Monday, July 11, 2005

Supercharge Your Search Engine Results

Supercharge Your Search Engine Results.
By Steve Plunkett

By now, just about everyone in the industrialized world has used Internet search engines. However, understanding the mysterious, mathematical machines that drive search engine results – that’s another matter. Millions of websites around the world are subject to complicated formulas and processes that determine where they’ll rank in search engines. Even more complicating, the math is ever-changing – so much so that it has created an entirely new industry called search engine optimization (SEO.)

Secretly, behind the scenes, “organic” SEO has been going on since the mid-90s from the early days of public Internet usage. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that every time you run a search on highly searched business words, nearly every entry on the first page of results got its top 10 ranking as a result of SEO. To be competitive on the Internet, every website needs to shoot for that first page. And if you’re not there, you need to contact an SEO professional. To get you started, here’s a primer on the two basic types of marketing via search engines – the first using “organic” methods and the other using sponsored links.

Going organic.

Simply put, organic search placements are the ones you’ve always gotten from search engines. The ones that have been around for years. The ones that make up the bulk of search results. And, other than the initial registration costs with search engines, a listing in organic search results costs you, the website owner, nothing if you know how and where to submit it.

Now, submitting your website does not, on its own, mean you’ll make the first page, or even tenth page, of search placements. That’s where SEO comes in. To optimize your organic search placements, an SEO professional determines the appropriate “searchable” terms for your website and optimizes each page within your site using these keywords. Also, the SEO professional modifies the HTML with certain properties that search engines consider relevant in their ranking methodologies. SEO services can be performed on an existing site or initiated in the planning stage of a new website. But for budgetary reasons, organic search engine optimization is most cost-effective as part of a larger commitment, guiding the construction or redesign of a website as opposed to simply trying to retrofit a site that already exists.

Optimizing a website for search engines does not carry a daily cost. Normally the investment is upfront – to determine the keywords needed and the process to insert them into your website. If the website is already listed in search engines but not listed favorably, organic search engine optimization can take less than 48 hours to take effect. Of course, that’s a best-case scenario. On the other end of the spectrum, if your website is brand new, plan on a study of your keywords and budget for Pay Per Click expenses until your website performs well in organic search engine results. That sometimes takes several months.

Click, pay. Click, pay. Click, pay.

Sponsored links, or Pay Per Click (PPC), are a more recent invention than organic results. Also based on keywords, PPC results appear physically separated from the other (organic) results. Normally located inside a box at the top or on the right-hand side of the page, they’re often labeled as “Sponsors,” “Sponsored Links,” “AdWords,” etc. Every time a searcher clicks on one of these PPC links, the search engine charges the website owner at a prearranged fee. Thus the term “Pay Per Click.”

The costs of Pay Per Click campaigns vary tremendously – from a few pennies per click to a few dollars – depending on the competitiveness or popularity of the keywords selected. For example, the phrase “Search Engine Optimization” currently costs $4.23 per click. In May 2005 on the Yahoo! Pay Per Click network, this phrase was searched 159,916 times. If every searcher had clicked on that link, at a cost of $4.23 per click, the expense for linking to the advertiser’s site, based on that one phrase would have been $676,444.68. On top of that, research has shown that the majority of search engine users prefer to click on the first three organic results before they explore PPC listings.

So which is better?

It depends on lots of factors – among them, whether your site is brand-new or existing, whether your existing site is registered or not, whether your goals are long-term or short-term, whether your need is lead generation or brand awareness. The list goes on and on, but I can share with you one certainty about organic SEO.

From an optimization standpoint, organic SEO is a necessary part of any long-term commercial website strategy. Much like having a sign in front of your physical location, it’s an investment in the future of your business. If enough people drive by and see your sign they will remember you and not have to look up your name every time they are looking for your product or service.

The decisions regarding PPC campaigns are not as simple. You need to ask a variety of questions when considering a PPC campaign in addition to organic SEO. How much will it cost you per click? How many clicks should you expect? How does your site already perform on purely organic searches? Are you looking for a long-term solution or short-term results? Do you need results yesterday or can you wait perhaps one month or more for organic SEO to kick in?

Like I said, it’s a mysterious, mathematical machine. That’s why the industry exists. For assistance, a credible SEO provider will help you find the right answers to all these questions and more.