You Built It, But Can Anyone Find It?

By Beth Cox | Posted October 24, 2003

Whether you have a small real world business like mine, or have been at it for a while and consider yourself a seasoned e-commerce veteran, one of the biggest problems you face is lack of time. Clearly, building a new e-commerce Web operation from scratch, or updating and enhancing an older one, can be amazingly time consuming.

Currently, I'm finding with my new site that once it's built, the work has only just begun.

Of course, once the site was up and running, I decided that I actually wanted the world to find us, as opposed to our old billboard site, which was basically just a pointer to our eBay store.

The last time around absolutely none of the most popular search engines found us, although to give credit where it's due, a number of them — on their own — unearthed links for our eBay store.

To be honest, I spent zero time trying to get listed in the search engines, because that older site was not e-commerce enabled.

I built our new site with Interland, and after the design and DNS switching and publication processes were completed, I decided to take advantage of their free search engine listing service, called Search Engine Starter, offered in conjunction with NetMechanic.com.

Of course, being pressed for time as always, what I didn't do, and probably should have done, was go to Search Engine Watch and read the site's submission tips articles.

If you have the time, the site has a lot of great information, including explanations of the differences between site directory operations like Yahoo! and Web crawlers like AltaVista and Google. There's also information on optimizing your site for crawlers and the use of meta tags.

I suspect, however, a lot of newbie e-commerce entrepreneurs are like me — I wanted decent results without spending hours learning an arcane new science. I am also sure there are more than a handful of seasoned vets that also have been wary of wading through the myriad search engine tools, rules and services.

So what I did do was fill in the blanks at Search Engine Starter — my URL, my site name, descriptive keywords, a short, one sentence description of the Web site, the most appropriate country for the site, the type of site (shopping, sports, travel, etc) and my e-mail address.

Next popped up a page of 100 search engines — I had no idea there were that many — and I got an option to pick all or just the ones I wanted. I picked the ones that sounded familiar, some that were unfamiliar, and avoided all the ones that were clearly outside the United States, as our target market is right here in the U.S.

Then I pushed the button and that was it. I call it Web site search listing for dummies, and figured I probably would get about what I paid for it.

And guess what? For once in this process, something worked pretty well, although I have to admit I was taken aback when I was warned that many of the search engines might take weeks or in some cases two months before actually listing my new e-commerce site.

I had submitted my site on Sept. 29, and now Interland tells me that I have had 22 successful site submissions and five failed submissions. Unfortunately, there was no indication of how many might still be pending.

However, the search engine application did tell me that I have successfully submitted to: AOL, MetaCrawler, Google, AT&T Worldnet, Netscape, Yahoo!, Earthlink, Lycos, Alexa, Hotbot, Webcrawler, Excite and a few more. So basically I was very pleased with this result.

The search engines where I failed were ones that I did not immediately recognize, so clearly they are not among the "name brand" search engines and I'm not likely to lose too many customers there. One thing that was annoying is there was no mention of AltaVista, either as a success or a failure, and when I went to search for our new site, SunCoastOrchids.com, all I got was the URL for our eBay store.

Still, it was really nice to see us pop right up in Google after typing in the name of our company. Ditto with Yahoo!

However, I can see I have some work to do in terms of optimizing for keywords. We sell cattleya orchids, for instance, and plugging in the search term "cattleya" in Google finds our site as the 254th listing. Ouch! If only we were big enough to have a real Webmaster!

Interland's tools also include Search Engine Tracker from NetMechanic, which shows you where your keywords place your site among the major search engines. And you can get weekly e-mail reports. But at this point, to be honest, I don't want to know. We have a few offerings for sale on the main Web site, and our next time-consuming task is going to be populating the online catalog while at the same time taking care of both our real-world business and our eBay operation. After that I'll start worrying about search engine rankings by keyword.

I know, of course, that there's a whole industry out there devoted to helping site owners get placed in search engines and clearly I may eventually need to use one of those services. But this first effort came free with my site hosting package, so I thought why not try it out? And I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, I'm a realist and I know that this may just mean that my expectations were too low!

Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com.

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