Natural Search Engine Results and Website Consulting

You scroll down past the banner ads and enter your search term. You pass the “sponsored results” without a glance. You ignore the shaded results to the right, as well as the additional “sponsored results” at bottom. Hiding somewhere in the middle of it all, you finally find the results you came for.
Welcome to the world of natural search- a world where mom-and-pop shops compete with million dollar companies, where million dollar companies compete with billion dollar corporations. And, while many will argue to the contrary, the playing field is more or less level. Small companies can and do dominate their behemoth competitors in this world, for a variety of reasons.

What Is Natural Search?
For those who aren’t quite clear what the term means, “natural” or “organic” search describes the “editorial” search results on any particular engine. These results are purported to be completely non-biased – meaning that the engine will not accept any amount of money to influence the rankings of any individual sites. This is quite different than the paid advertising that appears in “sponsored” or “featured” results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor.
Why Is Natural Search Important?
Savvy searchers who understand the difference between paid and natural results are more likely to hold the natural results in a higher regard, much like a person reading a magazine would probably be more positively influenced by an article about a particular company than by a paid advertisement from the company.
It is also likely that natural search will become more important in the coming months. Yahoo’s new Site Match program, which mixes some paid results with natural results, is certain to get some close scrutiny from the FTC (even though the fees paid are not supposed to influence rankings). This type of public attention will no doubt educate some oblivious users as to what “sponsored results” actually are. More importantly, other search engines are likely to use this as a means of differentiation from Yahoo. It is no coincidence that Ask Jeeves announced that it was getting rid of its similar program the day after Yahoo’s new program was unveiled, claiming that it was impossible to produce unbiased results using this methodology. Microsoft also recently claimed that they were taking steps to further differentiate paid results from natural results. No matter what the end result, one probable outcome of this new attention to paid search engine advertising is that more average searchers will learn the differences between paid and natural search results, and many will instinctively favor the latter.

What Advantages Do Huge Corporations Have?
Certainly, large companies do have some specific advantages when it comes to natural search.
a. Links- the primary advantage that large corporations have is their ability to obtain large amounts of inbound links, which can have a huge impact on search engine rankings. Often these links are given freely without the company asking (or being aware that it is happening). Many of the huge corporation’s vendors, affiliates, partners, etc. are eager to show their association with the company and link to the corporate site readily and non-reciprocally. Large corporations can also facilitate huge increases in link popularity through a simple corporate policy requiring inbound links from any companies wishing to work with them. In addition, very large corporations may have several websites, which can sometimes be effectively linked together for additional link popularity.
b. Budget- although history shows that a large percentage of major corporations do not spend wisely in this arena, larger corporations typically have larger marketing budgets then their smaller competitors. However, this does not necessarily mean that they will readily allocate a portion of that budget for search engine optimization, as discussed below.
What Advantages Do Smaller Companies Have?
While the advantages of huge corporations, particularly in the area of link popularity, can be difficult to overcome, it is often unnecessary to try. A large percentage of such companies consistently seem to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to natural search engine optimization, a primary reason why small companies can often outperform them. Specific advantages include:

a. A willingness to pursue the channel- Smaller companies are typically more willing to devote resources to natural search than large corporations. Huge things have to happen for a major corporation to get involved in this “new” channel, a channel far removed from the traditional marketing methodologies used to build the giant. Few corporate underlings want to be the one to put their neck on the line and recommend something completely new and “unproven”. Even when a large corporation looks into natural search engine optimization as a potential marketing tool, it can take many months, and sometimes years, for a final decision to be made.
b. A willingness to change the company website- Huge corporations face similar problems when it comes to changing to the corporate website. Within such entities, a person can often not get so much as a comma removed from the text of a secondary page without holding several upper-level management meetings and, ultimately, making a board presentation. Smaller, leaner companies are able to approve necessary website changes more quickly,

New features in Google Sitemaps

The Google Sitemap program has brought a high level of assistance to web developers, web designers and business owners who want to optimize how their website’s web pages are seen by the Google search engine. We all know how important page ranking is for a web page. The higher your page rank in Google, the more chances that it will be clicked and visited by visitors. Increased internet traffic is what drives sales and awareness for products and services.

