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Search engine optimisation has often been described as a black art, deception or trickery. Some people doubt it works and it suffers the same reputation now as alternative medicines, chiropractors etc. endured a few years ago.

Whenever anyone builds a web site they have a strong desire to achieve something.

For some the call to action will be for a visitor to buy something, others the call will be to visit a bricks and mortar shop. Some use it to generate visitors and make their revenue by selling space to advertisers. Some people may even want to sell you something (perish the thought!).

But what about artists ? Most use the internet to display examples of their art, contact details, maybe even to get some orders. As impressive as some artists site are virtually all artists sites will do badly in search engines. Why ? Well we will come back to that.

Search engine optimisation is effectively a marketing strategy which has been adopted by some companies. The majority of internet users find web sites by using search engines, it’s the 2nd most popular activity after good old e-mail. Search engines have effectively got huge databases of web sites and marry up a search request with a web site that matches that request depending on the criteria that the specific search engine uses. More on who the major players in the search market are later.

The exciting statistic is that almost 90% of that search engine traffic is looking for something very specific. How else would people know what to type in?

Compared to other forms of marketing both online and off, search engine optimisation is the most cost effective around. Conversion rates for a search engine enquiry are usually much higher than newspapers, Yellow Pages, magazines, direct mail, telephone. This is because they were looking for what you had to start with.

A typical optimisation process includes several component parts.

The things to bear in mind are :

-Keyword research (what phrases are people using to actually find sites like yours?)
-Competitor analysis (Who comes top when you search for phrases?)
-How will your web site be built (Certain construction methods e.g. frames, are disliked by most search engines, same with dynamic content)
-How quickly does your site load (If your home page takes more than 8 seconds…bye bye people just don’t have time to wait.)
-Navigation (How easy is it for people to find what it was they were looking for?)
-Does your site appear finished (Under construction signs will make people leave)

The results you can expect from a well implemented search engine campaign will vary depending on the market you are in. Typically, you could expect at least 200-500% more visitors if your site has been well optimised for all of the major search engines. No, that’s not a typo.

So, who are the main players ?

There are 3 distinct categories of search provider, these are the search engines, the directories and the pay for inclusions.

In the search engine category the major player is Google (it’s fast, simple and has the biggest index by far. Getting your site into Google should be an important part of your strategy. Other players are MSN , Ask Jeeves, Teoma (owned by Ask Jeeves but different index, Alta Vista, AOL, All The Web and Lycos. There are a lot more than these ones but if you do well in these you will do well overall.

The directory category has only 3 main players, Yahoo, BT Looksmart and DMOZ (sometimes called the ODP – Open Directory Project) The first two you have to pay for a listing in and DMOZ is free but you have to choose your category
very carefully. Yahoo and BT Looksmart don’t guarantee you a listing, so if you do decide to pay be prepared for them to say no. We have written a guide on getting a site listed in Yahoo and it is available Here. It’s not cheap to get listed (around ?400 for both) but very worthwhile in terms of volume traffic.

The pay for inclusions is a strange crowd, some are hybrids of search engines (Lycos have a pay for inclusion service for example) and others are pure pay for position. The ones you should be aware of are Overture and e-Spotting, where you pay for every visitor they deliver to you. These can be very cashflow sapping if managed badly, so tread with caution. That being said they are great for delivering targeted traffic specifically for one off or annual events (Valentines Day, The World Cup, mothers day, sporting events, product launches). You only pay for the traffic so if nobody clicks then you pay nothing for your position. The other pay for inclusion involves a quick listing of your site and a guaranteed review every 48 hours or so. The main providers of this type of facility are Inktomi and Alta Vista (as above, see what I mean about the hybrid stuff!). There are also some UK specific search engines in this category namely searchengine.com UK and UKPlus

To submit your site most of the providers have a “submit a site” section but many are not taking unpaid listings now as they need to monetise their offerings.

So, how do you get your site listed ?

Important thing is to make sure the site has text, typically 250 words a page. The text needs to include the phrases that you have researched and found people use, preferably in reasonable quantity but don’t go overboard. Include your keywords in the title of your page (rather than Untitled Document), include a keyword rich description and don’t try to trick the search engines. This is called cloaking and is likely to lead to your site being de-listed.

The other way to get listed is to have other sites link to yours (using hyperlinks, preferably with some descriptive text), then when a search engine sends out it’s spider (the robot that indexes all the pages) it will follow the links to your pages from someone else’s site. It helps if your link is relevant in some way rather than being a link from Uncle Bob’s homepage.

At the beginning I mentioned that artists sites generally do badly from a search engine perspective. The reason for this is….. No text…… bloated pictures and often frames.

I appreciate you are keen to have the quality of your art as good as possible, but pictures should be around 10kb maximum. By all means use thumbnails with descriptive text and lots of keywords explaining what the picture is and links to bigger files if people are interested. If you do just that one thing alone, then you would probably get a major increase in traffic to your site.

If all else fails, you could always enlist the services of a company that makes a living out of optimising sites for search engines. And, it’s only expensive if it doesn’t work.

Good luck.

Jim Banks

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Jim Banks, CEO of Web Diversity Limited providers of search engine optimisation, pay-per-click campaigns and all aspects of internet marketing, and Web Diversity