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Search Engine Optimization Tactics: Local Search + How To Use Graphics and Flash

Jul 3, 2008
With the global economy struggling, acquiring new customers is top of mind for most organizations.

Did you know that 50-70% of consumer and business purchasers start with a search engine like Google? If your website doesn't appear at the top of a search engine results page (sponsored ads or organic search results), you're losing potential customers to companies that do rank higher.

What can you do? I'll share with you my top strategies and tactics that can help you acquire new customers via search engine optimization and advertising.

1. Local Search Engine Advertising. For businesses that serve specific geographic regions (i.e. Denver, Colorado), you can create search engine ads in Google and Yahoo that only appear to people in your area.

How does this work? A search engine like Google uses a computer's IP address and other information to discover where someone is searching (including city and state).

Why does Google care where a person is located? Google's mission is to give their end users the best search results possible. So if I need a someone to walk my dog in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, it does me little good to receive a paid search result from Arizona. This is a real example - my brother has a petsitting business, and I've used local Google search engine advertising to drive new clients to his organization.

Thus Google (and the others) tries to match search results to the geographic location of the person searching.

How does Google make money? Google gives businesses and organizations the ability to display paid advertisements (sponsored results) on search results pages. These ads are triggered by keywords you choose (more on this in a different strategy).

You don't have to pay for your ad to display; you pay Google only when someone clicks on your ad. The technical term is Cost Per Click (CPC) advertising. The more relevant your ad (more on this later), the less you have to pay for specific keywords, and the higher up you will appear in the sponsored advertising results.

Local Search CPC Ads. In Google Adwords, you can create an advertising campaign that will target someone in a specific city or state. You can even specify a 5, 10 or 25 mile radius from a specific location (like your retail showroom or office). Below your local ad, Google will place the name of your local area (i.e. Denver, Colorado)... making it more likely that someone searching in your area will choose your organization vs. an out-of-town competitor.

Local CPC Ads are usually a more cost effective option than a national search engine advertising campaign. As a general rule of thumb, the more geographically targeted and specific you can be, the less money you'll need to pay to acquire new customers. And make sure you have conversion tracking code placed on your site, so you can measure and track how much you're paying for each new customer via local search engine advertising.

2. Don't Confuse The Search Engines With Graphics. Search engines are really good at reading text. But they've very easily confused. And if Google gets confused when it crawls through your site, you won't rank very high in search results.

Search engines, for example, can't read words that are contained in graphics or flash animation. So if your company's name is only contained in a graphic on your site, this content is 'invisible' to a search engine. Same thing goes for product or service names.

The root of the problem lies with graphic designers. Graphic designers are really good at building graphics. And don't take this to mean I don't like graphic designers. (I employ a bunch of them, but they know how to do SEO-friendly design.)

But most websites are designed by graphic designers who are really good at building graphics, and less interested in Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It takes a bit more time to have content placed in text, and use a stylesheet to format it so that a search engine can read it. Especially when it's just so easy to create a good looking graphic in photoshop.

Here's an example of a site that uses all flash (and is invisible to search engines):

While it looks pretty to humans, to Google the content is completely invisible. Here's how the site appears to Google in it's cache:
(You can see that there is no text or content that appears)

Even if you're not worried about organic search positioning, but are doing paid search engine marketing (like Google Adwords), it's important that the content on your site is easily digested by a search engine.

Why? Google Adwords ranks the pages on your website, and compares it to your keywords and ad copy. The more relevant Google ranks the text on your site, the less you'll have to pay for a sponsored ad on Google (and the higher your position).

In Summary: Don't confuse search engines by keeping your content 'locked up' in graphics. It's a small little detail in the web design process, but one that will pay dividends for a long, long time with increased search results.

3. Title Tags & Why They Matter. When you search in Google, the search results on the next page each start with a blue underlined link.

What displays in this blue link is usually what is contained in the title tag of a web page. The keywords you placed in the search box are usually boldfaced in the search results.

So, just what is a title tag, and why does it matter for search engine positioning?

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (w3.org), the Title tag was designed to help people "identify the contents of a document." When people view individual web pages out of context (often via search), context-rich page titles help tell the visitor a summary of the page.

Instead of a title like "Introduction", which doesn't provide much contextual background, web designers should supply a title such as "Introduction to Medieval Bee-Keeping" instead.

Google and other search engines use these rich contextual clues as a way to hone its search results.

On a web page, the title tag is part of the HTML code. Here's what the code looks like on Customer Paradigm's site:
Title: Customer Paradigm: Website Design, Development, Email Marketing, Content Management, PHP programming

Most end users won't see the title tag*. But the title tag is what a subject ine is to an email campaign: It entices the end user to pay attention and open the page to read more.

Top Five Most Common Mistakes for Title Tags:

A. Untitled: When many of the popular programs create a new HTML page, it puts 'Untitled' into the title tag. It's up to the Web designer to change this... and since most users don't see it, sometimes they forget to change it.

B. No Title Tag: Like the "Untitled" tag, another key mistake is simply leaving out the title tag. If you do a view source (Internet Explorer: Right Click and select View Source), and the title tag doesn't appear... then you don't have a title tag.

C. "About" Tag: Another common mistake for title tags is to have the title tag refer to a section of your website. But a title tag that reads, "About" doesn't tell me much about what the company or website is "About." Instead, have it read:
Title: Customer Paradigm - About the Company: Website Development & Marketing, Email Deployment and php programming

This is sure to get more keywords into the title tag, and if you're searching for a company, you instantly know what they do.

D. No Company Name In Title Tag: We recommend putting your company name at the beginning of the title tag, so that people can quickly see your company's name when they search.

E. Same Title Tag on Multiple Pages: You should have a unique title tag for each page of the site. Why? As each page is unique, you should have a title tag that describes it's unique content.

* Here's where they might interact with the title tag:
- The title tag is displayed at the top left of most people's browser window.
- Page titles are used as the default description for a person's bookmarks when someone bookmarks a site.
- Visually impaired people use title tags to summarize the contents of a page before they have a text-to-speech reader read the contents of the page.
- These, along with Google's search results, are the only places end users actually see the title tag.
About the Author
Jeff Finkelstein is the founder of Customer Paradigm, Colorado that helps clients acquire, retain and interact with their customers. Customer Paradigm focuses on email marketing, php programming, eCommerce Websites, Search Engine Optimization and more.
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