By Catherine Parker on 2004/08/24
Many people have a mental block about search engine optimisation. "Ag man, it's just too complicated!" "I am not a tecchie!" "What's HTML?"
Sound familiar? Yes, it is true that certain aspects of search engine optimisation are somewhat involved and, yes, sometimes technical. But when you look at the big picture, the principles behind optimising your website for search engines are the same ones you'd use when "optimising" your bricks and mortar business to make as many sales as possible.
First impressions count
You wouldn't spend money on marketing your business when your premises have a pile of rubbish in the doorway, cockroaches running amok and spider webs in each corner. Yet that's how many businesses' websites appear to new visitors. What's worse is that while in the real world you might have a salesperson to explain why the place is so kak, and really, there isn't another biltong supplier for a thousand kilometres, that's not the case on the web. Your online customers enter where they like, navigate through your site by themselves, and most importantly, are just ONE click away from thousands of your competitors. So, make sure your site is professional, usable and enticing to your visitors when you optimise it for search engines.
Get referrals from your neighbours by being an authority in your industry
Getting your site to rank highly means securing quality inbound links back to it. A link to your site is seen as a vote of popularity by a search engine- just like the local tourism office down the road might recommend your B&B to newly-arrived Cape Town tourists. That visitor has received an authoritative referral which increases visits to your establishment and makes you more credible. It's the same thing online - getting links to your site from authority sites gives you credibility, more traffic, and higher rankings on major search engines.
In the offline world, if you're an authority in an industry, you'll get even more referrals from complimentary businesses. Similarly, a website that's an industry-leader in its niche will have many inbound links from complementary sites.
Make sure you expose your product to the right target market
Standard Bank advertises its home loans on newspaper property pages. STA Travel advertises student flight specials on university campuses. The businesses above know who their target market is, and where to reach them.
When optimising your site for search engines, know what you target market is typing into search engines, and make the changes accordingly. You may do a really good optimisation job and be number one on Google for "budget travel" - but when you're an exceedingly posh guest house in Camps Bay, the result loses its significance. You'd be attracting the wrong target market to your listing on search engine results pages.
Don't mislead your customers - you'll lose them as fast as you've gained them
So your advert says you're the most luxurious spa in Cape Town. Then your customers arrive and there's just old Twakkie behind the cash register and one cracked bath with some bubble bath sitting next to a rusty tap. Yes, you may get customers initially, but they won't stay long if you aren't what you say you are. In the same way, if you optimise your site for something your business can't or doesn't offer, visitors may arrive at your site but they'll leave as soon as they discover the discrepancy.
In any business, if you employ illegal tactics, you're bound to fall short somewhere along the line. Enron, Watergate, Masterbond...the list goes on and on. Short term gains, maybe. Eventual loss, definitely. Don't cheat to get your site high up in rankings. Besides risking your site being banned, it can take ages to get listed again. A major search engine firm in the States was recently found by Google to be employing spam search engine tactics. They were banned from Google's index - along with every one of their hapless clients.
Gear towards conversion, not just browsing
We've all been the recipient of pushy sales tactics. But let's face it -salesmen are not making money by having you browsing their beautifully compiled brochures. They're only getting leverage out of you when you hand over the bucks.
With a website, the same principle applies. People are often quick to say, "I get 100 000 hits a month as a result of my search engine marketing." But how many of these hits become paying customers? This is where the quality of your site's copy is important. Yes the text on your site must be search engine friendly, but it needs to be human friendly too, and with a definite call to action - otherwise people will drop off your site quicker than you can say "Ryk Neethling" with an American accent.
It's this simple
Treat your search engine marketing with the same principles as you would your offline business's marketing. Make your site honest, professional, true to its listing and appealing to the right target market. With all this, and a lot of perseverance, you can't go wrong!