Most businesses putting up a website have visions that millions of people will be instantly flocking to their site, providing a qualified source of new enquiries. In some ways it’s the new age version of “hanging up a shingle” and naively expecting customers knocking on the door. It pays to have some realistic expectations about what can and cannot be achieved automatically by having a website and what steps can be taken to improve your chances of success.
Like any business marketing activity, there has to be a way to be found. With the internet, that means appearing high in search engine results.
Of course off-line, a business should put the details of their website address on everything, including business cards, letterhead, invoices, brochures, advertising. Since a website first serves current and prospective customers you connect with personally, it is still worth having a website even if no one ever finds you through a search engine.
To attract new business, people who have never had any contact with you in the “real” or off-line world, businesses need to learn how to make search engines direct people to their website. In the words of the web, this is called “driving traffic” to a website.
There are two main ways to help a site become visible on search engines. Business may consider using both:
1. Search Engine Optimisation (S.E.O.): Steps taken to get your site to rank highly in search results without paying search engine companies directly for placement. This is also called “organic search” because the results appear to come naturally or organically. SEO is done by carefully choosing the words, content, and design of your web page to meet the needs of search engines.
2. Search Engine Marketing (S.E.M.): Paying for a listing of your website (or particular pages of your website) to appear at the time a user gets search engine results, typically at the top and side of other, non paid results. This is also referred to as “search engine advertising,” “paid search,” “sponsored listings,” and more. SEM is done by carefully choosing which search words to be associated with — then there is a process of bidding to have your website ad placed near those words.
Even if a business plans to hire others to do SEO or SEM for them, it helps to have at least a basic knowledge of search engine operations as you choose what to put on your website and where. Here are a few search engine basics to know:
Keywords: The words a user types into a search engine box. The search engine software then goes out and searches the web for sites that relate well to those keywords. Try to figure out which keywords you would most likely want to be associated with.
Algorithms: When choosing which websites to show and how high to rank them, search engine software uses a set of mathematical formulas, or algorithms. These algorithms look for certain factors, such as the number of times, where, and in what context keywords appear in a website, then applies mathematical weighting to those factors to determine how closely aligned a website is to a web searcher’s likely intent. Search engine algorithms are heavily guarded secrets, continually changed and updated. That’s why you may care to hire a professional SEO expert to help you rank high if this is important to your business.
Results: Search engines return two types of search results:
- Non paid listings of websites that their own software has found that relate best to those keywords based on their own algorithms.
- Listings of websites people have paid to have associated with the keywords the user has typed in. These results appear at the top or side (or middle) of the results page, with some slight indicator that these are different results — such as a shaded background.
As with all marketing activities, some planning is required and even minimal investment in understanding search engine mechanics can prove highly beneficial.