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March 14, 2008, 3:17 pm
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When most people want to find something on the web, they use a search
engine. Millions of searches are conducted every day on search engines
such as: google.com, yahoo.com, msn.com and many others. Some people
are looking for your website. So how do you capture people searching
for what your site has to offer? Through techniques called search
engine marketing (SEM).
This tutorial is foundational information for anyone looking to
implement search engine marketing. This tutorial will also help you
understand how the search engines work, what SEM is, and how it can
help you get traffic.
What is a Search Engine?
All search engines start with a "search box", which issometimes the
main focus of the site, e.g. google.com, dmoz.org, altavista.com;
sometimes the "search box" is just one feature of a portal site, e.g.
yahoo.com, msn.com, netscape.com. Just type in your search phrase and
click the "search" button, and the search engine will return a listing
of search engine result pages (SERPs). To generate SERPs the search
engine compared your search phrase with information it has about
various web sites and pages in its database and ranks them based on a
Search Engine Classes
Targeted audience, number of visitors, quality of search and
professionalism is what determines a search engine's class. Each
search engine typically target specific audiences based on interest
and location. World-class search engines look very professional,
include virtually the entire web in their database, and return highly
relevant search results quickly.
Most of us are familiar with the major general search engines;
google.com, yahoo.com, msn.com. A general search engine includes all
types of websites and as such are targeting a general audience. There
are also the lesser known 2nd tier general search engines;
zeal.com,ask.com,whatyouseek.com. The primary difference is that 2nd
tier engines are lesser known and generate significantly less traffic.
There are also several non-general or targeted search engines that
limit the types of websites they include in their database. Targeted
search engines typically limit by location or by industry / content
type or both. Most large metro areas will have local search engines
that list local businesses and other sites of interest to people in
that area. Some are general and some are industry specific, such as
specificallylisting restaurants or art galleries.
Many other targeted search engines list sites from any location but
only if they contain specific types of content. Most webmasters are
familiar with webmaster tools search engines such as;
webmasterworld.com, hotscripts.com, flashkit.com and more. There are
niche SEs for practically any industry and interest.
Search Engine Models
There are two fundamentally different types of search engine back
ends: site directories and spidering search engines. Site directory
databases are built by a person manually inputting data about
websites. Most directories include a site's url, title, and
description in their database. Some directories include more
information, such as keywords, owner's name, visitor rankings and so
on. Some directories will allow you to control your website's
information yourself others rely on editors that write the information
to conform to the directory standards.
It is important to note that most directories include directory
listings as an alterative to the search box for finding websites. A
directory listing uses hierarchal groupings from general to specific
to categorize a site.
Spidering search engines take a very different approach. They automate
the updating of information in their database by using robots to
continually read web pages. A search engine robot/spider/crawler acts
much like a web browser, except that instead of a human looking at the
web pages, the robot parses the page and adds the page's content it's
Many of the larger search engines will have both a directory and
spidering search engine, e.g. yahoo.com, google.com, and allow
visitors to select which they want to search. Note that many search
engines do not have their own search technology and are contracting
services from elsewhere. For example, Google's spider SE is their own,
but their directory is and Open Directory; additionally aol.com and
netscape.com both use Google's spider SE for their results.
There are a few other search engine models of interest. There are some
search engines that combine results from other engines such as
dogpile.com and mamma.com. There are also search engines that add
extra information to searches such as Amazon's alexa.com, which uses
Google's backend but adds data from its search bar regarding tracking
traffic to the site.
One of the most important things to understand about the SE database
models is how to get into their database and keep your listing
updated. With a search directory, a submission needs to be done to
provide the directory all the information needed for the listing. It
is generally recommended that this be done by hand, either by you or a
person familiar with directory submissions. There are many submission
tools available that advertise they automate the submission process.
This may be fine for smaller directories but for the major
directories, manual submissions are worth the time.
Not all search directories are free; many charge a one-time or annual
fee for review. Many of the free search directories have little
quality control. For free directories you may have to submit your site
several times before being accepted.
There are three different methods for getting into spidering search
engines; free site submission, paid inclusion and links from other
sites. Virtually all spidering SEs offer a free site submission. For
most, you simply enter your url into a form and submit. Paid inclusion
is normally not difficult, except for the credit card payment. For
free site submission there is no quality control. The SE may send a
spider to your site in the next few weeks, months or never. Typically
with paid inclusion you will get a guarantee that the page you
submitted will be included within a short amount of time. The other
standard way to get included is to have links to your website from
other web pages that are already in the SEs database. The SE spiders
are always crawling the web and will eventually follow those links to
find your site.
