Search Engine Optimization: Building a Tourist Attraction

January 8, 2008

Lion shares of niche markets continue to be carved out. However, the dotcom hype is long over and no longer can business models be content with merely having a Web site out on the internet to elicit continued success. Business providers have become increasingly savvy, dishonest Search Engine Optimization practices have become increasingly shrewd, and Search Engine technology has become exponentially more intelligent.

A Web site is essentially your online brochure pushing sales and information to the World. In this light they are tremendous tools which, if built and tuned properly, can:

-Free up staff time

-Free up valuable budget resources

-Generate increased revenue

-Generate larger market share

-Generate increased brand recognition

-Facilitate increased customer satisfaction

If you are a small business, understaffed, or lack the knowledge, a reputable SEO/SEM consultant can set you on the path to self-reliance. Otherwise, what these B2B opportunists offer is nothing that cannot be done internally by knowledgeable staff with the available time to implement necessary strategies. Once properly established, maintaining one’s Search Engine Strategies (SES) should not average you more than 15 minutes a day. Below is an overview of some simple strategies you can immediately employ toward your Internet presence without a huge investment. Where you go from there is up to you.

Cleaning House
If you want to design the Sistine Chapel of Web sites you better have a solid foundation. That starts with clean, simple code free of complexities. Search Engines shouldn’t have to struggle with your code structure. Present them with an easy, top-down design filled with relevant link bait. I know it is easy to sometimes sacrifice quality for speedy edits or allow deprecated code to clutter its way into your Source, but all this evolves into a Frankensteinian abomination of code making for an unfriendly host to Search Engine spiders.

What’s Under the Hood
While no one strategy can significantly increase your Search Engine Result Page (SERP) position, the culmination of the strategies herein can certainly improve your chances. Let’s begin this category by discussing the domain name (i.e. foo.com). It’s the most relevant and it’s within your control. While your business name is a logical choice, consider choosing a one or two word industry buzz-word for your domain name.

Review your page titles and META tags. While different Search Engines consider and ignore different things, most still value these HTML staples. Many people just place the same tags on every page. Big mistake! You are essentially helping your multi-page Web site appear more like a single Web page. Search Engines will already spider well-indexed Web sites. So, target each page with a specific two/three word key phrase relevant to the respective page’s content. In turn, you need to place relevant content on those pages with the key phrase and its supporting keywords logically mentioned a respectable amount of times. But, be careful – I said “logically.” Saturating your own content with a keyword/phrase will actually work against you. As stated earlier, Search Engine technology has become exponentially more intelligent.

The Search Engine Sherpas
Search Engines spiders are not only looking for relevant content and an easy way to index it, they are willing to take instruction on how to do so. Two road maps that spiders look for are a robots.txt file and XML sitemap. Wouldn’t it be nice, for example, to predetermine which pages may be indexed and which Search Engines may index them? You can. It’s called a robot.txt file. There is, however, a caveat – This is not a way to control access. It can, by all standards, actually alert evil-doers to sensitive areas of your site. View this feature as merely a “No entry” sign for Search Engines. Why list it then? Well, we are talking about optimizing your pages for Search Engines and not security. If you want secure data, I trust you will take advantage of server-side authentication to make it happen.

So, you have an idea of how to use a sitemap, but what is an XML sitemap? While a sitemap at the top of your page makes for convenient user interaction and speedy indexing, the addition of an XML sitemap goes beyond the page layout of your Web site. It holds a set of instructions answering some of the Search Engine’s most pertinent questions: What pages have changed? When did they change? And lastly, how often will they change in the future? But, to add icing to the technological cake, you get to categorize each page’s priority against the others on your Web site. When addressing content, there is only one temptation a Search Engine spider likes more than relevant content, and that’s dynamic content.

Content is King
You’ve made the packaging pretty and baited the Search Engines, but they still don’t care about you. How sad. You’re a nice person and your site looks great! What’s the issue? It’s most assuredly your content. Search Engines want to spider relevant content and binge often on dynamic, relevant content. Not only that, they further weight your content by grading the relevancy and importance of who’s linking to you, who’s linking to who’s linking to you, and if you are linking back to these sources. Yes, most Search Engines’ algorithms weigh you as more important if your relevant links are inbound only instead of reciprocal. Thankfully, the benefits of monstrous link pages and Web rings became extinct long, long ago, burgeoning forth the need for intelligent design.

You Can Lead a Horse to Water, but…
By no means is this overview complete nor is it a point-and-shoot solution. It is a beginning step to your understanding of Search Engine Optimization. Web sites are an ongoing case-study of log review, revision, experimentation, and education of emerging Search Engine technologies. However, the overall Return on Investment (ROI) is well worth it.

What? SEO is Dead?
I’ve heard a few industry people mention SEO is dead. I personally cannot see this point, but there is certainly room to disagree in the world of Search Engine Optimization. I can see that SEO has taken a backseat to Search Engine Strategy (SES) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM); however, SEO’s importance is still vital! Your Web site is the starting and ending point for your Web marketing efforts. It is the foundation for the traffic your efforts intend to drive through your Web site. With a strong foundation, highlighted by the points above, your Sistine Chapel of Web sites is sure to consistently attract and serve visitors for years to come.

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Look for future articles on “clicks-to-cash”, “Guerrilla Marketing”, and more.

Lance Hendershot is the Education and Marketing Manager for CWIE Holding Company; whose subsidiaries are leading providers of credit card processing, affiliate management, wholesale bandwidth, content protection and other e-commerce solutions.

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