Pay to be seen

Slowly but very surely, companies that use the Internet as their primary source of business or rely on it to make a profit are finding ways to make their dot-com endeavors pay for themselves.

It appears companies are using search engines to do just that. In the old days, let's say about 18 months ago and more, if you searched on a keyword, the most relevant matches would come up first. Today, companies are paying both for position and or even inclusion in the search results. This means the search-engine company will at least guarantee that you will be in its database. Of course, the concept is far from new. The Yellow Pages has been doing it since time began.

On most search-engine sites, at the very least, the first three hits will be sponsored links. This was the case when I searched on the keyword "Sam-E," a popular herbal pill that is supposed to mellow you out. On Google, the first three were indeed labeled as "Sponsored Links" On Lycos, it was the first six. On AltaVista and HotBot, it was the first four. Using MSN, the first four were "Featured Sites" -- not sure what that means -- and the next three "Sponsored."

Industry sources tell me the US FCC or some such government agency requires the search engine company to label a hit as sponsored.

If this continues, you can only imagine how bad it might get. By bad, I mean unreliable results, with page after page of sponsored links before you get to the link you really need, all because the search-engine company has been bought.

There's no fighting it. But it appears there are ways to get your site, be it for profit or not, higher on the hit list. It's all about keywords. And for this, I spoke to the guru of keyword research, Dennis Pushkin, CEO of

Pushkin tells me that engines offering for-pay inclusion guarantee that they will visit your site every 48 hours to reflect your changes. But if you are starting a new site tomorrow and you don't pay for inclusion, it could take years before a search engine visits.

Pushkin's company is a for-profit marketing company, performing keyword research as well as working with clients to make sure their sites are more crawlable.

Pushkin offers three key pieces of advice to make your site more search-engine friendly.

Come up with narrow, specific keywords. "Mortgage" will not perform as well as "South Florida, mortgage."

Address your specific keyword list appropriately in your metatags, bearing in mind that your title tag is most important. Don't stuff keywords into metatags. Write naturally descriptive metatags as well-written sentences that include your keywords

Consider each page that you are optimizing as a potential landing page for a visitor. "In today's world of search-engine optimization, under a best practices approach, you can't direct a search just to the home page. Ideally each page should have its own set of keywords," Pushkin said.