Marketing with online

Marketing with onlineVan Dyke's Restorers is pretty happy with the results of its site redesign. With a 450% increase in traffic within three months and a 500% leap in revenue, why wouldn't the Woonsocket, SD-based cataloger be happy? What's more, the redesign didn't involve major changes to the Website offering. All that the marketer of woodworking and furniture restoration supplies had to do was optimize the site so that the company could take advantage of one of the most frequently missed e-marketing opportunities: search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing is the ultimate targeted, low-cost, high-return weapon in the i.merchant's promotional arsenal. Search engines offer unrivalled exposure to the broader Web audience and allow businesses to reach people who are seeking the products and services they offer. And search engine listings are a more effective space for promoting your business to those people, who are six times more likely to click on a search engine listing than on a banner ad.

Yet most marketers know much more about banner advertising than about what's needed to do to make their Website search-engine-friendly.

Key phrases are key

The first step in developing a search-engine-friendly site is choosing the right focus for your Web pages. You need to identify the keywords and phrases most relevant to and popular with your target audience, and then incorporate them into your site.

Search engines index a staggering number of Web pages. To generate a meaningful amount of traffic you need to be listed on the first or second page of search results. And achieving this for a one-word search will be next to impossible. You will just be one of thousands of sites vying for those top positions.

At the same time, Internet users learn over time to refine their searches to get more-relevant results. Someone searching for "digital camera reviews" instead of "cameras" will get a fraction of the search results, and those results will be much more useful to them.

For those reasons, you should focus on two or three key phrases rather than individual words. Achieving a top-10 position for a search phrase such as "digital camera reviews" is a more attainable goal than gaining the equivalent position for "cameras" - and it will yield much more qualified traffic.

A number of resources can assist you in identifying the most popular of relevant keywords and phrases. For instance, search engine listings provider offers a "search term suggestion tool" that will tell you how many times a particular word or phrase was searched for by its users during the past month. A car dealer would discover that the keyword "car" is more than five times as popular as the keyword "auto." And a clothing retailer would find that "clothing" is 30% more popular than "clothes" and nearly twice as popular as "apparel."

If you have a single keyword in mind, you can use the free Overture tool to suggest good key phrases to target, ranked in order of popularity. For example, enter "clothing" and you'll be presented with related key phrases such as "baby clothing," "kids clothing," and "plus-size clothing."

Be aware that Overture's suggestion tool has shortcomings. First, because Overture auctions off keywords on its site to marketers, the results are skewed by the number of times keyword buyers check their rankings to adjust their bids. Furthermore, Overture combines singular and plural forms together, along with popular misspellings, then displays the aggregate number alongside only the singular form.

Using the Overturn tool in conjunction with others like WordTracker allows you to go even further in your keyword research to uncover relative popularities between singular and plural forms and misspellings. A subscription service that costs about $200 a year, WordTracker bases its results on data collected from the meta-search engines MetaCrawler and Dogpile. Using WordTracker, the owner of a bed-and-breakfast would learn that "accommodation" is more than five times as popular as "accommodations" and that the misspelling "accomodation" is nearly as popular as the correct spelling.

Beyond the mere presence of the appropriate words on your site's Web pages, where on the pages those words appear is critical as well. The higher up on the page, the more weight the keyword receives. This makes intuitive sense, as a page that leads off with "Maori art" is much more likely to be relevant to the topic of Maori art than a page that displays "Maori art" in the last paragraph.

But appearances can be deceiving. Often the keyword-rich body copy appears to the user to be at the top of the page, when in actuality Javascripts, tables, and image maps may be pushing the copy quite far down in the HTML source code, which is what the search engines read. A search-engine-savvy HTML programmer can strip out unnecessary code and reorganize the code that remains so that your body copy is more prominent.

"Every page has a song," says search engine marketing guru Danny Sullivan, meaning that every page has a unique composition that can be fine-tuned. Don't try to cram every keyword and phrase imaginable onto your home page. Instead, make each page of your site "sing" for its unique topic.

An online music store, for instance, would do much better to optimize its "jazz" page, its "Craig David" page, and so on than to try to incorporate all the artists whose music it sells as keywords on its home page.

Weave a web of links

Key phrases aren't the sole determinant of search engine prominence. Links matter too. A network of sites that link to your site will not only drive traffic in their own right, but they will also increase your "link popularity." Search engines use link popularity to indicate the worth of a site's content. They consider sites with many links from other sites more likely to be relevant to a search and therefore rank those sites higher.

Industry heavyweight Google uses its proprietary PageRank system to place the most emphasis on links from sites that it considers "important." In other words, links from sites possessing better PageRank scores will be given more weight and have a greater positive effect on your position in the search results. You can check your PageRank rating with the Google Toolbar (

To boost your link popularity, submit listings for your Website with major directories such as Yahoo!, Open Directory (, and LookSmart. Also request that niche sites and vertical portals in your industry link to your site.

Sites that link to your competitors are also good targets. You can find many of these sites quickly using MarketLeap's link popularity checker (

Stay away from automated submission bots that promise submissions to thousands of search engines and directories. You will be paying for submissions to totally irrelevant or defunct Websites. And reputable search engines tend to ignore or penalize bulk submissions.

Likewise, resist the temptation to boost your link popularity by submitting to "free for all" links pages. These are simply pages that are full of links - you submit your Web address and are automatically added. Search engines discount these pages too. (In fact, some search engines, such as Google, are known to "punish" sites for associating with them.)

It is far better to spend time establishing reciprocal links with sites that offer content complementary to yours. Alternatively, developing an affiliate program, in which you reward sites that link to yours, can improve your site's link popularity.

HTML to warm a search engine's heart

Okay, you've identified the key phrases you need to focus on and made them prominent in your Website copy. You've made your site Miss Popularity in terms of links with other sites. Now what? Time to make sure that the HTML code that makes up your pages includes search-engine-friendly elements:

Title tag

This is the most critical HTML element on your Web page for search engine rankings. A good page title is 5-13 words long with important keywords placed near or at the beginning. The title tag serves a dual purpose: Compelling wording makes it a call to action on the search results page and it acts as a heading for the page in browser windows and bookmarks listings.

Heading tags (H1 and H2)

Search engines consider text in heading tags a good indicator of what a page is about and the searches for which it will be relevant. Say you have a page selling men's apparel and accessories. Instead of an H1 headline that reads "Select an item below for further details," you'd be better off with a headline that says "Men's apparel and accessories."

Alt tags

Only Google and AltaVista support them, but alt tags are a key element in creating an accessible site. Search engines can't "read" images, including navigation elements, and streaming media. Alt tags serve as alternate, readable text for the search engines.