Search engines used to find me, now they don’t. How can I get back on the radar?
Friday, March 2, 2007/
MIKE MOTHERWELL has the answers.
“In the past, people found it easy to find my website through most search engines. This has stopped. How do I get search engines to find me again, and is there a cost?”
Mike Motherwell answers: Every “search engine results page” (SERP, for those who need another acronym) mixes both paid and “editorial” (aka “organic” or “free”) listings. This can be best be understood by viewing an actual SERP, in this case a search for “home loans”.
On Google and most search engines, the free listings are determined by a computer algorithm that ranks all the pages it knows about for their relevance to a search.
In a nutshell, when a user searches for home loan, the search engine determines all the pages on the internet that include both words home and loan, and ranks these pages according to which is deemed most important.
There is a “church and state” type separation between the free and paid sections of Google – you cannot pay to be included in their database of sites or ranked higher in the results. To be included in the Google site, all a site needs to do is be online, have links from other sites Google already knows about… and hope. Google is pretty thorough with its indexing, reaching most sites on the web, but the fact remains that being discovered by Google and indexed is something you have little or no control over.
How to beef up your site’s search ranking
Many businesses find that although their site is in the Google index, its pages do not show up in searches. There are a number of changes that can be made to improve a site’s rankings for specific searches and/or traffic from search engines to help fix this problem. This is a process known as search engine optimisation (SEO).
SEO involves changing a site’s content and code in order to make the site rank higher in results for relevant searches. The easiest and most effective ways to do this include:
- Change site copy to include words users actually search for; a ranking for a term that nobody searches for is meaningless.
- Removing jargon, many sites use complicated industry jargon instead of words people use. As an example, did you know it isn’t car insurance but motor insurance? Neither do most people who use search engines looking to insure their car.
- Use local terminology; words in different parts mean different things (thong comes instantly to mind). If you market is Americans, using “cell phones” rather than “mobile phones” makes sense. Ditto “vacation” over “holiday”.
- Be specific, overt and use repetition; you may know what you do, but be sure to state it overtly. “We are specialists who can help you” isn’t as effective for SEO as “Looking for an accountant? XYZ Accountants can help meet your business’s accounting needs”. Don’t over do it, but be sure to use the keywords at least a few times on a page.
- Build new pages; search engines rank individual pages, and no one page can rank for every search term. Building new pages for specific areas, for example separate pages for divorce lawyers and corporate lawyers, will help a site rank for a larger number of unique and different searches.
- Get links from other sites; the more links a site has, the more important it is, and the higher its pages will rank. Building links is hard, but getting links from friends with a website and from partner businesses is usually fairly easy. Directories are another good source. The WMS Consulting website lists a great number of directories that can be submitted to, many for free.
Get value for your online advertising dollar
The other side of search is paid search ads, which are all about money.
The two main paid search networks are Google AdWords, with ads showing on Google, and Yahoo Search Marketing, which supplies ads to Yahoo7, Yahoo and NineMSN. Both use similar systems in which a site bids an amount it is willing to pay for each click that a specific search generates.
This is known as cost per click or CPC advertising, and CPC advertising can provide tremendous returns for advertisers.
The best things about CPC advertising are its speed and targeting. Getting ads up and running on Google takes about 15 minutes, and from that moment on, the ads will run. Yahoo takes slightly longer, but is usually up and running within a few days.
The targeting options are what really make CPC stand out over other options. Advertisers can target specific words and disallow others, for example real estate, real estate Sydney but not real estate Melbourne. The search engines also offer the ability to target users in a specific location, for example just Australian searchers, just NSW searchers or just Sydney searchers.
Best of all, CPC advertising offers a guarantee of at least some traffic, which free listing simply cannot.
If a site has poor or nonexistent free rankings, engaging in CPC advertising is a quick way to get back in the game. However, the costs can grow large quickly, often for very little appreciable return, as the system is deceptively simple, so engaging a professional to setup your accounts is usually recommended.
To cover search engine marketing in depth is clearly impossible in such a short article, and the following links will help in finding further information:
Have an SEO question? HighRankings, a forum at which I am a moderator, provides a wealth of information, usually from industry professional.
An excellent overview by noted SEO Ammon Johns can be found at the following link. A great place to start.
Google Webmaster Central provides lots of tool to help analyse problems with a site, as well as some handy feedback.
For a complete list of Google’s advanced search operators, click here.
MSN (and NineMSN’s) advanced operators can be found here.
For Overture’s tool to see what words Australian searches use, click here.
Michael Motherwell is senior search consultant and co-founder of WMS Consulting. Michael specialises in the use of technology and coding to solve online marketing problems. A regular speaker at search engine marketing conferences and contributor to several search engine forums, Michael keeps up-to-date on all the latest in the world of search marketing.