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Search Engine Optimization & Pay Per Click Search

If you're new to this topic, please read the intro, otherwise, skip right down to...

NOTE: This document is somewhat dated since first created around 2001. But the basics are still valid and the links below will be helpful.

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

You will probably already agree with the upcoming comments in this first paragraph, otherwise, you would not likely have found your way here. Today and in the future, business on the Internet will be as much or more about being found than about howq to drag customers in.

  • Traditional "push" advertising methods from television ads to direct mail, online methods such as banner ads and sponsorships and so on will likely always remain very important parts of a marketing mix.

  • More so than ever before "being found" will be critical. And being found on the Internet means being available where you're expected to be and in appropriately context sensitive places; and these include search engines and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Search Engines.

  • If you have any doubts about this, merely witness consumers turning away from traditional advertising. Using Digital Video Recorder technology, (e.g. TiVo), consumers can just zap through the most venerable of traditional advertising... the television ad. (Yes, one could do so with a VCR, but not with nearly so much ease.) Consumers have been signing up for "Do Not Call" and "Do Not Mail" lists in droves.

  • So what's the best way to get to today's consumers? Sorry, but I can't tell you the best way. If I could, I would be selling that exclusively for very high bids. I will, however, suggest to you that among today's best practices must be at least partially embracing the idea of so-called 'permission marketing.' That is, making sure you can take advantage of when consumers are offering to allow you to deliver your message. And when are they making such an offer? They're making such an offer for you to make your pitch when they are seeking you out. You had best be where they are when they're looking for you. But don't worry too much about the customers needs. If you're not, someone else will be.

Getting High On Search Engines

  • So knowing all this, you've decided it would be good to show up as number one in Google or any one of the hundreds of other search engines and directories. But how?

  • You can't just hire anyone to do Search Engine Optimization, (SEO). (Though you can buy your way into some directory placements.) After all, so many claim to be able to get you into the first page. Which is interesting, because if 30 similar businesses hire SEO consultants with similar claims, I'm not quite sure how that's going to end up true. There's no school or degree program for search optimization. Even choosing a business or individual consultant to provide this service to you requires you to know a fair amount about what you're buying.

  • Good optimization can take months and needs to be ongoing. Plenty of low-skilled folks have hung there shingle out claiming to be SEO experts. Like it or not, you're going to need a base level understanding of what's involved here if you are to a) have any success in your effort and b) be able to select a vendor that has the talent you need.

  • As for Pay Per Click, using such services without spending some time clearly defining your goals will eat you for lunch. Or more specifically, it will burn through your cash such that you won't have lunch money. If you goal is to drive traffic at any cost, have at it. Enjoy. If your goal is to have profit, then you need to think a little harder. What you need to be looking at isn't just how much it will cost to become number one, but to actually know the full performance of a keyword buy.

  • You'll need to know more than just the Click Through Rate, (CTR) on a PER KEYWORD basis. If at all possible, you need to know the actual sell through rate. (Assuming your selling products. If not, at least you'll know what a real lead costs.) For example, which would you rather have, a top listing that cost you $1.20 per click and resulted in an average profit of 10 cents each after you figure your conversion to sale rates? Or a lowly listing in a more esoteric keyword or term that first of all, cost 30 cents per click, but also had a higher sell though rate resulting in 50 cents profit per unit? There are ways to get these numbers. And you don't have to know a lot of technology to do it. (Though the less you can do for yourself, of course, the more you'll pay for a service to do it.)

  • Fortunately, both of the two major pay per click engines, (Google AdWords and Overture), have Conversion Tracking tools built right in. All you'll need to do is add a small patch of code to a thank you page. Then your performance reports will tell you what an actual sale cost. (Small caveat. It is conceiveable these reports may be slightly inaccurate should an end user have certain security settings in their browser.)

Some Quick Basics on Search Optimization

  • Web pages have some very basic elements which not only help for their display, but have some hidden information that can help both machines and people find and work with pages. This "META" information is basically "information about information." It's not complicated. Traditional scholarly journals have used things called "abstracts" for years to help summarize and ease searching for pertinent information.

