Does it take a search party to find you on the web?
(Photo from the Mel Brooks movie “Young Frankenstein”)
Before computers, how did a local business get noticed? Besides the usual marketing activities, you could list your business in the yellow pages. Remember the days when businesses named themselves “AAA Roofing” or “AAA Rent A Car” so they would show up first in their category? These days people won’t usually look for a business or service in the yellow pages. They look on the web. So what can you do to make sure your web site shows up high on the list returned by a search?
Make sure your web pages contain critical information
Practice common sense when designing your web site and writing the content. For example, if you own a floral business, it’s unrealistic to expect your business to come up first on a search when there are 28,700,000 other florists out there. However, a search engine, such as Google, is happy to list you on the first page when:
- Google recognizes the location of the user doing the search
- And then matches the search to a business and a zip code.
If you’ve included location and zip code information on your web site, you’ll show up at the top of the list. Including location information is common sense but you’d be surprised how many web sites make people – and Google – dig for it.
Two for one: good writing enhances search
There are more common sense practices to follow that enhance the user interface, impart information, and help people navigate your site:
- Ascertain key phrases to identify your business and message and use them strategically, especially in page titles and headings.
- Write straightforward text and organize it logically.
- Present it with legible, user intuitive typography.
When you follow these common sense rules, you also enhance the ability of a search engine to index your site and promote it.
What is SEO?
A buzz word you hear a lot is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO is basically doing whatever you can to make sure your web site shows up high on the list returned by a search relevant to your business. SEO is the common sense practices I’ve just described and anyone who is intelligent and thoughtful can do it as they write, with a little training and practice.
Marketing companies are charging big money under the premise they can employ “magical” SEO techniques to promote your site, but I’m skeptical about what works and how much it’s worth. One thing they can do is pay a search engine to artificially promote your site, but be aware you’ll pay thousands of dollars per month for it.
Who is that man behind the curtain?
I was hired to write web page content for a business I’ll call The Widget Company. What I wrote was then sent to a 27 year old Vice President of SEO (that was his title, really!) at a high priced marketing firm. (That a 27 year old could be a vice president should be the first tip off something isn’t right.)
To increase the probability the web site would come up first whenever a user typed “widget” on Google or other search engine, he stuck the word “widget” in front of every possible noun he could, often creating awkward noun strings that impacted readability. And stuck the word “widget” inside of product names, creating incorrect product names. He also introduced grammar and spelling errors. For this The Widget Company paid a retainer of several thousand a month. Does anyone besides me smell a bad deal?
Why is The Widget Company paying for it? There is one answer – fear. The management doesn’t understand technology and this creates insecurity. And, as long as everyone else is doing it, they’re afraid they’ll be left behind if they don’t do it, too.
Frankly I’m skeptical of paying a bunch of money to SEO salesmen preying on people’s lack of experience with technology. Common sense, good writing, and strategic online marketing along with intelligent web design will boost your visibility. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for an SEO specialist.
Update, Jan. 26, 2010
Four months after I wrote this post, the Boston Globe published an article that echoes my opinion. It includes the quote “Being charged $5,000 a month to manage the SEO process is crazy.” You can read the entire article at In Web world, a successful marketing effort means gaining inside track on searches
Update, March 27, 2011
More info from another Boston Globe article (that borrowed my analogy regarding the yellow pages!): Google analyzes more than 200 factors when ranking web pages and Google tweaks its ranking software 500 times a year!
Commentary by Smart Alice Web Design & Photography, smart web design for businesses who want a unique and effective presence on the internet.
Copyright 2011, Alice Gebura, All Rights Reserved.