Website Promotion Requires Professional Help
by Chad Rueffert

Would you hire graphic designers, copywriters, photographers and printers to create a company brochure and then never give it to any prospective customers?

Of course you wouldn’t.  However, that’s a very good analogy of what most companies do with their websites.  Write it, design it, pay for the hosting and then never promote it.

While there are many ways to promote your website, search engine optimization is both the most used and most effective method of advertising online.  Internet user studies repeatedly show that more than 80% of users rely on search engines to find the best web sites for nearly everything.  If you do nothing else to promote your website, you should consider search engine submission and optimization.  Below are several frequently asked questions about getting listed with a search engine.

What is a search engine?

There are actually two distinct types of “search engines” that dominate the Internet.  One class of search service is often referred to as “robots,” “spiders,” or “crawlers.”  These search tools actually use a computerized system that visits your website and crawls though the content of your pages in order to add them to their listings.  In theory, these crawlers find everything on the web, and therefore provide very extensive listings. 

The other type of search engine is more commonly refereed to as a directory.  Directories are the result of human input and therefore usually give smaller numbers of results than crawlers, but are often more focused and eliminate many of the less useful sites.  Many of the larger (and better) sites incorporate both directory and robot-style searches as part of their service.

Search engines are used by typing in key words or phrases that describe what the user is looking for.  The more specific the key words, the more specific the results.  Crawlers match the user’s search words to words in the content or meta tags of your website.  Once the search is completed, a listing of matching websites will appear with links that will take you directly to them.  For directory searches, the user often must navigate through several “category” choices that match the keywords to narrow their search down before the actual website listings appear.

How do I get listed in these search engines?

Internet earches often result in thousands of matches, and usually only the first ten to twenty-five links are seen by the searcher.  Getting listed in the top ten is critically important if you want to drive traffic to your site.  To do that you’ll need good, descriptive content, appropriate meta tags that crawlers find useful, a design that is friendly with search engines and probably some additional tricks like “ALT” Text, Comment Tags, Head Tags and Gateway Pages. 

Another significant way that search engines rank your site is by examining the number of other sites that link to it.  A link is simply a connection from another website that leads surfers directly to yours.  The more links to your site, and the more “quality” links, the higher the ranking you’ll get on search engines like these.  Search engines like AltaVista and Google use this type of ranking.

While all of these items are important, they are often still not enough to get you ranked in the top 10 to 25 with the major search engines.  Search services like Yahoo!, which is the most popular on the Web, require you submit a listing that is closely scrutinized by a real person.  If your site is not up to par, it will probably not be included.  Plus, if you want your site reviewed any time in the foreseeable future, you’ll probably need to fork over $199 for their business express service, which gets your site reviewed within 7 business days.  Many of the search engines are now offering “pay for placement” services where your can pay the search engine to place you at the top of the list.  There is usually a monthly fee as well as a per use charge anywhere from a few pennies to several dollars each time someone clicks on your link.  Consumers are quickly becoming aware that these “listings” are in actuality ads and consumer groups are crying foul already.  However, at this point it is still legal, and probably a good idea if Internet sales are your main source of revenue and you can’t get your site listed in the top ten any other way.

The major search engines want their users to get exactly what they are looking for on the first try, so that they come back again and again.  Therefore, they use sophisticated tools for evaluating your site and ranking in their listings. 

This sounds very complicated, can’t I just pay someone to get me listed?

Yes, it is complicated.  And yes, you can pay someone to do the work for you.  There are literally thousands of companies offering to submit your site to search engines for a fee.  But like every other business service, they offer a huge range of effectiveness, quality and pricing.  There are dozens of offers in my email every day trying to convince me to pay $99 to get listed with 400 search engines.  But here is an important note.  There are truly only 20-30 main search engines, and the top 5 account for close to 75% of the usage on the Internet.  Yahoo! alone gets about 24% of the market.  If you add in Altavista, MSN, AOL, and Google, you’ve reached the majority of the searchers on the Internet.  Even such widely promoted search services like HotBot and Lycos only get about 2-3% of the market each.

Preparing your site and getting it listed on these major search engines is not something that can be done for $99.  For a typical small business, the cost is probably going to run from $2000 to as high as $7500.  And it should be done by a highly qualified company who understands how to redesign your site to make it search engine friendly, use key words and meta tags effectively, how to correctly submit your site to those that require it, how to create effective linking strategies and how to track the effectiveness of what you have paid them to do. 

Website promotion through search engine optimization is a difficult, time consuming and technical process that will require professional assistance for most companies.  However, the time and money spent can result in significant increases in website traffic.  And it just seems silly to have a website that no one ever sees.