  • This META information for web pages includes things like the title, (which is displayed in the browsers top title bar), and things like keywords, which may only be used by machines for indexing.

  • There are those who would tell you, (partially due to inaccurate and unscrupulous use by many), that keywords aren't all that relevant to search engine placement. That search engines have discounted keywords more due to abuse. That they used to be important, but not so much any more. This may be partially true in some cases. However, as a rule this is false for a number of reasons. For one thing, search engine algorithms for indexing and ranking are proprietary.

  • Most of what experts claim to know about how search engines work is from inference based on experimentation. So we don't really know for sure just how important keywords are being treated.

  • There are some basic search and linguistic concepts that clearly must be in play. (Things like "inverse document frequency" or "keyword density" which can help show the importance of individual words in relation to a whole document.)

  • The bottom line though, is that there are many search engines with a variety of algorithms. Even if you try to optimize for just the top few engines based on what is known, there's no reason to not use all the tools available to you. And proper META information is one of those tools. MINIMALLY, having such information will not hurt; unless you do inappropriate things such as load these tags with clearly irrelevant information.

  • It's likely the case that keywords are and will continue to be used; however they'll be treated in ways to try to determine that they're valid. (For example, loading repetitive keywords into a META keyword tag might be interpreted as junk and even have an impact on the judgment as to whether the whole page is 'a lie' of some sort.)

  • Anyway, even if you're a small company, if you grow at some point you may want to use internal search within your own site. Having properly tagged up your pages with META information, you will more likely create relevant and pertinent search results for your users when they do search only within your site.

Don't Ignore the Basics

I'm frequently astounded when I go to a web page, (even sometimes with fairly decent sized companies), and these very basic items have been left out.

  • Even the most basic of checklists for putting together websites must have proper treatment of META information as part of it's project plan. Below will be some links to search engine optimization education sites. There are some fairly advanced techniques for determining how to write for the search engines and such, but before anything else, at least make sure you have the basic required elements.

  • Another "basic" that is frequently violated is overuse of text within graphics. In the desire to be attractive, web designers may put text in a graphic and not even use the "Alt" tag to say what's in the graphic. (The "alt" tag allows a designer to create a description of sorts for the graphic. You may see this if you leave your mouse on a graphic and a little text box pops us. Having text here will often help browsers rendering speed for graphics and such text may be used by search engines.)

  • So not using alt tags not only makes the page less accessible, search engines can't index that text at all. When I say accessible here I mean in terms of U.S. Government 508 standards for accessibility. Though arguably, you should care about this, you might not. Then again, do you intend to do any web work with or for the U.S. Government? Ever? Check out the Watchfire project if you'd like to learn more about accessibility standards. Such standards allow - for example - pages to be read by machines which can verbalize the contents for non-sighted users and similar devices. It's probably not an accident that when such guidelines are followed, often the overall communication of the page is enhanced. (Though true, following some of these guidelines can be difficult if using advanced programming/scripting to perform some functions.) There's really nothing wrong with important information in graphics if you feel compelled that it's necessary to get your point across. But MINIMALLY, you must include appropriate content in your Alt tag for the graphic. And ideally, a competent web designer may consider using Cascading Style Sheets, (CSS2), if the main issue is layout and positioning as opposed to some presentation that's truly needed in a graphic format.

Writing for the Search Engines

This may actually be a bit of a philosophical issue in a way. When you're putting together your content, are you writing for machines or people? Or both? Sadly, you may have to skew your efforts towards both or the machines. Because it's not going to matter so much what you write if no one ever gets to read it now is it?

On the other hand, you don't want to wholly destroy your presentation merely for the sake of indexing machines.

  • It's probably a good idea to simply construct your content as you like. Then take an additional editorial pass to make sure that you have included reasonable and contextual keywords throughout the content.

