I apologise for not keeping my promise of posting regularly here. I was very busy the whole of 2008, with some very intensive consulting engagements that often demanded 50 to 60 hour work weeks. I am making a new start and renewing my commitment to share my experience & knowledge through this forum as much as I can.

I was recently engaged by an online retailer in the US to audit their internet marketing programs and to recommend ways to improve them. My client has an in-house marketing team of 4 persons and has outsourced the search engine optimization and search engine marketing to a service provider in Canada. While I found scope for improvement in many areas, the single area that offered quick wins as well as remarkable improvement in ROI was Search Engine Marketing. The client was spending over sixty thousand dollars every month on two search engines. And my quick estimate was that they could achieve the same results as they are doing now with a spend of just $45,000 a month, that is a saving of 25%! That is a lot of money going down the drain. So, I thought I could share the common mistakes which are often ignored or missed out by most search engine marketers.

First, let me list the top 5 mistakes that I often find and then elaborate each of them. Most of what I discuss here is relevant for internet retailers who sell products and for whom conversion of clicks to sale is of paramount importance and the principal objective of Pay Per Click advertising is to convert the click to a sale. So these mistakes dont apply if brand-building or lead generation are the objectives.

  1. Inappropriate Landing Page
  2. Unwarranted Cost Escalation
  3. Limited or No Use of Negative Keywords
  4. Lack of experimentation and data analysis
  5. Serving Ads without Inventory

In this article I will discuss the first mistake. Customers search using keywords. The keywords can be classified into 5 categories: 1. product specific keywords, 2. brand specific keywords, 3 generique sildenafil citrate. product category specific keywords, 4. brand & product category specific keywords, and 5. generic & theme based keywords.

If a consumer searches for “HP Pavillion DV5T” (product keyword), she would expect to land on a page where she can see the specific product that she searched for. As a retailer, I would direct her to a page that displays the DV5T prominently. If I do not carry the DV5T (which is unlikely if I sell HP Laptops) or if I do not carry HP Laptops, I would try and take her to a page with laptops from other competing brands of similar class.

Since most websites do not have a sophisticated product search feature which will help the user find the specific product easily, it is important to land them in the page that is most relevant for the keyword searched. Else the shoppers get frustrated as they are unable to find the product that they want to buy.

I searched for “powell armoire” and clicked through the top 5 ads on Google. Only one took me to a page where I could find “Powell Armoires”; I had to search further in each of the other sites even though 3 of the 4 had a page where only Powell Armoires where displayed. My user experience would have been better if I was directed to the specific page on the first click.

It is a good practice to categorize your keywords and direct them to the most appropriate page on your site. If the search is for a brand, direct them to the specific brand page if you carry the brand. If you don’t, you will need to seriously consider if it is worth bidding for the brand specific keywords.

Similarly, if you are bidding for a brand-category keyword, your best option is to use a landing page where the specific brand & category are available. That is, if a consumer searches for “Oregon Scientific Heart Rate Monitor”, show them a page where Oregon Scientific’s Heart Rate Monitors are available. If you can, avoid taking them to Oregon Scientific Brand page or Heart Rate Monitor category page.

I agree that it is not always easy to do this. It takes some effort to restructure one’s advertising campaigns and to fine-tune them as the product portfolio keeps changing with discontinuation of existing products, introduction of new products and replacement of existing products with new ones. However, the return on investment on the effort is very significant. Addressing this one mistake alone will surely improve your conversion rates. This mistake also has a strong connection with the 5th mistake – Running Ads without Inventory.

I will continue to discuss the other common mistakes in the next article which you can expect very soon.

Can you get my site into the Top 10 results of Google for “quit smoking”? This was a query a client had of me two days ago. Not a week passes without someone asking how they can get into the Top 10 or 20 of one or all of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and MSN) for a very broad keyword related to their business! And often they are not anywhere in the Top 200; some are not even in any of the search engines’ index despite having it running for over a while.

Getting to even the Top 50 for even a moderately competitive keyword requires a lot of effort. And it takes time.

Your search engine position is largely determined by the “reputation” that it has and the content in relation to the competition. Reputation of a site depends on the age of the website and the links to the site. The value of the link is a function of the strength of the website that links to you and the subject it focuses on. Links from sites that are related are much more valuable than links from unrelated sites. And the relationships are determined by the content you have on your site.

