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Are You Losing The Search Engine Game?

By Bob McElwain
Posted Monday, May 26, 2003

Many wannabe and newbie webmasters tend to view search engines as their salvation. While certainly important, they can not generate the traffic some hope for. Other marketing methods must be employed as well.

One problem that wasn't as much a factor a year or two ago lies in the move of offline businesses to the Web. Many come aboard with ample resources. They are prepared to spend dollars in significant chunks. Many hire professionals to obtain good search engine rankings.

Can You Beat The Pros?

Face it. You are maintaining a site and growing a business. You need to devote ninety percent of your day to marketing. This doesn't leave much time for mastering the intricacies of search engine positioning. It's likely the pros are going to beat you every time.

With each passing day it is more difficult to obtain top positions with a given keyword. Competition continues to increase for any phrase selected. And more and more professionals continue to climb on board with no end in sight.

That Elusive #1 Position

The dream of being #1 is only that: A dream.

Suppose you do get a page to #1 with a given keyword on a particular search engine. How long will it remain there? Not long, if the keyword is of interest to others.

Why? Because lots of people are looking for the top spot, including the pros. Your page will be analyzed in detail until a way is found to beat it. At some point, other submissions will out rank yours, and you will begin to lose ground.

Forget it. There are far more important things to do than worry about getting or maintaining a #1 position.

So I Should Forget Search Engines?

No. Just forget about being #1, or even in the top ten. There are not enough hours in the day to make search engine positioning a high priority. The better plan is to devote what time is available to building pages designed to rank well. Submit them. Then move on to more important things.

To put this another way, be content with any page that ranks in the top 20 on a couple of search engines. And realize that no page will rank as well on all of them. Further, accept the fact that many pages will not rank anywhere near the top.

You can win the search engine game, but only if you accept the above or a similar view as victory.

So How Do I Do That?

First, write your pages for your visitors, not the search engines. Only when content is ready for your visitors, should you even consider search engines.

Then consider each relative to your keyword list. You may find a couple that will rank pretty well with a given keyword just as written. Fine. Edit the title, description and keyword tags to emphasize this keyword. Maybe try to work it into the copy a couple more times. But do nothing that disturbs the flow of the message to your visitor.

What If That's Not Enough?

Build entry pages, often called gateway or doorway pages. While there are many approaches to this task, I prefer the following because it leads to pages that can be freely submitted without risk of them being labeled spam. It goes like this.

Look at your keyword list and select one you can use repeatedly while covering a topic of interest to your visitors. The idea is to build great content, so repeated use of the word must not detract. Be guided (but not driven) by the following.

- The content of the Title tag is likely to be the title used in a search engine listing. Thus it is mandatory that it be a headline that draws readers into your description. While holding firmly to this objective, use the keyword as close to the beginning of the title as possible.

- The content of the Description tag is likely to be what the search engines will use in the listing. Here the objective is to assure the searcher clicks to your site. This is pure advertising copy: it must compel the searcher to click the link. Again, while holding firmly to the goal, use the keyword as close to the beginning of the statement as possible. Use it a second time only if it makes sense to do so.

- Include the keyword and variations in the Keyword tag as a suggestion to the spiders of what to expect on the page.

- In the body of the page, use the keyword in an H1 tag at the top of the page, and in subheadings as possible. Again, position the keyword as close as possible to the beginning of each statement. But remember your visitors will read this content. Avoid awkward statements created in hopes of making spiders happy.

- Within the content, use the keyword as often as you can without detracting from readability. Again, as close to the beginning of paragraphs as possible. And in the last line on the page. Recommendations vary, but I get good results when the keyword is 2% to 3% of the copy. Some recommend as high as 10%, but I find that at this density, the value to visitors is lost.

So Now What?

Submit the page and get on with business. If it places well, great. If it does not, and you can spare the time, create another page.

At some point, however, let it be. Get on with other marketing efforts. In the end, tools such as advertising will provide far more targeted traffic than the search engines can deliver.


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