  • As a simple example, in this page you'll see that the words "search," "engine," and "optimization" occur several times. And sometimes in different ways. (This is to account for people who actually use advanced operators that look for actual whole "terms." That is, someone who searches for "search engine optimization" in Google, (with the quotes in the search), as opposed to the vast majority of users that only use one or two words.

  • Over time, it's fair to expect that users will become more adept at using more advanced search tools; either via search engine's advanced forms sections or by learning how to simply type in 'operators' allowing for more precise searching.

  • In any case, when I check the keyword density on this page, I find that the core topic I'm discussing comes up with very high density. By my standards anyway. Putting the percentages here would be irrelevant to you. You have to work on your own numbers based on analysis of your own text and that of competitors who are ranking high already. (Of course, if everyone is doing the same thing... well, it's going to be interesting. In the end, if everyone gets truly good at the tricks we should end up right back where we started from and should be anyway... that is, the actual meaning bearing content is what ends up taking precedence over the tricks.)

  • Anyway, Keyword Density of the core concepts here could have been much lower without the meaning I'm trying to get across getting lost. That would be fine for readers, but would hurt search placement. For example, once I put the heading on this page of "Search Engine Optimization," I really didn't have to mention it again anywhere. The title itself set the scope of the page.

  • Actually, some indexing engines may take word or phase placement into account. That is, they may assume more importance to words or phrases earlier in the page. But for you, as the reader, you already knew you were in this topic space after you read the title. Your whole outlook as you continued to read was already scoped to the appropriate context. After that, I could have made all the points above barely using the words "search engine optimization" again. But having done so, and having interspersed these terms within the text, (such that it's less likely to look like intentional keyword loading to create search engine spam which might be discounted), I expect that over time this page might do fairly well in search indexing programs.

    We'll see.

  • By the way, it's not just about the content. The design matters as well. Early on, search engines would downright choke on things like JavaScript or other code elements in the page. Nowadays, most of the good ones supposedly can skip around this. But like anything else in life, it's reasonable to expect that the more complex something is, the harder it may be to interpret and work with. The simpler you can keep your page construction, the better.


Search Engine Optimization Education

Tutorials on SEO plus general search.

This should be one of your stops. Now a Jupiter Media property, SearchEnginewatch features articles by Danny Sullivan and Chris Sherman; both long-time search engine experts.

SEODEX - Directory of SEO firms and resources.

Now part of Microsoft's Business Central, this particular page has the basics that simply have to be on web pages. A lot of sites seem to be lacking in even these most basic of traits.

Well organized list of articles on critical search engine topics.

Search Engine Optimization Tools & Services

Submit Wolf
SOFTWARE: One of the original search engine submission tools. Trellian software has other search engine tools on their products page.

Web Position
SOFTWARE: Tools for both page optimization along with rank checking in major search engines.

ONLINE SERVICE: Besides offering a variety of SEO packages, they generously offer several tools and well written tutorials. Check out their Free Tools section.

Pay Per Click Search Engine Education

ONLINE INFO: Links and reviews for major pay per click engines.

Pay Per Click Search Engine Tools

* Note: Many of the larger pay per click search engines have various tools built into their product or available under various pricing plans. These include tools such as optimization, planning and campaign tracking.

ONLINE SERVICE: Multiple PPC Bid Management tools including conversion tracking and web analytics.

ONLINE SERVICES: Both of the above services offer similar management tools to GoToast, though perhaps not quite as comprehensive in service offering. You need to check features/functions/benefits and pricing for all of these and determine best value for your own needs.

ONLINE SERVICE: Ad Tracking service. Using "web beacon" type technology to allow you to mark individual ads with tracking codes and place beacon on your final Email, (assuming HTML Email), or commerce "Thank You" Page, (for example), which allows you to track all the way from ad to actual sell though. (Or lead generation if final target location is a completed sign-up form or similar.)

ONLINE SERVICE: Live comparisons of keyword pricing at major PPC search engines.

PPC ROI Calculator

Search Engine Marketing

Sometimes you just have to pay for your taffic.You'll need to sign up with both Yahoo and Google!

  Copyright © 1997 - 2006. Scott Germasie. All rights reserved.