Search engines have become a critical source of traffic for many Web sites. In fact, search engines can account for as much as 80 percent of their traffic. However, search engine placement is a complex and ever-moving target to hit: search engines refresh their listings constantly to produce new content. They also use a unique and proprietary (read: “top secret”) algorithm to determine a site's relevance to keyword queries. You can never be too sure as to what Google or Yahoo wants from a site to merit a top ranking.
Playing catch-up with search engines can be time-consuming and costly. Worse, search engine visibility takes time to achieve and only seconds to lose.
If you are operating a web-based operation, you will need to make a number of business decisions regarding search engine marketing. The key to successful search engine marketing strategy is constant testing, revising and optimizing based on metrics. Here are some business decisions that you need to address in search engine marketing:
1. Are you keeping up with changes?
Search engines are constantly trying to improve their search results. In so doing, you might find your site in number one position one morning, only to slide to page 10 following day, or worse, dropped from engine’s entire index. You check your web stats to find that your traffic decreased by 10% or so because one search engine reduced its referrals to your site. Do you know what just happened?
Google, for example, constantly tweak their algorithms leading to a shakeup of search results. A lot of webmasters are finding it hard to keep track of what Google wants or not. Yahoo, just recently, stopped showing Google results (Google used to be provider of Yahoo search results) and shifted to their own “internally powered results” (from all accounts, looks to be a hybrid Inktomi processed by Yahoo’s new algorithm).
Search engine optimization is a never-ending game. You need to dedicate time and resources to understanding how you can optimize your web site for search engine rankings. With each new shakeup, results will either be positive (if your site gets better ranked in your keywords) or negative (if your site drops from your rank or disappears altogether). And paying to get into search engines is not even a guarantee of a top (or even “good”) spot.
If you are running a business on Web and you rely on search engines to give you a significant amount of traffic, you must keep your eyes wide open for any changes. Read as much as you can for information. Check out Webmaster or search engine forums. Absorb everything you learn and apply them to your site.
2. Are you willing to pay to get your site indexed or listed by search engines or directories?
Getting into search engines is not as easy as it used to be. With more Web sites sprouting all over Internet, there are more pages for search engines to index. To “expedite” your listing in search engines, some search engine providers have introduced concept of “Pay for Inclusion (PFI), which means submitting a web site or web pages for a fee in exchange for guaranteed inclusion into a search engine's database/listings for a set period of time. Inktomi, Fast/AlltheWeb, Teoma/Ask Jeeves, and AltaVista are search engines that currently require sites to pay to be included in their search listings.
If you are operating a small-to-medium site, your fee is based on number of URLs that you submit for indexing (cost is anywhere from $16 to $39 per URL for one year). Bigger sites, often defined as those with 1,000 or more pages are typically charged on a pay-per-click fee basis. The benefit will be assurance that web pages you submitted will “typically appear within 72 hours and updated every 48 hours.” In many search engines, you will also be provided reporting details and ability to manage your account.
Yahoo also has a separate Paid Submission program for its directory. For a fee of $299 per year, you are guaranteed a review of your site. Inclusion into directory, however, is not automatic and will depend only whether your site meets stated guidelines for submission.
Take note, though, that PFIs can be pretty expensive, and costs can set you back thousands of dollars depending on number of pages you want to be included. For example, a 100-page submission at $25 per URL will set you back $2,500 per year!