Top Dog: Ensuring Customers Find Your Web Site
When someone is searching online for a repair shop, you want your name front and center in the search results. Let's examine what you should - and shouldn't - be doing to put your site at the top of the search results heap.
According to eMarketer.com, there are approximately 191 million people in the United States online today, and 161 million of them use search engines. In 2008, this group used primarily two search engines: Google (69.4 percent) and Yahoo! (19.1 percent), according to Hitwise.com.
Did you know that eight-word searches are up 34,000 percent over the past five years? One-word searches haven't changed much in five years, but two- and three-word searches have actually decreased. With the shift to more words used in the search, it is apparent Web users are trying to refine and pinpoint their search results rather than sift through the incredible amount of information they might get from simpler searches.
Why is it important? Well, let's examine what a search spider (Web bot) sees and can't see when crawling a site.
Web bots won't see text contained in images or Flash graphics, and they have trouble indexing Flash images, photos and other graphics. These bots/spiders are looking for specific items, such as your textual content containing keywords and phrases, internal and external hyperlinks, unique title tags for each Web page and a robots.txt file that will help guide it around the site. Now, let's take a look at specific ways to improve your search engine rankings.
Free Tools from Google
Before you try to implement anything on your site, do yourself a favor and register with Google Webmaster tools (if you haven't already) at www.google.com/
Before registering, be sure to read the Terms of Service. Any tool offered for free will usually have some kind of strings attached. Assume Google is going to use the information gathered from your site too. But read the fine print to ensure you are comfortable with how your information will be used.
Once registered and verified, visit Google's Quality Guidelines page, and ensure your site is following Google's requirements and tips. If you find that your site doesn't meet the guidelines, make the necessary changes to bring it into compliance and then submit your site for reconsideration.
It's important to note that it can take six to eight weeks for Google to index a newly submitted site, and it can take up to six months after Google initially crawls it to improve the ranking of a new site.
What Are Your Keywords?
For our purposes, a keyword is a word or phrase used in the title, subject headings, text content, notes or abstract of a Web page that can also be entered into a search engine to return matching and relevant Web page results. Keywords are important because they describe specifically what you do and why people would want to find you.
Let's do a short exercise: Write down as many keywords and phrases that you believe describe your business and that consumers use when searching online for your shop or the services you offer. If you need help with completing your list, visit adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and www.google.com/sktool; these sites can help you locate phrases and keywords used in actual searches related to your business.
Now examine your Web site. How many of the keywords and phrases are actually used in the text of your home and secondary pages? Incorporating the keywords and phrases into the metadata of your site is necessary, but these words and phrases also need to be used in the public content of your site to become meaningful to the search engines. If you find your content lacks these keywords and phrases, it's time to start rewriting your site's message.
Reputation by Association
Hyperlinks connect pages to each other, helping visitors find all the content on your site, as well as finding related content on other Web sites. For search engines, more links pointing to your site from other Web sites helps raise your rank. Google likes to see at least three links from your site to other relevant, quality sites.
However, search engines are also looking at the quality of the sites linking to and from you. In other words, links from well-respected brands, Web sites and other online references can boost your reputation with search engines. As a suggestion, your Web site could include links to ASA, TakingTheHill.com, AutoInc., other associations and organizations, ASE, I-CAR, etc. If you link to a site that provides an online directory, request the site link back to you.
When requesting a reciprocal link from a site, such as an association or business partner, choose carefully. Ask: "What sites are similar in content and would benefit from the contents on my site? What sites would provide good content that would complement my Web site?"
Pay Attention to Page Titles
The title tag is not only required on a Web page, but it plays an important role in searching and viewing:
• It helps search engines determine the topic of your page, and as a result, influences the ranking of your page in search results.
• It is prominently displayed in a search engine's results.
• The title is displayed at the top of your visitor's browser while viewing your site. For this reason alone, titles need to clearly explain the Web page's content.
It might be tempting to load your title full of keywords, but don't. Search engines are also looking for those same keywords in the headline or top few paragraphs of text on the Web page. Their reasoning is that if it's important enough to be in the title tag, those words will be found near the top of your page.
When Was the Last Time You Updated Your Site?
All these items we've talked about are important to improving your ranking on search engines, and once they are completed, don't let all your efforts go to waste. Your site needs regular updates to keep the search engines crawling your pages. If they don't find any changes, they will come back with less and less frequency.
Create an "Automotive Tips" page with free content provided from your suppliers or consumer groups such as ASA or AAA. Subscribe to automotive news feeds (RSS feeds) that can provide you with fresh news that is updated daily, hourly and even by the minute.
Last, Don't Be Evil
"Don't be evil" is the unofficial motto of Google. But it's fitting here because just as there are specific practices to raise your ranking, there are also some sure-fire ways to get your site's ranking reduced - if not removed completely - from search engine listings.
Avoid tricks intended to improve search engine rankings. A good rule of thumb is whether you'd feel comfortable explaining what you've done to a Web site that competes with you. Ask yourself, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"
An excellent article explaining practices that will get you banned by the search engines is available on About.com at google.about.com/od/searchengineoptimization/tp/
Optimizing your Web site is a process, not an end-result. The Web and the way it works changes rapidly. Over time, customers change, businesses change and strategies change. Your Web site, like your marketing plan, can't be a static document. Think of it more as a garden; you should always pull out what isn't working and plant something new.
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