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How to build your online presence, beat competitors and boost traffic to your websites, all without breaking the bank. By EMILY ROSS

By Emily Ross

Search engine optimisation (SEO) allowed billionaire media mogul Barry Diller to boast to the McGraw-Hill Media Summit in New York in February 2007 that traffic to the Diller-owned Citysearch had increased from six million unique visitors per month to 20 million “without spending a nickel”. SearchEngineWatch.com reports that Diller even took to calling his in-house SEO staff “resident geniuses”.

SEO is all about improving the ranking of your company’s website on search engines. Better search rankings mean more visitors to your site.

Not every business can afford an artillery of full-time SEO geeks, however there are some tricks of the trade that can help even the smallest enterprise optimise traffic to a company website and get their company as close as possible to the first page of a search results page.

According to Tim Macdonald, director of search engine marketing specialist The Found Agency, a good search engine ranking will mean more visits to the site than just about any form of advertising. With an estimated 800 million searches per month in Australia, that is a lot of potential customers to tap into.

In 2006, advertisers in the United States spent $9.4 billion on search engine marketing (SEM), up 63% on the previous year. According to a new report State of Search Engine Marketing 2006, released by the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organisation (SEMPO) that figure is set to surge as SMEs discover the value of search and how to use search technology.

The majority of the spending is on paid search. The report found that many businesses had created new budgets for paid placement programs, other businesses took money away from print advertising, direct mail, TV advertising and print newspaper to invest in paid search.

Put your business to the test

A quick search on Google, Yahoo and MSN for your own products and services will give you a fairly good idea of where you stand. “If your business does not make the top 100 searches, you know it is time to start working on your site’s search engine optimisation,” says Macdonald. It is also important to look at competitors’ rankings and figure out why they rank where they do.

SEO is all about giving search engines what they want (the right keywords) to improve your rankings and create more traffic to your site. The challenge with SEO is that search engines are constantly evolving, so there is no such thing as a quick fix. “It has to be an ongoing process for a site,” says Macdonald. This means continuous re-evaluation and improvement.

Why set up is so important to your site’s success

With the right keywords in your site, more customers will find you. Simple as that. A business needs to think about what is the special value of the business, translate that into the right keywords, and work from there. Say, for example, your Sydney business services Audi cars; it is critical to make sure that keywords are used effectively in the site in order to beat competitors on search rankings. You want your business to rank near the top when a potential customer searches for “Audi service Sydney”. A common mistake is to use the business name in the keywords rather than the services offered.

The art of keywords…

  • Choose the right keywords for your business. There is no point getting to the top of the rankings with a keyword that will find the wrong audience.
  • Always put the keywords before the company name to improve rankings.
  • Highlight keywords in your text and don’t overload each page (never more than 800 words per page).
  • Avoid unnaturally repetitious keywords placed throughout a web page. Known as “keyword stuffing”, it will not help your page to rank and it will make the page very boring for customers.
  • Make sure to strike a balance between attracting high rankings on search engines and creating a compelling website for users. It is more than just getting the traffic, it is about conversion of customers.

Colorado-based Chris Sherman is coming to Sydney as a keynote speaker at Search Summit Australia on March 1 and 2 (www.searchsummit.com.au). He is the executive editor of influential SearchEngineland.com and co-founder of search marketing agency Third Door Media.

Sherman says SMEs cannot expect to increase their traffic by 12 million users (as Diller has just done) through SEO, however he estimates that with a few simple techniques SME websites can rise above 80% of other competitor sites. For Sherman, it comes down to three essentials:

  1. Don’t build a “brochureware” ho-hum web site.
    Ensure that the text on the site is high quality and truly relevant to your customers.
  2. Create a unique title for each web page.
    The titles should be unique depending on each page’s content.
  3. Try to get other high-quality sites to link to your content.
    Ask allies, clients, contacts, bloggers and relevant industry bodies to add links to your website. “That’s the single most important success factor in search marketing and will continue to be for some time,” says Sherman. A link refers to a hyperlink from one web page to another. Inbound links to the site are seen by the search engines as votes for the site.

Sherman stresses the importance of finding a balance between having a search-friendly website and a user-friendly website. “Even if you have a number one ranking in Google, if people who click through don’t like what they see, your website will be a failure.”

Other ways to boost traffic

Pay-per-click ads: Services such as Google AdWords allow businesses to target their customers. The ads appear next to related search results. If people click on the ads, Google charges a fee. Flower retailer RosesOnly.com.au uses the AdWords service, and reports a 20% increase traffic and 12% more sales. Similarly, RealEstate.com.au reports a 300% increase in qualified traffic.

Text link ads: Buying text link ads can improve rankings, but Macdonald warns that the quality of the link needs to be considered. “Obtaining links from bad “neighbourhoods” can have a negative effect,” he says.

Go to SEO bootcamp: For a more in-depth look at SEO, Sydney-based Search Strategies runs one-day bootcamps ($495) that cover organic and pay-per-click topics (the company does not sell SEM or SEO services, so the workshop will not include the hard sell).

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