The Google Sitemap program has become very popular because it made the task of submitting web pages to Google so much easier. A web developer or designer does not even have to worry about making frequent changes to the web pages because it is more easily known by Google. By presenting a constantly fresh index of web pages for your web site you are assured that what is presented in Google is the latest pages that you are maintaining.

The very high popularity of Google Sitemap has encouraged Google’s team of engineers to develop and add more features to the program. These additions seek to make Google Sitemaps more intuitive and effective in its functions.

Google recently announced that it has again added a bevy of new features for the Google Sitemap program that just made certain aspects of the program so much easier to understand and maintain.

Here are the latest new features of the Google Sitemap program:

Query Stats. Knowing the top position of your website is important. With Google’s Query Stats, you will now know the top search queries where the results included your website as well as those that Google searchers actually clicked on. The position given is the average statistic posted over the last three weeks.

Top mobile search queries. Google acknowledges that there is a growing number of people who use mobile devices for browsing the internet and also consider it as a separate “demographic”. For this reason, the top mobile search queries feature shows web designers and developers the top search queries made from mobile devices in which the results showed their website. Web designers and web developers will see both the mobile searches of all web sites as well as the mobile searches of mobile-specific web sites. The results given by this feature will only appear if it is available in your web site. At this point of the development of this feature, Google only shows the top search queries and not the clicks made for those queries.

Downloading Sitemap details, statistics, and errors. Your Sitemap account now also contain additional information. You can now download information in the form of a comma separated value file. This type of file can be opened by using any text editor or spreadsheet program. You can decide to download the information on a per table basis, or you can opt to download Sitemap details, errors or statistics for all of the web sites in your Google Sitemaps account in one convenient file.

Monitoring Search Engine Positions and What It Means For Your Business

Since search engines are the first stop for people on the Internet looking for goods or services, the position your website appears in search results is an important factor. If your URL shows up far down the results list, the chances of the consumer never finding you increase incrementally. Once you achieve a high search engine position, it is essential that you make sure you maintain the high ranking you have worked so hard to achieve.

This means you must come up with a strategy to monitor your search engines positions. This strategy is crucial to the success of any marketing campaign. Think of your search engine positions as your online portfolio. Would you let your stock portfolio be ruled by chance and market fluctuations, or would you keep close tabs on your stocks so you could buy and sell when the time is right? This is the way you must consider your search engines positions.

Be aware that at first, after you have launched your search engine campaign and done all the right things to increase your rankings, you will most likely see a continual upward climb. What you need to be on the lookout for is the moment that upward climb reaches a plateau. When this happens, your search engine position campaign moves into stage two, the monitoring and protecting stage.

In stage two, do not be concerned about the short-term fluctuations in your positions. These are similar to the subtle rising and falling of stocks in a portfolio. Short-term movement is an integral part of the whole process. It’s the long-term changes that you must watch for and prepare to act on immediately.

Analyzing the long-term trends of search engines positions is imperative. The way in which search engines rank websites may change at the drop of hat. If you are unaware of these changes – many of which are subtle yet can be deadly to your ranking – your position may drop to the bottom of the list before you can get your bearings. To prevent this kind of precipitous drop, you must create a system to monitor your positions on a monthly basis. Devise a chart to keep tabs on your top ranking positions or your top pages, and make sure to watch “the market” closely.

Each search engine uses a formula to compute website rankings. When a search engine changes this formula in any way, it may raise or lower your ranking. Some search engines use a number of different formulas, rotating them so that a formula doesn’t become overused or outdated. Depending on which formula is being applied, your search engine position may suddenly drop or rise in rank significantly. Therefore, you must check your positions frequently in order to catch when a search engine changes formulas and what effect it has on your positions.

You must also deal with your competition – a crucial factor you must always be vigilant about. Your competitor’s position may suddenly rise, automatically lowering your position. Or their position may drop, pushing your position higher. Each month, expect position changes due to the continual changes that are occurring in your competitor’s position, and be prepared to adjust your marketing strategy to compensate for decreased rankings. Monitoring these fluctuations will also give you vital information about how to improve your website to increase your position in search results.

Of course, you must discern what the most popular search engines are in order for your monitoring efforts to be effective. Right now, there are ten popular search engines that direct most of Internet traffic to your sites. The challenge you face is that these top ten may change from month to month.