Once you are in a search engine database, you might change your site
and need the search engine to update their database. Each directory
handles this differently; generally each database will have a form for
you to submit a change request. Spidering search engines will
eventually find the change and add your updates automatically.
Getting High Rankings
Getting into a search engine database is only the first step. Without
other factors you will not rank in the top positions, a prerequisite
for quality traffic. So how do you get top positions? You can pay for
placement with sponsored links that is covered in the next section. To
place well in the free, organic SERPs, you will need to perform search
Search engine optimization is one of the most complicated aspects of
web development. Each search engine uses a different algorithm, using
hundreds of factors, that they are constantly changing, and they
carefully guard their algorithm as trade secrets. Thus no one outside
of the search engines employ knows with 100% certainty the perfect way
to optimize a site. However, many individuals called search engine
optimizers have studied the art and derived set of techniques that
have a track record for success.
In general, there are two areas to focus on for top rankings; on-page
factors and linking. On-page factors mean placing your target keywords
in the content of your site in the right places. The structure of and
technologies used on your website also play a role in on-page factors.
Linking, refers to how other website's link to yours and how your site
Search Engine's Marketing Offerings
Search engines in the early days of the web were focused solely on
serving the visiting searcher. They worked to capture as much of the
web as possible in their database and provide fast, relevant searches.
Many early website owners learned to reverse engineer the relevancy
algorithms and to make their sites "search engine friendly" to get top
rankings. They were the first search engine optimizers, manipulating
the search engine's natural or organic SERPs as a means of generating
free web traffic.
Often times these optimized sites compromised the integrity of the
SERPs and lowered the quality for the searcher. Search engines fought,
and continue to fight, to maintain the quality of their results.
Eventually, the search engines embraced the fact that they are an
important means for marketing websites. Today most search engines
offer an array of tools to balance website's owners need to market
while maintaining quality for the searcher.
You can generally break search engine marketing tools into free and
for-pay. Realize these classifications are from the search engine's
point of view. Effort and expense is required to setup and maintain
any search engine marketing campaign.
Organic rankings are still one of the most important ways to drive
quality traffic. Search engines now seek to reward ethical, high-
quality websites with top rankings and remove inappropriate "spam"
websites. While organic rankings can produce continual free traffic,
it takes time from an experienced individual to achieve optimum
results. Additionally, organic placement offers no guarantees, it
generally takes months to get listed and can be unpredictable once
Some search engines offer services that add more control to your
organic campaign. Most of these services will list / update your site
faster or will guarantee that all essential content is listed. For
integrity reasons, no major search engine offers higher organic
rankings for a fee.
If you need top rankings quickly, pay-per-positioning (PPP) is the
most popular way to go. PPP rankings appear in normal organic SERPs
but are usually designated as "sponsored listings". PPP listings use a
bidding process to rank sites. If you are the top bidder, e.g. willing
to pay the most per click on a given phrase, you will have top
placement. The 2nd highest bidder is two; the next is 3 and so on.
While most PPP works using this model, some search engines offer
modifications such as Google's AdWords where bid price and click-
through rates are both factors for positioning.
Search Engines have many other marketing tools, such as search
specific banner ads; listings on affiliate sites and more.
The majority of websites have sub-optimal search engine marketing.
Most sites have no effective search engine marketing and are
continually missing out on valuable leads. Many other websites are too
aggressive, wasting money on low value traffic or harming the
functionality of their site due to over optimization. Too many sites
are even paying money and receiving no results because they have
trusted unethical or inexperienced search engine optimizers.
All SEM campaigns should start with a strategic evaluation of SEM
opportunities based on return on investment (ROI). You need to assess
how much each lead is worth for each keyword phrase and determine
which SEM tools will achieve the best ROI for the phrase.
You also have to decide how much you want to do in-house vs. retaining
an expert. A qualified expert will typically produce better results
faster, but the high expenses may destroy the ROI. Often it is best to
work with an expert as a team, the expert to develop the strategy and
internal staff to perform implementation and ongoing management.
Tom McCracken is the Director of LevelTen Design, a Dallas based e-
media agency. He has over 14 years of experience in software
engineering and marketing. He has developed solutions to improve
custom service and communications for some of the worlds largest
companies. With an education in chemical engineering and economics
from Johns Hopkins University, his background includes; web and
software development, human factors engineering, project management,
business strategy, marketing strategy, and electronic design.
for more information about seo