Articles and tutorials on Web site Promotion

The Honest Truth About Search Engines

There's a pretty good chance that we can save you literally hundreds or thousands of hours worth of research, work, and frustration when it comes to search engines - and using them to promote your site. You see, in terms of marketing effectiveness search engines are highly over rated. And most marketers pay them too much attention.

The absolute truth of the matter is that for most online businesses, search engines are definitely not the most effective way to promote a web site. In fact, depending primarily on the products and services you're marketing they can be almost useless.

Don't take that the wrong way, many targeted prospects discover our web sites at the major search engines. And we'll show you how to profit from them too. But before we do, you need to know the truth about search engines - and how they should fit into your overall Internet marketing strategy. It's quite possible that they won't be a top priority, because search engines are just one little part of a much larger picture.

No doubt you've heard search engine fanatics shouting things like, "90% of your traffic will come from search engines!" Well guess what? That's total BS. The only way that 90% of your traffic will come from search engines is if you listen to these people, and do nothing to promote your site but submit to search engines all day long.

It's a proven fact that most searchers rarely look past the top ten or twenty listings, so to begin with you need a really good ranking in order to generate a decent number of visitors from search engines. This presents the first big problem with relying on them for web site traffic - the competition can be extremely fierce.

If you're targeting a small niche market competition may not be a big problem. With a modest amount of effort you may find that your web sites get listed in the top ten or twenty positions at the major search engines, generally because there aren't 50,000 other marketers to compete with. But what if your market is a little bigger?

It's a classic Catch-22 really. As the number of web surfers searching for a particular keyword or keyword phrase increases, so does the competition for their attention.

If your intention is to attract web surfers who are searching for things like "software," "gifts," "games," "chat," "jobs," "music," "free stuff," or any other popular topics, you need to realize that you'll be competing with thousands of other Internet marketers for just a few top rankings. After all, how many "Top 20" listings can there be?

To make matters worse, search engines don't all rank web pages the same way. In fact they are all quite different. Here are a few examples:

Using good meta tags in your pages will normally give your ranking a boost on HotBot and Infoseek, but not on the other search engines.

AltaVista, Infoseek, and Lycos will index image "alt" tags which can affect the way your page is ranked, but other search engines don't.

AltaVista and Infoseek are case-sensitive, but Excite, Lycos and Webcrawler are not. And HotBot is somewhere inbetween.

Most search engines make use of "stop words," which are common words that are ignored in searches -- but Infoseek doesn't.

Infoseek and Lycos use "stemming" which means that a search for "swim" might also turn up "swimmer". But not on the others it won't.

Excite, Infoseek, Lycos, and Web Crawler will give your ranking a boost if lots of other sites link to yours - but AltaVista and HotBot will not.

Meta refresh tags and invisible text will result in a penalty on AltaVista, but Excite doesn't seem to care. The rest have mixed feelings.

Each search engine places a different priority on each of the criteria used to rank web pages, and they change their procedures often.

And that's just the beginning. After all of your hard work trying to get everything right, a page that you manage to get into the famed "Top 10" on Infoseek might be listed #100 on AltaVista - and a listing in the 100th spot is almost worthless.

The bottom line is that in order to achieve a high ranking on each of the major search engines, you'll need to create a separate web page that is optimized for each. If there are five keywords or keyword phrases that you're targeting, you're looking at creating and maintaining at least thirty different versions of one web page.

Is it worth the time and effort? If you're promoting an adult site it might be, because "sex" is the most popular search term with millions of queries per day. But if you're selling anything else there are more effective ways to spend your time - especially if yours is a small business with just a few employees who are already overworked.

And that's only half of the story. An even bigger problem with search engines is that unless you're dealing with a really popular theme, you just won't get that many visitors from them. Even with a favorable "Top 10" listing at all of the major search engines, most businesses will not receive enough traffic to generate significant profits.

We're talking about daily visitor counts in the five-figure or higher range - the kind of traffic that 99% of sites can't get from the search engines.

Stick to basic web page optimization strategies that everyone should take advantage of while designing a web site. Then, as you go along you'll need to decide how important search engine rankings are to you and your business. Remember, you need to spend your time wisely.

Originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles.
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