Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Search Engine Optimization

July 2005

By Mike Gould

One of life's little pleasures is looking yourself up on the Internet. You go to google.com, type in your name, and bingo, there you are. Or there is someone else with your name, or a bunch of imposters, with you somewhere down the listing. No biggie for a personal search, but what if someone is searching for goods and services that your company provides, and your business shows up way down the list, or not at all? Bad karma. Here's how to fix it:

If You Build It, They May Not Come
Just because you have a way-cool website, there is no guarantee that anyone will visit it, or even be able to find it in Google. To get Google's attention, you have to tell it you are there and explain why you deserve its attention. I'm using Google as an example because it is currently the 800-pound gorilla in the realm of Internet searching. If you aren't in Google, you aren't anywhere. And besides, it looks like they may be setting up shop in Ann Arbor, so let's welcome them in with some highly-coveted ink in AAABM, or BizMag, as we're currently calling ourselves during our lavish business luncheons. (Thanks, Jim!)

Let's say you are coolbiz.com, and you make superior bungee collimators. You put up a site explaining the wonders of your widgetry, and then go to:

http://www.google.com/addurl/?continue=/addurl

and ask Google to add you to their listings. You sit back and wait for users in need of collimating their bungees to call you up and order your product. A week or two goes by, and finally a search for collimators, bungee reveals your site, but way down in the listings. The first place is held by those cheesy Acme Collimators folks, well known in the trade for their lousy knock-offs. What happened?

Some background: Once invoked, Google sends an automated dataDroid called a "spider" to "crawl" your site. This means a piece of software looks at every page on your site, and reports back to Google HQ as to what you're all about. It examines the coding on the site, how keywords are handled, and various other aspects. Then it adds you to its listing (usually after a couple of weeks or so), ranking you according to some Mysterious Evaluative Voodoo (MEV) that only the gnomes toiling away in the caverns of Google know the exact secrets of. This MEV is the crux of the biscuit: how do you construct your site in such a way that Google will find you worthy of inclusion near the top of the listings?

And near the top of the listings is where you want to be, because most people don't look past the first page of results, and almost no one goes past the first 3 pages, unless they're really desperate.

Ask the Experts
Last March I attended a seminar at the Ann Arbor IT Zone about this very topic. The IT Zone is Ann Arbor's premier organization for people in the technology business, or those wanting to be. Their mission is: "To promote the growth of our IT industry by bringing together entrepreneurs, emerging and established companies, business service providers, and university and community resources". They can be found on the web at the address at the end of this article. They sponsor lots and lots of really interesting speakers, and the seminar I attended was outstanding. (IT stands for Information Technology, for those readers just tuning in).

Entitled "Really Bad SEO", the IT Zone seminar featured Andy King, founder, Web Site Optimization, Linda Girard, principal, Pure Visibility, and Dan Klyn, information architect, Fry, Inc. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and these folks are experts at optimizing the coding of websites so that the search engines of the world (Google et al) think highly of them. These folks do SEO for a living and they can dramatically improve your rankings. (I'm sorta surprised they revealed these hints here, but there is much more to it than the Rules below.) (And I'm sorta surprised that I'm not keeping these secrets to myself for the benefit of my web clients; must be something altruistic going around...).

Here is a distillation of the crudely-scribbled notes I took. I tried most of the techniques and saw dramatic results. I am starting a photography business, and after tweaking my site, I saw my ranking go from none at all to 6th, when searching on "ann arbor digital photography". Search on "ann arbor macintosh support", and I'm listed first, and I can tell you this has made a dramatic difference in my business.

The following may be a bit geeky (all right, it's a lot geeky), but this is a geeky subject. Feel free to pass it on to whomever handles your website; they'll know what it means. Again, MEV is inscrutable, but the techniques below have been shown to work.

The Rules
Good Code - Write your coding well. Google likes sites whose coding follows web standards. If your site was put together by an amateur using FrontPage, it's not going to do as well as one put together by a professional. Proper sites use CSS and are not a welter of nested table tags. If your site hasn't been updated in several years, contact a pro and have it re-coded to current standards.

Adjust your Meta Tags - The description and keywords tags are crucial to Google understanding your site and giving you the consideration you so richly deserve.

Encourage other sites to link to you - This is the biggie: one known bit of MEV is that Google respects sites that other sites link to. If a bunch of sites think you are worth linking to, Google thinks you are cool and will raise you above non-linked sites. And links from well-respected sites count more than links from lesser lights.

The above may not work for all users and all sites, but it's a start in the right direction. For professional help, check out the sites below.

http://www.annarboritzone.org/
http://www.websiteoptimization.com/
http://purevisibility.com/
http://www.frymulti.com/
http://mondodyne.com/webworks.shtml (heh, heh)

Mike Gould, is a part-time mouse wrangler and digital photographer for the U of M, runs MondoDyne Web Works, is a member of Factotem.com, and welcomes visitors to his website at www.mondodyne.com.

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