Today we are going to discuss making your site more visible to the world at large. Yesterday’s column spoke to traditional marketing methods of making consumers aware of your web site by placing your URL on all of your collateral and marketing efforts. However, search engine marketing (SEM) is the holy grail of web marketing by which web site owners employ a variety of methods like keyword analysis, content optimization, linking strategies, micro sites and other practices to achieve the highest possible search engine visibility.
Let me begin by saying that SEM is a topic that has given birth to a vast and thriving cadre of consultants of varying degrees of skill and knowledge. Yet, the basics are not very difficult to comprehend. Search engines like Google and Bing utilize specialized logic, called algorithms, to rank websites by importance and relevancy in relation to a given search term. The more important or relevant a site, the higher the site’s URL appears in the results of a search. Most people utilizing a search engine choose the highest rankings on the first page of results to view. SEM techniques, therefore, are designed to make a given site look as relevant as possible to targeted search terms so that the site will rank high on search engine result pages.
Search engine marketing strategies are many, but fall into two distinct categories: paid and organic. The easiest way to make your site’s URL appear at the top of any given results page is to pay for it to be there. Companies bid on specific key search terms or “keywords” and pay for their URL to be listed at the top of the results page generated by the paid-for term. Organic search engine marketing, by contrast, is planning a web site in such a manner to make it match the criteria of the search engine algorithms. While the exact logic of any search engine’s algorithms is a closely guarded and frequently tweaked secret, it is possible to organically create a site that will naturally fall close to the top of a given search. It is on the principles of organic search, called search engine optimization, or SEO, on which we will focus.
Good SEO begins with well-written content directed at the search terms you most covet, supported by strong, clean HTML code. Content should be written and fine-tuned using sound “keyword analysis”. Just as importantly, relevant and appropriate links to your site from other web sites rank high in importance to search engines. Deeper in the inner workings of your site, your URL, TITLE tags and DESCRIPTION tags are important.
To the extent the focus of your travel practice is specialized, SEM is more important. A general travel practice cannot easily compete in the world of search engine marketing and the effort to do so is better spent on local marketing efforts. The specialist practice, however, has an opportunity to develop a body of online content unique to the agency and capable of attracting the attention of the search engines. Even the generalist, however, does well to consider search engine optimization techniques for their local market.
There are also a number of so-called “black hat” tactics that are of dubious ethical and even legal merit. These tactics are designed to “fool” the search engines and we will briefly discuss each of those in an upcoming series of articles. There are also other practices that will make it more difficult for search engines to index and analyze your site that you will want to avoid.
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