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If You Don't Know About SEO, You're DEAD!

by Alf Nucifora

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is no longer the sole province of the Internet elite and online marketing pros. In fact, as consumers grow increasingly comfortable with online search, to the point where it will eventually replace everything from yellow pages phone directories to printed catalogs, SEO becomes more a matter of business survival rather than marketing experimentation for those companies that rely upon a steady, incoming stream of clients and customers to supplement or grow their existing sales base. The data support the contention. According to the JupiterResearch U.S. Online Advertising Forecast 2005-2010, 62% of online advertisers were already engaged in SEO, with 66% planning to do so in the next twelve months. Merrill Lynch's Internet Advertising Report (6/05) and MarketingSherpa's Marketing Benchmark Survey (8/05) places the dollar size of SEO at $660 million in 2005.

Nowadays, everybody is getting into the SEO act from micro-businesses to the largest Fortune 500 companies. It's easy to understand why. For the national marketer with a significant online presence, used for ecommerce or disseminating information, or both, SEO is a logical discipline and refinement to an existing marketing protocol. For the small business, it provides an affordable means to even the playing field, to be seen first and project a perception of leadership and strength, albeit virtual, irrespective of operating history, size and authority within the category. In a virtual world of search, you're only as strong or as weak as your ranking. Make it to the top 5 and you're gold. Hover at number 11 or lower, and you're doomed.

What is it and why is it important?

In spite of its lofty nomenclature, SEO is nothing more than the act of optimizing your web site in order to improve the ranking that results from an organic search conducted by search engines such as Google or Yahoo!. In other words, it's making sure that your web site floats to the top of the page when key search words, terms or phrases appropriate to your product or brand are typed in for query.

The surest way to achieve a top ranking is to buy it via an online pay-per-click service such as Google AdWords. Interestingly, these services have now progressed to a level of sophistication that allows advertisers to bid by auction for level of ranking and per-click price. In addition, the two majors, Google and Yahoo! are now experimenting with SEO based on local market geography, the reasoning being, why pay for national search rankings if the marketplace is your local back yard? Makes sense for a local pizza parlor or flower shop. And it's affordable to boot.

But it's within the environment of non-paid rankings, that things get interesting. Experienced web site designers and consultants have to play a continually-evolving game of teasing, provoking and capturing the attention of search engines which themselves have become more sophisticated in prowling the online universe in order to deliver information that is search-specific, comprehensive and current, not an easy task at a time when web pages are proliferating at an out-of-control rate. According to SEO expert, Janet Driscoll Miller, President and CEO of Search Mojo, "It's commonly a game of the black hats vs. the white hats". Black hat shenanigans bend the rules by incorporating design elements designed to game the system. White type on a white background is a perfect example. For brands caught in the act, automaker BMW being a recent example, search engine penalization is automatic.

For the white hat players, Miller recommends the following elementary tips:

  • Constantly update the data and information on your web site. Search engines respond to "freshness", in fact, they thrive on it.

  • In terms of web architecture get rid of Java script code and flash, both of which are guaranteed to adversely affect web rankings.

  • Consider incorporating a blog…anything that will link to your site and create activity on the site. Search engines love activity.

  • Consider experimenting with paid ranking services. For the company with limited marketing funds, investment in pay-per-click marketing tied to firm parameters and a pre-established monthly budget can be a surprisingly effective way to gain quick visibility and generate leads from prospects with a pre-disposition to buy. That's probably why they're searching in the first place.

Ultimately, the web world will be divided into two groups, the "noticed" and the "ignored". The "noticed" will be those brands whose sites appear on page one of the search results, preferably within the first 5-10 rankings. As Miller puts it so succinctly, "You're only as good as how high you are". And for those who seek to occupy the top rungs of the ladder but don't know how to do it, get professional help. Seek an SEO agency. When I Googled the phrase "SEO Agency", there were 12,200,000 results. As you might suspect, I never made beyond the first page.

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