niche-specific you are, the less competition you will have -- including competition on the engines fighting for top spots.

You sell cars. Let's also say you sell a specific kind of car (i.e., sports cars). Let's also say your car (let's use the Porsche as an illustration) is intended for an audience in which you specialize (let's say yuppies, like recent graduates of medical and law schools, and now high tech schools).

However, unlike the generic word "car" your chances of being in the top 10 position will be greater with words like:

"Sports cars, Porsche, red cars, racing, GT, Boxter, car parts and accessories, engineering, classics, 911, Coupe, Carrera, Cabriolet, fast engine, horsepower, racetracks, motor, motorsports, driver, spoiler, travel, automobiles, autos, vehicles, recent graduates, University, doctors, lawyers, affluence, prestige, speed, toys, gears, money, ego, new, German, Mission Impossible 2, Tom Cruise, etc."

Before we go any further, let me explain why some words were included in the above example. Remember: I mentioned earlier that your keywords or phrases should be 1) audience-specific, 2) audience-related or 3) audience-oriented (when you follow the targeting model mentioned earlier).

Each concentric circle defines, in order, a specific target level: 1) the center being one's core market, 2) the middle layer being the industry itself or other related fields, and 3) the outer perimeter being extended, augmented or unrelated fields, such as unrelated websites frequented by your market.

Naturally, you may place center and middle level keywords into your meta tags, including your title, alternate text, description and keywords tags. Validate your meta tags by using free services like Meta Scanner at http://www.submitcorner.com/Tools/Metascan/ or Meta Analyzer at http://www.scrubtheweb.com/abs/meta-check.html.

(If you want to generate meta tags, even search engine robot tags, see http://vancouver-webpages.com/META/mk-metas.html.)

The third level is also important. In fact, some third level words appear in the preceding Porsche example, and a few are totally unrelated to the website, product or business (e.g., "Tom Cruise" or "Mission Impossible 2"). These words are far from generic but they can attract a large number of visitors.

However, if these trademarks were included within your meta tags, it could put you in legal hot water. Therefore, the question is: "How does one circumvent these restrictions?" The answer is simple: add more content!

Possibly because of the proliferation of automated, irrelevant doorway pages, search engines are relying less and less on the keyword meta tag. In a recent issue of "Web Marketing Now," an ezine which can be found at http://www.webmarketingnow.com/, Jerry West mentions trials he conducted in order to test search engines' recognition of the tag.

Says West citing the results of his research:

"AltaVista and Infoseek read the keyword meta tag [but] all other major search engines ignore it. In fact, our testing has determined that by using the keyword tag, it could be preventing your page from being indexed by AltaVista."

West suggests to focus on keywords within the body text rather than the keyword meta tag. In fact, some engines (if not most of them) recognize words in the first lines of the body text and even each paragraph. Moreover, West continues: "AltaVista is known to ignore any phrase in your keyword tag that isn't also used in your body text."

By constantly adding fresh content to your site, you not only increase its value and "stickiness," but also, as a natural byproduct, increase the number, frequency and relevancy of keywords and phrases. But there is an added benefit: unlike redirected, keyword-stuffed doorway pages, additional content will actually become doorway pages for you.

New content naturally increases your keywords.

So, to boost your content, write articles about your industry or area of expertise. Post news about your firm or product. Publish articles from other industry experts. Add press releases about anything new. Include a directory of favorite (and related) links or topics. And I can go on.

You may ask: "So, what about the Porsche example?" You might be wondering why I mentioned "Tom Cruise." A year ago, Porsche issued a press release regarding their new association with Paramount Pictures. If you have seen "Mission Impossible 2," you may have recognized the 911 Carrera driven by Cruise. Of course, the press release was posted online (see http://www2.us.porsche.com/english/usa/news/pressreleases/.)

Here's the kicker: without the need for adding these popular keywords directly in Porsche.com's meta tags, search engines will likely recognize the words "Tom Cruise" and "Mission Impossible 2" as keywords within Porsche.com's press releases and body documents.

I'm neither a legal expert nor do I pretend to be one. And I'm not a search engine expert, too. But what I do know comes from personal experience: like my friend Jim Daniels, as my article archive grew traffic grew proportionately (without any additional marketing, too).

(Incidentally, if you would like to know more about meta tags and how they work specifically, I highly suggest you read an informative tutorial located at http://www.aim-pro.com/helpfiles/metatags.html. And for the latest tips, updates, changes, news and tricks on most of the search engines, visit http://searchengineworld.com/. They also have a free ezine.)

