When looking for information on the Internet, you use an Internet search engine. When trying to attract people to your Web site, whether it’s a business or personal site, you therefore need to make sure that people using Internet search engines can find it through them. What are the best ways to do this?
To answer this question, I talked via e-mail with a search engine optimization professional, Alan Webb, whose father couldn’t have given him a better last name for what he does. Webb is CEO of Abakus Internet Marketing [www.abakus-internet-marketing.de/en/index.shtml]. Exemplifying the worldwide nature of the World Wide Web, Abakus is based in Germany.
About 85 percent of Web sites are discovered through a search engine, says Webb. The search engine market leader for some time now has been Google. Because Google has been used as the search technology by other search sites, such as Yahoo!, AOL, Netscape, and iWon, Google’s technology controls 76 percent of the search market, according to WebDex [www.webdex.biz], another search engine optimization company, based in Dallas. (Yahoo recently bought the Inktomi search technology, which MSN also uses, and may switch to it.)
For new sites, the figure for Google is even higher, approaching 95 percent, says Webb. Because Google owns the search engine space, to get people at your site, you need to show them the way through Google.
The reason for Google’s success is the relative relevance of its search results. According to research Webb has uncovered, about 70 percent of searchers don’t look past the top 10 sites presented, or first page. Fully 90 percent don’t go past the first three pages.
Clearly then, it’s imperative for a Web site that wants to be found to be on Google’s first page. But don’t bother to pay for a sponsored link on that page. The average click-through rate for them is only about 6 percent, says Webb.
How your site shows up on Google depends on some things you can’t easily control, such as how many other sites link to yours, and on some can, such as your site’s title and description.
Every Web page should have a title tag, which shows up at the top of viewers’ browsers. You create a title tag in the <HEAD> section of a Web page using a short piece of HTML code, which directs how pages are seen by Web browsers. The title tag is the piece of HTML code that receives the highest weighting by Google.
When creating a title tag, even experienced Web designers often get it wrong, says Webb, by choosing the wrong words. Don’t use a title tag such as this: <TITLE>Welcome to MyWebSite.com!</TITLE>. This will do nothing for your search engine results.
Instead, use two or three keyword phrases, each consisting of one to three words, separated by a hyphen, that clearly spell out what your site is all about. Choose those keyword phrases that Google searchers will most likely type in. Use the same keyword phrases in the text of the page itself, ideally two or three times.
In choosing optimal keyword phrases, the pay site Wordtracker [www.wordtracker.com] or free site Overture [inventory.overture.com] can help.
But don’t be guilty of “keyword flooding,” says Webb. Some Web designers overeagerly load their title tags with a dozen or more keyword phrases. Search engines treat this as “spam” and penalize a site for this in the rankings.
You should also use a meta-description tag. It should be placed after the title tag and look like this: <META NAME=“Description” CONTENT=“The [specific] industry’s hardest working company in providing [specific] solutions to [specific] customers.”>
The meta description is what searchers will see after the title in the list of Google results and other search engines. If you don’t use a meta-description tag for the description of your site that appears on the search results page, searchers instead will see the text around the first occurrences of the searched-for term, which may not provide enough information for searchers to want to click through to your site.
Particularly for business sites, it sometimes makes sense to hire a professional to improve your search engine rankings. Google rates more than 100 different HTML, design, and off-page factors in ranking sites. Testing different combinations is often needed.
One good place to look for professional help is the Web site Search Engine Optimization Consultants [www.seoconsultants.com]. Good sources of additional information about search engine optimization are Spider Food [www.spider-food.net], SearchEngineWatch.com [www.searchenginewatch.com], and SEO Chat [www.seochat.com]
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or reidgold.com.