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When, Why and How to Maximize Your Ranking on Search Engines

We'll get you to the top in every search engine!!!! That's the sales cry of every search engine optimizer out there. And they might be right. But do you need to buy your way to the top? Can you afford to? Does spending hundreds of dollars a month make your website pay bigger dividends? Let's look at when, why and how to make your website pay.

When should you be concerned with search engine results? Almost always. If you sell products online (especially something generic like, say, snow shovels), you must be on the first page of results. And that can very very hard to accomplish without making an investment in online advertising. If you sell a service in a limited market area - say you offer professional services, your task is easier.

Also be aware of your business model for determining when search results are important. Do you rely on people coming to your site - your business - as they would to a retail storefront? Do you want customers "off the street" where sheer volume is important - or do you want them to visit your site to qualify your skills as a professional? This is how we at Construct determine when search engine rankings are important and what specific methods we recommend to maximize their value.

Why even be concerned with search engine results? It can be a real driver for new business - and new ideas about your business. Many of the people that come to your site from search results are not looking for you. They have something else on their minds and hope you can help somehow. Can your site turn those random visits into potential customers? Something that we do is to review the server logs for your site and see what sorts of search terms are triggering visits to your site. Construct then can tailor page content to improve or discourage those visits.

Why bother to maximize your search engine results? Our rather glib response: it can't hurt. Being on the first or second page in Google or Yahoo or MSN will get you more business - guaranteed. Whether it is the "right" sort of business is up for interpretation - sometimes it's just your competitors trolling for information; often it's just folks fishing for bargains; but sometimes it's the real deal - a contact that can turn into a client that can refer you to others - and that's the best thing you can hope for in any business.

So how do we maximize your ranking on search engines? There are easy ways, hard ways, cheap ways and expensive ways. First, one has to understand how search engines work and what they look for. They use software that trolls the web, following links between sites and within sites, indexing useful content. If your site can't be found or can't be indexed within its pages, you're not going anywhere. If nothing links to you, find some right away. If there is nothing relevant on your pages, get something on them (and pictures don't count - we need something for people to read).

Also know that this maximizing thing is a moving target. Once, website coders might have told you that the most important thing is to have great META tags (these are keywords and descriptions of the page content that are part of the hidden code that the user never sees but can be read by the search robots). That was fine for a while, but the search engines have rightly decided that there is more importance to the actual content on the page than just a great description hidden in the code.

So our first recommendation is to have useful, relevant content on the page. We'll write your copy with the end user in mind - it's all about the customer: let's concentrate on what they want to know and how they might want to discover it.

Hand in hand with content is accessability. If people can navigate your site without getting lost, so can the search robots. Your site needs to be viewable by the maximum number of people out there. We'll design for usability with standards-based coding practices, including alternate text for images, excellent intra-site linking, substantial page titles and useful descriptions for search results.

The next part of how to get on the first page of results has to do with in-bound links. How many sites link to yours? And not just link farms that you can buy your way into. We're talking about other sites in your industry that somehow qualify your site as an authority - a destination for your uniquley useful, relevant content. Every business has supplier networks and professional organizations. Ask them to link to your site. You may not need to link to them and it has been said that reciprocal links don't count these days. Construct has not validated this claim, but if your supplier can link to you, and you can link to them - why not? If a search robot goes to your supplier's site and sees a link to you - that's where they may be headed next and that's exactly what you want.

Useful content and in-bound links are hard work. Here's an easy way: buy Goggle AdWords. Send them $50 or so, agree on how much you are willing to pay for each click, choose your keywords, then see if anyone clicks on your "sponsored link" on the right-hand column of the Google search results. The worst thing that could happen is that you blow 50 bucks. The best thing is that, in the process, you learn what people are clicking on.

Here's an expensive way to improve your ranking in search results: hire a search engine optimization company. They will write beautiful case statements and make interesting recommendations. They may hire people to contact your suppliers and professional organizations for inbound links for you. They may hire space on link farms that might actually be penalized by the search companies. It depends on your business model whether or not the monthly fees are worth it. If you sell snow shovels, then you might need to try it for a while. if you offer a unique servie in a geographically-limited area, you might not.

Construct is really into practical, useful ways to make sure that your investment is a good one - we code for accessability; we use standards-compliant coding practices; we provide useful page titles, keywords and descriptions - for every site we create. It's part of how we do business.

So don't get lost in the hype, the claims, the hyperbole about optimization. Get useful, get practical, get customer-centric, get Construct to make the most of your hard-earned internet investment. And that's exactly what it is - an investment in your business like any other. Make it smart, make it useful, make it pay. Construct can make it happen with the special insight that our years of experience will bring to your project.

The next Views column talks about the future of the web - it is really becoming just another television? Or is it some social network thing? Or maybe it's some super organizer for all the bits of our overly-complex lives? Keep in touch.

Other Views columns were titled About the Internet, this Site and Communication, The Importance of Clarity and Craft in Today's Marketplace, Is There Really Anything All That New About New Media? and Now is the Best Time to Improve Your Internet Investment!.

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