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Reader Q&A: September 2003

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Q. I do a range of small, effective sites for personal clients. I don't have time to manually submit them to search engines. Every day I am bombarded with sites claiming to get "top ten listings" etc. Have you reviewed any of these companies? How does one choose a submission service? Which ones actually work?

A. In general, you can safely dismiss these type of unsolicited offers. The only way to get a guaranteed top placement is by purchasing paid listings, which you can do yourself. As for general submission, that's something that takes only a few minutes -- and many search engines will just find you naturally. You can find some starting instructions in the Essentials Of Search Engine Submission pages that I maintain.

I don't review search engine marketing companies because there are simply so many, and it's enough work just keeping up with what the search engines themselves do. However, if you see my recent article about the new SEMPO group, the last few paragraphs have tips on finding and choosing a search engine marketing firm, should you decide to outsource.

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Q. What are DC meta tags? I have seen some sites with both normal and DC tags.

A. The DC stands for Dublin Core, and it refers to a set of tags that have been proposed to make indexing and cataloging content easier. No major web-wide search engine makes use of these. They mainly seem used by enterprise search engines. In short, if you don't know why you need them -- you don't! See the How To Use HTML Meta Tags article for the major meta tags you do want to care about. Information about Dublin Core tags is also covered near the bottom of that article.

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Q. When someone types my name at Google, I want my site to come up. As of now, hundreds of references to my books come up but not my site. I've paid for a sponsored ad, but would like the site to just come up as I've described. Is this possible?

A. Sure, it's completely possible. The main problem you're having is that from a check I ran, none of your pages have actually been indexed by Google. Perhaps you have a brand new site, which might explain this. You don't have a robots.txt file or anything else that at first glance would seem to prevent Google from indexing you. So, the first step would be to try submitting your home page and 4 to 5 of your most important "inside" pages using Google's Add URL page. Be sure to also look over this help page from Google that covers common indexing problems.

I'd also message Google, asking them to check on the problem, if the site has been up for over a month. Don't say, "I'm not ranking well for my name." Google (and other search engines) aren't going to try and fix poor rankings, since this is a subjective matter. But not being indexed -- not being included at all in the pages they search against -- that's a real objective problem they can solve. Tell them you simply don't have any pages listed, you've done a resubmission but would they also look into the matter. Send your message to [email protected] and put "Not Being Indexed" as your subject.

Next, do some link building, as described more on the More About Link Analysis page. Visit some of those sites that list your books and see if they'll also add a link to your web site. If some of them start linking to your site, it will help Google to consider adding pages. More important, the links will likely have your name in them or near them, which will help Google realize your site is relevant to your name.

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Q. Some time ago, I went to Overture and found a section that provided the most recent keywords used for the month, but I can't seem to locate that page anymore. Can you provide it for me, or perhaps you can advise me on a site that can provide me on this. I want to know which keywords are being used live or the most common ones being used presently and for the month, and by the most popular search engines.

A. Overture offers its Search Term Suggestion Tool. That lets you check on how popular particular terms are in a given month. However, you cannot use the tool to see what's the most popular term overall. Other search engines, however, do give you some sense of this. See my What People Search For page for links to resources.

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Q. My question is regarding predeveloped web site templates, which are obviously a huge time-saver for a rookie site owner such as myself to get under way quickly and on a budget.

The conversation I had yesterday was with the owner of a search engine marketing company. I'd asked about what to do regarding my site's very poor sales performance. A major point of the conversation revolved around his statement that the search engine spiders do not handle templates as unique items for each distinct site, but rather that they tend to blend each instance of each template all together, thus ruining its effectiveness and yielding very poor results.

He advocated very rigorous (and costly) site design, consumer behavioral research, competitive research, exhaustive keyword research, etc. as a means of gaining high site placement and as an alternative to PPC.

I've been wondering about why I'm spending about $5-$6 on PPC advertising for every $1 profit I'm making and this seems to be a believable explanation, since I'm using templates provided by my host. I hope I misunderstood his comments, because if he's correct, I'm finished. I don't have $3,000-$5,000 laying around for a custom site! Can you comment on whether this is accurate or not?

A. Your question is very complicated, so let me take various elements apart and try to help you as best I can.

First, it is true that if a crawler-based search engine finds pages that are duplicates or near-duplicates of each other, it will tend to list only one of these pages and disregard the others. However, I doubt your "template" site is in this situation.

In fact, I looked at your site. You use the same "template" style page for your various products, but the content within the templates for each page actually makes them very unique. Some pages for a particular product category list many individual items, each with their own unique descriptions, while others may have fewer items and certainly completely different items. This makes all the pages unique and actually is exactly what a search engine wants.

A bigger issue may be that your titles aren't descriptive. For instance, you have a page where you sell hammocks, and the title is "Hammocks." Perhaps something more descriptive, such as "Cotton Lightweight Hammocks" would be better. There are less people who have pages about this particular product, so while you may not get as much traffic as ranking well for just "hammocks," the odds of you ranking well increase -- and your buyers will be more qualified. You also have no meta description tags for your pages. Look at the How To Use HTML Meta Tags for tips on this. Adding these may help a bit.

An even larger issue is that, at least with Google, you have only three pages indexed that I can see. Look at the question above for possible solutions to getting your other pages in. That alone will bump up your traffic, no doubt.

You'd also mentioned making only $1 profit on the $5-$6 you spend on PPC advertising. Stop that now! You should never be spending more than you are making in sales. Look into some good conversion tracking programs to help you identify if people are converting. The Toolbox page has links to some, and the Search Engine Advertising Articles page includes some articles on increasing conversion from search engine advertising.


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