While keywords should be focused and targeted, remember that keywords alone do not promise higher rankings. Keyword density and relevancy, along with link popularity, are also important, especially with human-reviewed or human-compiled directories, like Yahoo! and DMOZ.

But human-compiled directories are not alone. Just as software programs are regularly updated with newer and better versions, search engines are becoming more and more sophisticated, too.

"We look at half a dozen factors in ranking," said Don Dodge, AltaVista's Director of Engineering in an interview with Danny Sullivan, the brain behind http://searchenginewatch.com/. "The words on the page, their frequency and their position on the page are still among the most important factors."

Keyword density is the ratio of keywords to the total number of words on a web page. In other words, it is the number of a particular word appearing in all the different locations (such as the various tags -- meta, comment, alt and header tags -- and the body text) divided by the total number of words.

However, the overly repetitious use of keywords is also known as keyword or index spamming, or "spamdexing." This practice might cause some search engines to reject your site, ban your IP or penalize it by giving it a much lower ranking than what it would have otherwise deserved.

Keep the keyword frequency to 3-8% of total words. Spamdexing also consists of tricking search engine spiders by hiding repetitious, misleading or irrelevant keywords often in nefarious ways (such as using the same background color for the font). Nevertheless, avoid spamdexing altogether.

Moreover, one factor that's becoming increasingly important is link popularity. Because of the growth of irrelevant, keyword-dense, software generated doorway pages, and in an effort to "clean house," more and more engines use link popularity. Reason? Websites generally do not link to doorway pages. If a page has poor link popularity, it's may be a doorway.

Above all, focus on your audience and use keywords that cater to them specifically. You might ask, "What if I am outranked, even with targeted keywords?" If so, use tools to suggest the best keywords, check your popularity and analyze competitors.

For example, use keyword suggestion tools -- software that can help you find good, targeted keywords, such as http://www.keywordwizard.com/ or http://www.wordtracker.com/. Then, open an account with The Informant (now Tracerlock.com) at http://www.tracerlock.com/.

It's a free service that will save search engine queries, monitor them periodically and send you email whenever there are new or updated pages. It will also compare your site with others. The key is not to use URLs of assumed competitors but to use actual URLs that outrank you.

Another is http://keywordcount.com/. It's a free service that will analyze the density of your top keywords. Also, it will compare your results against those of a second URL -- preferably one that outranks you on the search engines, particularly under targeted keywords. This will reveal a lot.

You can even use Tracerlock and Keyword Count together, where you compare the density of a specific word and then enter the two URLs (yours and the URL of your competitor) on Tracerlock for monitoring. It will email you the top results it found and the specific ranking of sites monitored.

Finally, you can also repeat the entire process for other search engines and for specific pages on your site. If a new competitor appears, add their URL and keywords retrieved from Keyword Count in your Tracerlock settings. (Or open a new account for other URLs -- after all, it's free.)

As you improve your optimization, whether it's through better meta tags or simply adding more content, over time you should also see some improvement in your rankings. Regardless, you will at least have a list of keywords from which to work.

Now, what happens if your rankings do not improve? Remember that keywords are not alone. Therefore, the next step is to visit Link Popularity at http://linkpopularity.com/. It's a free service that will query the search engines on how many sites are linking to yours. Try it will all URLs (yours and those of your competitors). Then, compare the results.

This will provide you with some insight as to how the search engine prioritizes link popularity in its algorithm. And if it's high, then you know you have some work to do. But once you've boosted your link popularity, and if your rankings do not improve, the next step is to see how much traffic those outranking URLs actually get, and to compare them with yours.

Download the Alexa browser add-on from http://alexa.com/. It's a free tool that allows you to retrieve information about a site you visit (e.g., freshness, speed, contact information, link popularity and, most importantly, traffic).

Incidentally, Alexa's traffic indicator is not an empirical metric. It's based on visits by Alexa users only. But it is nonetheless quite insightful as you can easily extrapolate the numbers to estimate a site's actual traffic.

Alexa, Tracerlock, Link Popularity, Keyword Wizard and Keyword Count are great tools that will give you some clues as to how your competitors are doing and why they are outranking you. And they will also give you ammunition in your efforts to achieve higher rankings.

But remember the rule mentioned at the beginning of this article, which is to focus on building traffic, building trust and building sales. If your efforts do not in some way result in or improve upon these areas, forget them. They will waste more of your time than working with search engines will.

About the author
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. Get a free copy of his book, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his free monthly ezine, "The Profit Pill." See http://SuccessDoctor.com/ now!

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