Posted Monday, October 18, 2004
Would you like to prevent Internet users from visiting your website? You may feel that you're asked a silly question. But then think about why so many investors are silently watching how their web projects are doomed to invisibility from the outset despite nobody wants to conceal his or her own website from the public.
In the Internet's Middle Ages - eight to ten years back, everything related to the Web was extremely expensive, from Internet access to web design and programming to hosting, and creative folks built their first websites mostly from a perspective of future opportunities. The then start-ups tried to attract their audiences by interesting information and colorful pictures in hopes that the visitors will find their web pages somehow, through ads or otherwise, and remember the useful Internet address (URL) or add it to favorites in order to come back again and again.
But times have changed. Now, with almost forty million of active domains and twenty million of websites, the archaic approach to entering any online market doesn't work. It's no longer enough to have nice graphics and useful information on web pages and drive some additional traffic to a site via banner ads. To be visible, websites have to compete fiercely for search traffic. Those players on the Web who don't understand new harsh realities are just losing their money and online niches to rivals.
Power of Search
Today's Internet users aren't inclined to compile lists of useful web addresses and then copy and paste or type in domain names like "(www.your-greatest-website.com)." Of course, an average web surfer has a number of pages bookmarked in the browser, but when it comes to searching the Web for information, products or services, the user goes to a search site and type relevant words or phrases in a search box. What would you do if you needed, for example, a vacuum cleaner or the latest news on a Cabinet reshuffle in Myanmar? Yes, you visit your favorite search site and type in your key search terms there, say, "vacuum cleaner" or "cabinet reshuffle myanmar." The search site will display you its search result page or pages with many links to the information you need. It's simple and effective.
The search sites have become an integrated part of the overall Internet industry and can be classified into two major groups: search engines and directories. The search engines use special programs; so-called spiders or crawlers travel the web, scan web pages and include them in search engine databases. Contrary to the search engines that store information about web pages, the Internet directories are supported manually by human editors, have no automated programs and list websites by categories. Google, MSN, AltaVista, AOL and AlltheWeb are the most popular search engines on a global scale. Yahoo! and DMOZ (ODP) are particularly noteworthy among global directories. Yandex and Rambler - each has a search engine and a directory - have actually captured a search market in Russia and other CIS countries despite they now face tough competition from Google. There are local search sites at the deeper regional level as well. Ukraine, for example, has UaPortal.com.ua and Bigmir.net (directories), and META.ua and Sova.com.ua (search engines) that are besieged by competition from the likes of Google, Yandex and Rambler.
Whatever marketing researches you do, whatever sophisticated web design and programming technologies you apply and whatever great website you launch, your web project will always remain hidden from your target audiences unless your web pages get into search engine databases and are listed among the first 30 search results. Every online business comes to this conclusion sooner or later. Sometimes it happens too late when designers has already sucked in all website budget and sacrificed potential search traffic for expensive and unnecessary graphics or codes.
Lost in Design
Did you ever happen to talk a web project over with a design studio? Seasoned website owners know there are five points which you will be reverted to, no matter what goals you actually wish to get. These sacred cows are "logo, programming language, colors, graphics and site structure." When you ask designers about visibility of a website to your target audiences, its projected positions on the search engine result pages and whether their design concept improves or worsens those positions, you always hear something like "... our team ...creative approach ...newest technologies ...clear design ... harmonizing colors" and so on which return you to the above five dogmas. If you aren't strong enough to resist the spell they used to cast over a client, you'll became addicted to graphics and forget about your primary objectives - visibility to Internet users and high rankings in search engines. Among those who fall into the trap of misunderstanding their own goals are not only newbies, but also experienced folks whose websites have plummeted down in search engines from Top10 to invisibility since they unreasonably agreed to "upgrade" their "obsolete" content-rich recourses to splash pages and inner pages heavy on flash animation and programming codes.
Now it's time to look at how it works. Oh, sorry, how it doesn't work.
Tolerance to Invisibility
There are top needs such as job, health, foodstuffs, car, etc. that millions of citizens depends on in their everyday life, be it in Kiev, Moscow or New York City. Also, we know there are a lot of websites that offer relevant products and services via the Internet, especially in large cities. The point, however, is how reachable and effective the service and product providers are online. To learn whether online resources meet the needs of an average consumer in different cities, we can describe some of the most likely queries with keywords or phrases and type the keywords in a search box of search engines.
For example, let's take Google.com and Google.com.ua that can provide powerful search on New York City and Kiev. If you type "new york city jobs" or "jobs in kiev" (the latter in Russian or Ukrainian, of course) in the search box and hit the Enter, you'll get millions of search results on New York and more than hundred thousand results on Kiev, with the first 30 relevant to the search query in both cases. It's OK; website owners in the recruitment industry do pay attention to their online visibility and traffic to their sites in many countries worldwide. When you're searching for "online food shopping," you can find a lot of online stores in New York, but the Kiev Top 30 results include no direct links to the websites that sell foodstuffs - just free classifieds and links to listings at the Internet directories. It's not bad for the New York shoppers who can choose among one and a half million search results on foodstuffs. But when it comes to other industries that cannot show so many results, say, dentistry, the Kiev and the New York web resources demonstrate almost the same trends; a majority of the dentistry sites have no direct links from Google's search result pages and are searchable only through classifieds and listings at directories, if any. Many of them have slow-loading pages unfriendly to both search engine spiders and Internet users. What did the website owners think about, when they invested in those packages of pictures and programming codes that could never get even a click in the shadows of the competitors? They didn't think. They just listened to their web design contractors.
Here is a classic example. The Kiev web developers who provide outsourcing services say that their best clients are among US small businesses and Ukrainian large companies. Why? Because there is no need to follow rigid requirements in terms of website promotion and visibility, and a contractor may expect a higher fee-to-time ratio. The US clients think an easy availability of broadband services within their country gives them a reason to ignore some common requirements and to believe that huge pictures and codes could also be cool for the dial-up and international users. On the other hand, the Ukrainian key clients often neglect an online visibility issue, as they believe their brand names are widely known both regionally and globally. That's why they trust their contractors absolutely and never draw up the specifications themselves.
The vast majority of website owners around the globe still don't bother imposing limits on graphics and programming codes and don't care about website specifications, especially visibility issues such as keyword and competitor analysis, web page structure, web promotion (http://azurel10n.com/web-promotion-faq.htm), etc. You can launch your web project that way too, but think about what you'll really get: a functional site with tens of thousands of monthly hits or an unreachable online presentation in an Internet-compatible format?
About the Author
Vyacheslav Melnik is the founder and owner of AzureL10n (http://azurel10n.com/), a website specializing in web localization, copywriting and search engine optimization for Runet and Uanet, the Russian and Ukrainian portions of the Internet.