This means that your must not only monitor your search engine positions, but you must also keep track of the ranking popularity of the search engines you are monitoring. Find out which search engines people use most frequently every month and be sure to live in the present! People are fickle about their favorite search engines, and it takes constant vigilance to follow their dalliances. The search engines they loved when you first launched your campaign may be old news in the next few months. You must adjust your list of engines according to the whims of the Internet users. Check out http://www.searchenginewatch.com for a current list of website favorites.

Another factor to monitor carefully is a sudden drop of your positions in all search engines. This is not the same as monthly fluctuations – this is a neon red warning sign! It could mean a number of different things.

It all your search engine positions have plummeted, it may indicate that search engines spiders – those sneaky programs that seek out your site and rank their positions – have found some type of problem with your website. If you have recently changed the code, for instance, the spider may become utterly confused and consequently drop your positions disastrously. If a spider creeps up on your website when it is down for adjustments or changes, you may actually disappear from a search engine index entirely. Or a search engine may drastically change its formula, and suddenly all of your website come up as irrelevant. If that search engine is a current favorite, it may create a domino effect, causing all of your position to drop in all search engines.

Some search engines rely on the results from other search engines, and it is vital that you know which engines these are and keep track of all the engines they influence. The biggest problem here is that search engines will sometimes change affiliations, and this can create a major shift in the geography of the Internet. For example, recently Yahoo decided to display only results gleaned from Google. So you must not only monitor your own positions, but you must keep abreast of seismic shifts in the landscape of the Internet as a whole.

Finally, pay attention to your keywords. Keywords are the foundation bricks of the entire search engine system, and they demand individual scrutiny in your monitoring efforts. If you have found that a number of your positions have plummeted, it may mean that a page of your website has become invisible or inaccessible to search engine spiders. Or the competition for that particular keyword or phrase has recently rocketed into outer space. In either case, you must act quickly and efficiently to regain lost ground.

Your search engine marketing campaign is an investment. If costs you time and money on a continual basis. Protect this investment as diligently as you would your financial portfolio. In the same way, track your positions from an objective perspective, and monitor your positions on a regular basis. Make sure your time and effort reap rewards by keeping your eye on the big picture – your long-term marketing campaign

Misconceptions About Search Engine Optimization

Picture this scene, an adolescent boy walks into a barber shop and says to the barber, “Don’t touch me, I’m only here because my mom forced me.” Search engine optimizers are sometimes put into the position of the barber. They are knowledgeable and willing to work on their client’s site, but the client doesn’t want any modifications done to the text that is visible on her web pages. This kind of dilemma occurs due to general misconceptions about search engine optimization. Let’s look at these misconceptions.

1. SEO only involves writing meta tags and working on “invisible” code

Many people want to get a high ranking for various keywords or keyword phrases, but if you look at the text on their web pages you can hardly find these vital words. They come to a search engine optimizer and think that he or she will sprinkle these words into the meta tags and it will work like magic. This is a major misunderstanding.

It is true that your main keywords and key phrases should be in your title tag and your description meta tag, and even in the keywords meta tag, but they must also appear on the page itself and they must appear in some strategic places on that page. Some clients say, “But I like the way it looks now.” You may like the way it looks, but the search engines will not recognize that your page is truly about Electronic Widgets unless these words appear in headlines on the page, in the opening paragraph, in the file or domain name in link text and in the body text of your page.

So, by all means if you already have copy that works, that can convert visitors into buyers or otherwise accomplish the purposes of your site, keep it. But you should also be ready to listen to what the optimizer has to say about modifications that will enable search engines to select your site when a potential buyer makes a query for your key words or phrases.

2. Search Engine Optimization is Tricking the Search Engines

Some clients say, “Don’t touch the visible copy but put in the modifications invisibly.” Using invisible text is something that can get you banned from a search engine. The main purpose of search engine optimization is to give your website the best possible chance to come up in good positions when someone makes a query for your keywords or key phrases. The key to doing this is to design web pages and write copy that is intelligible to search engines, without sacrificing the experience and understanding of your end-users, the people who visit your site. So, don’t ask your SEO professional to try to trick the search engines, but work with him or her to present your website in the best possible way.