Avoiding these 5 website mistakes can be the first step in your SEO efforts to achieve the SERPs that you desire:

  1. Dominance of images & Inadequate Text – A lot of websites are designed to look good by using many images and Flash objects. I call this “Form over Substance.” I am not against making good looking websites but that should not be by compromising substance which for the search engines is text content. Search engines are driven by text. The are programmed to read and interpret text content & patterns. Search engines do not read the text in an image. If you want potential customers to find your website through a search engine, you must design your site so that the search engines can understand what your site is all about. The search engines do that using the text content and the meta tags on your site, the links to your site – the anchor text in the links & the subject of the linking page in specific and the linking website in general. Using complex algorithms the search engines determine what each of web page & the website are about.
    But if you do not populate your site with enough text content the search does not understand what your site contains and it is unlikely to give you any importance. Among the search engines, we know that Google can read the text in Flash. And I have good reason to believe that the text content in Flash files are factored in Google’s algorithm. However, I have not done enough work to interpret the influence of text in Flash on the Google rankings.Use images and Flash in your site if they add value. The search engines are trying to serve the most relevant results to the users and to do that they must be able to interpret your site. So don’t forget to have enough text content in the web-pages so that search engines have something to read, understand and store.
  2. Ignoring the Metatags – There are a number of meta tags in HTML code in a webpage. The two most important tags from a Search Engine Optimization perspective are the Title meta tag and Description meta tag. The title tag shows up on top of the browser and the description tag is invisible. Some search engines show the description in the search results.
    For SEO, the Title meta tag is worth its weight in gold and the Description tag is next in importance. The pity is that most websites don’t use these effectively – “welcome to …” in the title tag is of no use as it does not in anyway help the search engines to understand what the page contains and having the same title tag for all pages is worse. To make the best use the Title tag, you must first have a different title tag for each web page levitra online uk. Creating unique title for each page by focusing on the keywords for the page is ideal. You can include your business name too, but the customer you want may not know your business name. So, it is good to focus on keywords and add your business name to help in branding yourself.
  3. Poor Navigation – Often I see websites do not have a clear and complete navigation system which helps the user to browse through the site. This hurts SEO as the search engines may not index all the pages on the site. Many sites have navigation menus coded in JavaScript; though search engines can read through JavaScript, I have found several sites with only JavaScript menu not indexed fully as they don’t spider through links in JS in many cases. This happens even if the JS is spider-intelligible. So, if you can use JS menus try and also add text links at the bottom of the page to make sure that the spiders don’t miss them. Text links have an added advantage in that the anchor text is used to interpret the page content by the search engines and you can use this to your advantage. In addition to navigation through menus and text links, I strongly recommend internal (and also external links) in the body of the text to the various pages. This will improve the navigation and also the page strength of each of the pages. Adding a sitemap to your site with all the pages in the site is also desirable.
  4. Invalid HTML Code – Search Engines spidering your site look for well formed content that is easy to read and interpret. Every webpage has a “DOCTYPE” declaration in the first line. The search engines parse the HTML code with the assumption that the code will conform to DOCTYPE declaration. Not conforming the declared standard does affect how the search engine spider works. Depending on the errors, it can abort or postpone the indexing, skip some pages or even decide not to index the site in future.
    Search engines are very sophisticated and they manage to spider even if there are errors. But they definitely penalise HTML coding errors because if a site has too many errors, its usability is poor. I have seen SERPs improve very soon after HTML errors are corrected in websites. Check if your website has HTML coding errors using the online HTML validator. I estimate that more than 99% of the websites fail the validation tests. But if your site doesn’t, it can help you.
  5. Indiscriminate Link Building – Incoming links to your site are largely irrelevant unless they are from sites which are ranked well or are related in some way to your website. Getting links from spammy directories are not useful but can quite often hurt you.

Needless to add, avoid all illegal methods (Black-hat techniques). Follow the search engine guidelines – Google, Yahoo and MSN. Just avoiding these mistakes is the first step in SEO for your website. If you already have a website, check for these and eliminate them. If you are designing a new site, you can avoid these and also follow some of the best practices – build SEO into the website design, develop standards & conventions for the site which you will diligently implement, create customer focussed content (outside in approach) where you create the keywords based on what your customers are searching for. I will discuss some of these and many other aspects of SEO in my future posts.

And finally, coming back to my response to the question in the beginning. It is not always important to be in the Top 10 or 20 for a specific keyword to get enough visitors and conversions. Getting to the top is a goal that will take a lot of time, effort and money but you can improve very soon by eliminating these mistakes and also by targeting for better positions using several long-tailed keywords and geographical targeting. Again, more on these later.