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Let the Customers Find You

The use of language on your Web site may dictate how many Googlers find you.

The consumers of America have spoken, and they do not want to be bombarded with intrusive advertising. Unwanted advertising has become such a problem that the government has stepped in and created laws against it. With the government spam ban and the National Do Not Call List, our government is telling marketers: Respect consumer’s boundaries or else! So what is the honest business owner to do? How can we get our message out to potential customers? The answer is simple: Use the search engines to bring the customers directly to you.

With people buying everything from shoes to yachts online, it has become obvious that in order to do business in the new millennium, your customers must be able to find you online. Search engine traffic is a non-intrusive method of Internet marketing. The majority of online and offline advertising intrudes on the audience, interrupting their activities. Search is unique in tapping a searcher at the exact moment they are seeking knowledge or a solution. Searchers are on a mission–it’s "just-in-time" marketing.

According to the Georgia Institute of Technology, 85 percent of qualified Internet traffic is generated through search engines. Seventy-five percent of searchers never look further than page 1.

You can’t argue with numbers. So what does this mean for someone who comes up 100,000th out of 4 million for their key search terms (or even number 20)? It means they are only getting 15 percent of their potential customers. That 15 percent comes from word of mouth, friends and family, current customers and so on. So the questions now becomes, how do you capture that other 85 percent? You must optimize your site for the search engines.

Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) is the act of altering a Web site so that it does well in the organic, crawler-based listings of search engines. In other words, SEO takes your Web site and makes it search engine friendly so that you can be found when people search. Here are five easy steps to make it happen:

1) Pick your keywords and phrases carefully. They are what will lead your customers to you. You want to use words that explain what your business does. Be both general and specific. For example, if you sell mountain bikes, optimize around "mountain bikes." There might be fewer searches for "mountain bikes" than "bikes" but you are going to get more qualified buyers. If you are having a hard time picking your keywords, do this simple
exercise: Forget about search engines and write down how you would describe your business to a stranger in an elevator. Look at the terms that really describe your business and use them.

2) Content is king. Search engines want to give their users the most relevant results possible so that surfers keep coming back. Search engines like sites that have a lot of information and will give their surfers what they are looking for. Your Web site should be more than just a homepage or storefront. Write helpful articles and tips, show examples, create a forum–this will also give your existing customers a reason to keep coming back.

3) Title tags are more than just a name. How often have you gone to a Web site and seen every page with the same title? There is one reason for this–laziness. Title tags are one of the most important factors that search engines use to determine the importance of a page. Let’s take the mountain bike store example again. Their homepage title tag could simply be called by the company name, "Joe’s Bikes." The problem is the "Joe’s Bikes" title tag doesn’t have any of their keywords in it. Let’s fix this for them. "Mountain bikes, mountain bike parts, low priced mountain bikes from Joe’s Bikes". This has three of their key phrases in there and will get them a lot more results.

4) Get descriptive with your internal links. Every Web site has internal links. These are the links that you will see on pages directing you to another area of the site. These links are very important with the search engine spiders, because they want to see that you actually have the content that you are saying you do. Back in the days of the metatags, a shoe store would repeat "Britney Spears" over and over in their metatags because they knew lots of people would be searching for her but they would of course not have any content about Britney Spears. So one of the ways search engines have fought this (besides basically rendering the metatags obsolete) is to have sites "prove" they are relevant for their key phrases and one way is to get descriptive with your internal links. Let’s take Joe’s Bikes. He could say something like, "We have the best selection of low-priced mountain bikes–click here to see." The problem with that is, he is putting all of the importance on "click here to see;" since he is not an optometrist, this is not going to help him. Let’s fix that sentence for him: "We have the best selection of low priced mountain bikes and mountain bike parts." See the difference? He now has two important internal links with his key phrases in them.

5) Links, links and more links from key sites. Every major crawler-based search engine uses link analysis as part of its ranking algorithms. This is done because it’s very difficult for webmasters to "fake" good links, in the way they might try to spam search engines by manipulating the words on their Web pages. As a result, link analysis gives search engines a useful means of determining which pages are good for particular topics. The more meaningful and relevant links you have–the higher your search engine rankings will be. By building links, you can help improve how well your pages do in link analysis systems. The key is understanding that link analysis is not about "popularity." In other words, it’s not an issue of getting lots of links from anywhere. Instead, you want links from good web pages that are related to the topics you want to be found for. Joe’s Bikes would not want to exchange links with Jane’s Dog Food but he would want to exchange with Mike’s Cycle Shop.

Chris Winfield is co-founder and president of 10E20, a search engine marketing and Web design firm based in New York City.

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