3. Search Engine Optimization deals mainly with onsite modifications

Even if your website is well designed, has proper meta tags and has keyword-rich text, this alone does not guarantee that your site will rank high in competitive queries. All of these factors, design, meta tags, and copy, are on-site factors. Search engines certainly take them into consideration, but they also value off-site factors such as how many high quality or authoritative websites link to you. This means that hand-in-hand with your on-site optimization you and your promotion team will have to embark on a campaign to get links to your websites coming from websites that are already highly regarded by the search engines and by the public in general.

4. Search Engine Optimization works instantly

Don’t expect to get a flood of traffic right after your site has been optimized. Some search engines work in a fairly rapid manner, but the main search engine at the present moment, Google, is believed to have deliberately put an aging delay into its algorithm. This means that it may take several months before your site makes it into the top results for your particular category, especially if it is a newly created site. During this initial period you will also have to consider using other promotional methods such as pay per click advertising, article marketing, joint ventures, paid advertising in ezines and offline advertising.

So, the next time you work with a search engine optimizer, let him or her go about the task of making your website both user friendly and search engine friendly.

Off-Page Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Primer

In the earlier years of search engine optimization, it was all about on-page optimization. Things like the page title, Meta tags, heading tags, comment tags, and anchor text were the only things that mattered. Keyword stuffing could easily get your website to the top of the search engines results page. If I wanted the number one position, all I had to do was copy my competitor’s page, add my keyword one more time, and viola – I’d rank first. These days, things aren’t quite that easy. In order to obtain top positioning in the search results, your website has to gain to credibility or “web cred” in order to be recognized as important.

Optimize Your Domain Name

As of this writing, appears that the search engines do weight the fact that your domain name has your keywords in it. Problem is, many SEO professionals and amateurs are exploiting this by registering domains with the keywords in it, separated by dashes. Nobody knows how long the search engines will continue to weight this factor, but none the less, it’s probably not a bad idea to include a keyword or phrase in your domain name, but don’t get out of hand: www.please-let-google-ban-my-site-because-of-all-these-words.com

The number of years your domain has, and will be, registered for also has an effect on search engine rankings. If you have an older domain name, it is generally concluded that the website is not spam and will probably be around for years to come. This makes sense – Google should give higher priority to a website that’s been around for 5 years, than give the high ranking to a brand new, untested website. It may be a good idea to acquire a domain name that been around for a few years and also contains one of your keywords. The downside is that this option may be expensive. If you don’t have the budget for that, Google also seems to give credit for the number of years that the domain is pre-registered. I’ve looked at some data, and it seems that if you register your domain for a few years out, Google assumes you don’t have a fly-by-night website and you may be entitled to a slightly higher ranking. Given the miniscule cost of registering a domain name these days, it’s probably not a bad idea to register your domain name for 3 years rather than 1.

Page Rank

Google assigns each web page a Page Rank based on the number and quality of inbound links you have pointing to your website. You can view your website’s page rank by downloading the Google Toolbar. Your page rank will be displayed as a green bar measuring from 1 to 10. Don’t worry if you only have a Page Rank of 1 or 2 – most websites do. In order to get your number up (4 or 5 is pretty good), you’ll have to get other websites to link to you.

Quality Counts More Than Quantity

As soon as webmasters realized the importance of back links, numerous schemes were hatched in an attempt to build up thousands back links very quickly. Google has since caught on, and if your website acquires too many low-quality links too fast, you may get penalized. Here are some tips to obtain the best quality back links:

One-way links are better than reciprocal links. Reciprocal links are being de-valued because it is not natural linking – it’s an arrangement between the webmasters. If you can afford it, it may be a good idea to buy some one-way links to your website.

Get links from pages with a high Page Rank because some of that will pass through to your site, increasing your own site’s Page Rank.

Get links from sites in a related industry or geographical location. I do a lot of web design in my home town of Windsor, Ontario. Therefore, I make sure that I buy or trade links from other web design related sites, Canadian, Ontario, and Windsor directories. Google will see that your site is relevant if you do this.

Make sure your keywords are included in the link from other sites. If your keyword is included in the anchor text, Google will assume that your site relates to that particular keyword.

Get a listing in Open Project Directory (DMOZ), if you can. Only the best sites get into DMOZ, and it gives your site a lot of credibility in the eyes of the search engines.

Don’t inter-link your websites! If you think you can just link all of your own websites together and improve your Page Rank, forget it. Google will see that the IP address of all domains is the same, and, either give you little or no credit, or if you have a lot of sites inter-linked, penalize you.