Get a high ranking on search engines
Practical Internet, 2001
(Please note that some information included in this article is now outdated, so for the latest
situation, please contact us.)
Achieving a top ranking on search engines can be a time-consuming and frustrating task. Clive Hawkins offers some tips on employing a professional placement service.
You’ve launched your new website, but your initial excitement soon turns to disappointment once you realise that visitor traffic is just a trickle. That’s when you need to start some online marketing to generate new business and recoup your investment in the Internet revolution.
Your first priority should be to get a top listing on search engines and directories. Over 80% of web users are said to start with a search engine to find what they want, so just consider the impact of getting your site at the top of a relevant search results list. You’ll not only get plenty of targeted traffic, but users will also feel positive towards your business because they’ve actually found something relevant!
But how do you do it? Attractive offers to submit your site to thousands of search engines might look enticing, but by the time you realise that the only results you achieve are hundreds of junk e-mails, you might think again! You could try the DIY approach, but this can be time-consuming and frustrating, particularly if you don’t understand how each search engine works, or have the skills to optimise your site and make your submissions count. The alternative is to employ a search engine optimisation and placement (SEO) company.
Search engine specialists
These specialist marketing firms live and breath search engines. They understand what it takes to achieve a top ranking and generate significant site traffic. And by investing in a search engine placement strategy, you could also reap the rewards of this technique and create sustainable, targeted leads from prospective customers.
So how do you choose a company that’s best for you?
Start with the basics. Any search engine specialist worth their salt should explain the difference between placing your site onto a search engine or directory. They are completely different types of search tool and require contrasting strategies.
Next, question what approach will be taken to optimise your site. Ideally this work should be done within its existing structure but sometimes this is not possible. SEO specialists will have a good knowledge of HTML and understand how the search engine ‘spiders’ work. They should be able to explain the issues arising from design features like frames, Flash, or actively generated pages and how these can affect the placement of your site.
The positioning process
SEO specialists will spend valuable time working with you to identify the most relevant and popular search words or phrases that your potential customers will use. They will be skilled in writing optimised copy using these key phrases, from a short directory description to a longer piece of text for your web pages. Such content will contain the appropriate keyword density and emphasis to enable your site to achieve a higher search ranking than your competitors.
Only when the optimised metatags and text have been added to your site can effective submissions start. Now your site is now dependent on the search engines and directories accepting it. Manual submissions are recognised to be more effective and easier to monitor, particularly now that tools such as AltaVista and Google are blocking automated software tools.
Building ‘link popularity’ for your site can also be an important service provided by SEO specialists, because this can help boost your placement on some search engines. However, make sure that any links into your site are not created from multi-site link exchanges, but are from prominent, relevant sites that will also help to drive traffic from other web sources.
Playing by the rules
Search engines and directories survive by providing users with accurate and relevant results. Consequently, they regularly review their technology to achieve this aim. Legitimate SEO specialists will use their experience and the shared knowledge of others in the industry, to work within the search engines’ ‘rules’, while also gaining top results for their customers. You should avoid companies that advocate techniques designed to trick the search engines. Such ‘spamming’ methods include inserting hidden text on your pages, multiple submissions of your site over a short period, or ‘cloaking’, which involves giving the search engine spiders different pages to those accessed by web users. Such strategies will fall foul of search engines and any short-term gain will be lost once your site is banned completely from the listings.
Gateway pages may be used to provide search engines with text-rich, optimised content focusing on a particular key phrase. Such pages should ideally be integrated within your site and linked from the Home Page. However, gateway pages can also be successfully used if hosted on a separate domain to your own site, but you need to know what will happen once your contract period expires. Also, check whether such pages will automatically redirect users to your site as this can again result in penalties for your site’s listing.
Searching for a specialist
You can find a list of SEO specialists on directories such as Yahoo or UK Directory. Another way to find an experienced company is to search for them on the web! By its nature, achieving a top ranking for such terms as ‘search engine placement specialists’ or ‘website optimisation experts’ is one of the most competitive fields there can be, so when you find a UK company using this method, you can expect them to know their stuff!
Some SEO companies offer a free initial assessment of your site. This can range from a report on your current listings to a more detailed critique of your site and the improvements that might be needed. Such a report can help to give you an idea of their methodology. You should also ask for some examples of previous clients and the search terms that have been used to optimise these sites.
An investment in a professional search engine placement service is likely to cost between £300 and £800 for your site to be optimised across 5 or more key phrases. You should expect a contract term to be between 3 and 6 months, as it can often take this long for results to be achieved across most of the top search engines and directories.
SEO specialists will have a good, up-to-date knowledge of all the top search engines and directories. They can also advise you on the various paid submission search tools that are becoming increasingly common. Options such as Inktomi’s paid inclusion, GoTo’s pay-per-click search terms, or Yahoo’s Business Express service should all be considered, so getting expert help beforehand will ensure you get the best return for your money.
Most importantly, SEO specialists will save you an enormous amount of time and frustration by optimising and submitting your site well. Once this is achieved, your site can maintain its ranking over many months and generate regular, targeted traffic to your website. In a competitive market you may need to continue updating the site to maintain its position and an SEO specialist will be able to analyse how competitors are achieving their ranking and improve upon it.
Producing the results
It is practically impossible to achieve a top slot across all search engines. However, as a minimum, you should expect to get your site listed in the top 20 results for all key phrases across more than half of the top search engines. Directory results can be more restricted, but a listing on Yahoo with a well written site description can help to generate 3 or 4 times the traffic that a top ranking on search engines like HotBot or Excite might achieve.
Some SEO companies offer guarantees against rankings achieved, but make sure that you know what these actually mean. Many are effectively worthless and tend to be offered by newer companies trying to establish themselves in the market. Because all the top search engines are secretive about the way they operate, they can often change their methods of ranking sites or drop them from their listings altogether. As a consequence it’s impossible to guarantee that a site will be indexed or ranked successfully, while directory submissions are dependent on the views and workload of human editors.
Ultimately, however, SEO specialists will measure their success by the increase in traffic your website achieves. This will mean that all the vital elements have come together, from identifying the most popular search terms, to creating an effective optimisation strategy and producing a high placement on the top search engines and directories.
Once this happens, regardless of the size of your business, you will become a market leader on the web!
Clive Hawkins runs the web search workshop (www.websearchworkshop.co.uk), a search engine placement consultancy helping small and medium-sized companies in the UK attract customers from search engines and directories.