Natural selection makes for online success

Sites need to be optimised for search engines, net firm head says

Having a search engine-friendly website is a very important in making a company successful, according to Stephan Spencer, founder and chairman of Netconcepts, a website optimisation and e-commerce consultancy.

“If your company is in the top of Google’s natural unpaid results it’s almost as if Google is giving it the thumbs up, saying that you are a good, reputable business,” he says. “If you are not there, particularly for keywords you should be there for, it’s a worry — not just to you but to your customers.”

Spencer says businesses today are more focused on the paid search side than the natural search side because the former’s results are easier to predict and measure.

“But you don’t get the implied endorsement effect from buying keywords,” he says. “Eye-tracking studies have shown that the eyeballs don’t gravitate over towards the right hand side [where paid results are listed].”

There are a number of things a company can do to increase its page ranking on search engines like Google or Yahoo.

“First, identify what the most important keywords are for your business,” he says. “That encompasses doing some keyword research, using tools like Overture’s keyword selector. It will tell you which keywords are popular, or not popular at all with searchers.”

Not using such a tool could, potentially, lead a company down the wrong track, chasing rankings for keywords that nobody searches for, he says.

Next, companies should check their page rank score, a measure that Google has come up with that refers to the importance of the web page in question.

“You can use the Google toolbar to check your page rank score which can be anywhere between 0 and 10. The scores are algorithmic, so being a seven is massively better than being a six,” he says.

Spencer recommends checking competitors’, partners’, suppliers’ and customers’ page rank score as well.

“These websites may already be linking to your company, or would consider it. Those that have higher page rank scores are the ones that you would want to chase after to get them to link to you.”

Also, check who is linking to your competitors, he says.

“Contact the sites that link to your competitors and see if they will link to you as well.”

Another way to increase a website’s ranking is to link to internal pages from your homepage.

“Your homepage has a higher page rank score than any other internal page because most people link to your homepage,” Spencer says. “So you want to pass this page rank score onto the most important pages of your site. For example, top-selling products or the most lucrative products, in terms of profit margin. If you can link to the pages from your homepage you are increasing the likelihood that those products are going to be found in the search engines.”

Netconcepts has built a tool that allows users to check how many of their pages are indexed at search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

“If whole chunks of your site are missing that would be something you would need to fix.”

“A lot of e-commerce sites are built in a search engine-unfriendly manner. For example, they use very complex URLs or frames — things that turn the search engine spiders off,” he says.

Content is also important to succeeding online. If a company’s targeted keywords are not mentioned in the page content, the search engines will not find them.

“The higher up on the page a particular keyword is mentioned, the better it will do in the search results,” says Spencer.

Having the keyword present in the title tag will also increase the likelihood of higher ranking, he says.

Spencer also recommends mentioning the particular keyword in heading tags.

There are a lot of myths about how best to optimise a website’s search engine results, according to Spencer.

“Metatags are not going to increase your ranking because they have been abused by search engine spammers and so have been discounted in their usefulness by the search engines over time.”

The same goes for alt tags, where a bit of text shows up when the mouse is dragged over an image. Hiding key words in html-comments is not going to help either, he says.

“In fact that could get you penalised. The search engines are looking for signs that a page has been over-optimised and then they will penalise you for it. So you don’t want to cross the line,” he says.

Companies could benefit from using other online technologies as well.

“We are very keen on blogging and RSS as ways to build relationships with customers,” Spencer says.

RSS feeds can replace electronic newsletters as a source of information.

“You can also do multiple RSS feeds for your site, for example, RSS feeds of the best-selling products or clearance items, or you can have category specific RSS feeds.”

Podcasting is another technology that can be used to build relationships, credibility and enhance leadership status.

Wikis (a type of website that allows users to quickly and easily add, remove and edit content) are usually used for information purposes but they can also be used for marketing, says Spencer.

Wikis would be well suited for websites that have guides, such as travel guides, or reference book-like functions, he says.

“And then of course you can search engine optimise the wikis and blogs,” he says.

In just a few years time search engines as we know them today will change significantly, says Spencer.

“Search engines will take into account search history, search behaviour, geographic location and even what time of day a person conducts a search, says Spencer.

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