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Black Magic: What You Need to Know About the Dark Art of Search Engine Marketing

Authors: Jay Baer Jay Baer
Posted Under: Digital Marketing
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Thirty six percent of site visits come from a search engine or other Web link, according to Web measurement firm Web Side Story. Betting 36% of your site traffic on the outcome of an ongoing epic duel between geeks who work for search engine companies and the geeks who try to outsmart them seems akin to listing “monkey’s paw and other lucky talismans” as your primary digital marketing strategy.

Every one of the nearly 300 corporate clients we’ve worked with over the past 10 years has needed some manner of search engine help. You’d think search engine strategies would be as comfortable and satisfying as a good bowl of chili by now. But instead, search engine success remains mysterious and elusive, like Marilyn Manson or Cardinals’ playoff victories.

You see, there’s a lot of money to be made in the finding stuff business, and the search engine companies are eyeing each other warily like angry leprechauns sitting on their pots of gold. There’s already been consolidation in the industry, and the jockeying for survival is picking up speed. In just the past 60 days, Yahoo! has revitalized their search system, Disney announced they want to sell their Infoseek search engine (and hired Google to handle their searches) and Overture purchased Alta Vista (the market leader circa 1998).

The breakneck pace of change on the Internet has slowed down – except in the search engine world. So, while we wait for the search engine dust to settle, we still have to make sure our Web sites can be found on whichever ones are still standing at the moment.

The bad news is that to become a search engine expert is a noble, but somewhat unrealistic goal along the lines of astronaut or gourmet English chef. The good news is that you can dramatically improve your search engine results by focusing on a few key components of search engine success.


Word Up

Because of their pervasiveness and importance, search engines are the most competitive aspect of the Internet. Other people own Web sites, and they might be reading helpful columns written by Internet consultants, too.

So, to increase your chances at success, out smart the other guy by choosing to optimize realistic and viable keywords. You can’t be ranked number one for every word that’s remotely related to your business – there’s too much competition for those keywords.

Let’s say you are a homebuilder or developer, as are some of our clients. What might be theoretical good keywords (actually key phrases in many cases)? Here’s a list of possibilities, and the number of matches on Google:

New Homes 4,420,000
Arizona New Homes 782,000
Phoenix New Homes 431,000
Scottsdale New Homes 98,800
Scottsdale Luxury Homes 36,800

Specificity is the key to search engine success. Do more people type “new homes” into a search engine than type in “Scottsdale luxury homes”? Yes, but there are so many matches for a broad search like “new homes” that your chances of being in the top 20-30 listings are exceedingly poor.

Where do you start? Figure out what products or services you specifically offer, and list all the keywords and phrases associated with them. Then, review your current Web site statistics and determine what words and phrases visitors are using to find your site today. Also, send an email to 25 of your current customers and ask them to list the five phrases they would type into a search engine to find your business.

Take that knowledge, and combine it with keyword search frequency and competitive match information from an inexpensive product like to hone a list of 10-50 words or phrases that both specifically apply to your business, and are viable for optimization. The more specific the term, the more likely the searcher will find exactly what they are seeking, increasing the change they will convert into a sale.


What’s the Density Kenneth?

Once you’ve determined your best possible keywords, the goal is to incorporate those words EXACTLY into your Web site copy as frequently as possible. Many search engines use keyword density as a major component of their ranking algorithm. That means that number of times your keyword appears on a page as a percentage of all words on the page can dramatically influence your rankings.

A density of 3-4% is ideal. Less than that, and competitive sites will have greater density, moving you down the search results list. Too much density will get you bounced out of the engine for keyword spamming – putting the same keyword on your page ad infinitum.

Writing that frequently includes your exact keywords can sound as forced as a Bill Clinton apology, so it might be a good idea to optimize for 10 keywords rather than 50 – unless you have a very large site.


Popularity Contest

Ultimately, ingredients of the witches brew that determines each search engine’s rankings (and they are all different) can be manipulated through careful keyword selection, density and other techniques that advanced search engine groupies can tackle. The search engine proprietors figured this out, and realizing that the secret sauce wasn’t that secret, added a new rule to the game – popularity and reputation.

The assumption is that popularity of a site translates into site relevancy, and relevant sites should be listed first in search results. Popularity is measured in two ways. First, by inbound links. How many sites link to the site in question, and how many sites link to the sites that link to the site in question? Second, how often is the search result for the site in question clicked on by users of the search engine.

Reputation is measured by what the text that links to your pages says about your company.

The notion was that this was a fair and equitable way to evaluate sites objectively, and more importantly for the Star Chamber of search engine owners, seemed to be a method that couldn’t be artificially manipulated. Wrong. A whole new sub industry has recently emerged whose sole business is to procure inbound links for Web sites. You want another 50 sites to link to yours to improve your search rankings for “cactus candy” or whatever is important to your business? Can do. $25 per link is the going rate.

To excel at search engine rankings, we advise that you consider professional assistance. Legitimate services begin at around $300 per month.

To improve your current results, take a look at your site traffic and how much (or little) of it comes from search engines, and where you’re currently ranked for keywords that are important to your business. Then, follow the steps above, and you should be moving up the charts like a new Brittany Spears single.

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