Get the 411 on SEO

These days it’s simply not enough to have a Web site for your small business; you need to drive traffic to your site. The best way to do that is to register your site with the various online search engines, and then optimize your site so that when someone searches for keywords that relate to your business, your site ranks high in the search results.

I’m not a Web master, but I do enough research to know my flagship Web site ranks high on major search engines for the keywords relevant to my business. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and hours learning to use software, researching the search engines, mastering the use of keywords, page titles, page descriptions, avoiding frames and keeping my search engine expenses under control.

So my column this month is about search engine optimization, sharing proven, concrete successes I’ve found to improve the presence of a Web site on the Internet and save some money in the process.

Know the Search Engines
Begin by learning the most popular search engines. As of July 2004, listed Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL and Ask Jeeves as the most used engines, in that order. Equally important is how these sites rely on crawler-based search technology to list results.

Search engines crawl the entire Internet, not just the Web sites registered at their domains. So why should you bother registering your site or even paying a fee? Very simply, the owners who register and pay will see their sites listed higher in the rankings. Even free registration at Google is important to secure better rankings.

Free Web Site Submission
Most search engines offering free Web site registration are lesser known, and don’t have a large following of users, but don’t rule it out just because they don’t charge for it. Make sure the search engine provides listings related to the nature of your business. You can bulk register your site at the following three sites: AddPro, or SubmitExpress. They streamline the process and submit you to a variety of search engines like Alexa, ScrubTheWeb, AllTheWeb, LookSeek/ ExactSeek, Jayde, Lycos, Dogpile, Metacrawler and VivisimoVivisimo.

dmoz , the home of the Open Directory Project describes itself as, “the largest, most comprehensive human-edited directory of the Web.” Many search engines access dmoz for listings, and it won’t cost you anything to submit your Web site, but be careful not to violate its polices.

Paid Web Site Submission
For years I fought off paying for Web site registrations. I’ve done extremely well at Google, but as more search engines like Yahoo, AskJeeves, MSN and others shifted to paid subscriptions, I noticed in declining Web site visits from those search engines, and my daily Web site visitor count dropped off.

I finally broke down and invested $299 in the Yahoo! Express service, and saw immediate results. Visitors from Yahoo increased 300 percent. MSN continues (for the time being) to use Yahoo’s crawler-based search technology and has brought more visitors. Overall, my daily unique-site visitors have doubled. Given the impressive results at Yahoo, I wasted no time spending $30 at AskJeeves which is powered by Teoma, a major crawler-based search engine.

Other options, including paid ads and pay-per-click, exist, but I don’t use either of these avenues. In no way does that suggest they are not good avenues to promote your Web site. It’s just that most of my competitors don’t use that form of advertising, and the expense-to-sales ratio makes the expense prohibitive.

A Surprise Favorite: Online Press Release Services
A few months back, a client forwarded information on a project under development. It arrived in the form of a hyperlink to an online press release. He encouraged me to try this method to increase my online presence and my number of listings in search engines.

After some research, I simultaneously submitted press releases to WebWire, Free-Press-Release and PRWeb. All three services increased the number and frequency of listings. WebWire offers its service for free fee, but I expect that to change soon. Free-Press-Release charges $1 per press release. PRWeb lets you post the release free of charge, but if you pay a $10 fee, you get more exposure. For each incremental increase of $10, the press releases receive incremental exposure on various, affiliated Web sites. PRWeb also offers one additional service. You can access up-to-the-minute data on the number of times the release has been viewed, emailed to others, printed and accessed by media outlets.

I issued a press release at PRWeb 13 days ago for $30. So far, it’s been viewed 36,580 times, accessed by the media 305 times, forwarded to third parties 27 times and printed out three times. Where can you get this type of exposure in such a short period of time and for such a small fee?

I don’t propose that all of these options are the best for everyone. No doubt like me, your decisions will be based on how your customers make decisions, competitive trends and your budget. All of these influences dictate the best ways to optimize our Web site presence on the major search engines.

Steve Windhaus is principal of Windhaus Associates, a business plan consulting firm serving small, existing and startup ventures throughout the United States and overseas. His clients range from technology-based firms in software development, e-commerce and telecommunications to retailers of ATV’s and watercraft and a variety of service firms. Steve is a published author who also conducts training in business plan development and participates as a judge in business plan competitions. Steve can relate to small biz environments relying on computer technology. His skills and use of many related technologies are all self-taught. If you have a question your would like to see Steve address in a future article, send it to us today.

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