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Search Engine Optimization


Sites Unseen

Search Engine Optimization and Web Site Promotion

In an earlier article, we discussed various methods of creating an online customer-base and getting repeat visitors to a Web site. In this article, weíre going to take a step backward to look at some effective ways to promote a site to get the initial visitors needed to create return traffic.

The key element to Web site promotion on the Web is search engine optimization (SEO). If a company hopes to gain any new business through the Web, itís impossible to overstate the importance of landing at or near the top of the major search engines. Using specific techniques and trial and error methods, a site can achieve high ratings on search engines, optimize its Web presence, and boost its hit counts. High hit counts result in site traffic, developing a customer base, and, ultimately, new business.

Generating initial traffic is paramount to success on the Web, and a siteís links-in particular, reciprocal links and inbound links-are the most important elements to garnering hits. Links work as a referral from one site to another, but they also work in more important ways than simple referrals.

Because the Web is nothing more than billions of documents linked together, Google and search engines like it use "spiders," or Web crawlers, to visit and rank sites. Spiders are automated browsers that follow all of the links they encounter on the Web; search engines analyze the page content the spiders encounter, and index and rank a page based on the number of links to it and the data contained within the page. The more sites that a Web site links to and, more importantly, the more sites that link back to that site, the higher the site will rank and the closer to the top of a search the site will fall. Search engines test whether a siteís links have integrity and then rate the site accordingly. If a site has links to other sites unrelated to its business-or, worse, to a link farm-the site will not rank well in Google searches.

An indication of the recent fixation on SEO can be seen by clicking on just about any site: over the last few years, links have become harder to find than they ever were before. A few years ago, sites generally had their links on the homepage-it was a major part of Web traffic, and linked sites were related to the referencing site's core business, and vice versa. Today, with the increasing concentration on SEO, reciprocal linking with companies often unrelated to a site has become a quick fix to low hit counts. This method of creating reciprocal links is one of the reasons why most sites have taken to burying their links deep within the site: itís not necessarily that every site trades links with unrelated elements to improve their rating, but enough do that the practice has influenced Web design trends, and hiding links has become the norm. By constantly changing the algorithms the search engines giants like Google use, search engines continually get "smarter," and these quick fixes cease to be effective. Believe it or not, these sorts of checks and balances by companies like Google create a kind of "honesty in advertising" on the Web.

Another important element to SEO is using keywords effectively. As with the ability to ferret out bad links, search engines are getting smarter at exposing bad data; the days of jamming Web copy with the word "Pizza" to rank high in pizza searches are long gone. While in the Webís infancy, this approach worked rather well, search engines are smarter than that now.

To use keywords effectively, first determine what your keywords and key phrases should be and populate the page title (the top bar of a Web browser) with them, use them in bold or heading styles, and put as many keywords and as much relevant information near the top of a siteís homepage as possible. Search engines rate keywords from the top down, starting with the homepage and then accessing sibling pages. But be careful here; if a homepage is cluttered with information that is difficult to find or if a site begins to look muddled and confusing, you may lose a customers before he or she has a chance to develop a relationship with your site. SEO is a way to manipulate the machines that run the Web; remember that behind every machine is a human being, and those human beings are ultimately the people to whom you answer: your customers.