This week was the Dallas/Fort Worth Search Engine Marketing Association’s (DFWSEM) annual “The State of Search” meeting. Traditionally, this is the biggest meeting of the year, and with experts from both Google, Bing and a surprise Skype presentation by Mary Bowling of Search Engine News, this year did not disappoint. In this article, I’ll go over some of the highlights and help bring home how those highlights can help a small businesses website.
The Future Is Now
I think Mark Barrera started things off right when he stated, “the future is now”. For so many years, folks have talked about the rise of social media, the power of marketing online, and the shifting patterns of shoppers from brick and mortar shops to online stores. Well, it’s 2011 folks and the future is now. Mobile, personalization, social media, local search, and behavioral marketing have all coalesced to make advertising on the web a no brainer. If you take nothing away from this article then remember this. If you’re not actively marketing your website online you’re behind the pack.
Search Engine Signals
We all use search engines every day to help answer questions, plan trips, research products, etc… The key question for a search engine is, does it quickly find what the user is searching for? To do this search engines use a variety of sources or signals to help them add context to content. In other words, search engines aren’t just trying to return results that match the keywords. They are trying to return results that answer your question.
According to Duane Forrester the Senior Product Manager for Bing, search engines look for signals in the following primary categories.
To find this digital “needle in a haystack” search engines crawl a world wide web consisting of 10.7 billion webpages (November 2011). They have to not only crawl that data, but in a split second, they have to select the wheat from the chaff, the good webpages, from the spammy webpages.
Therefore, the most important criteria for elevating your rank on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc… is to put more content on your website for the search engines to find. So as a website owner who wants more traffic you have to ask yourself, “Is my website answering the questions my clients are asking?” If you put out the right content, and it is presented correctly then you will get the right visitors.
2. Social Media
Okay, once there is content on your site visitors have something to read and possibly share. Maybe they will find out about your new content through a search. Perhaps they will find your new content through an announcement made on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+. Regardless of how they find the content, if it is engaging, you will get folks who share that content. When they do, the search engines take notice.
Get your website integrated with social media and put your company in a position to reap the benefits (1).
3. User Experience
When discussing the user experience the first thing that came to my mind was Apple. Apple is the king of the user experience. Although not discussed in the meeting, all brands should strive for a consistent, high quality user experience both online and off.
For the web design world, here are some questions that the decision makers in every company should ask:
- Does the website reflect the quality of the company?
- Is the content on the website easy for visitors and search engines to find?
- Is the website coded by a professional and the code error free (or nearly)?
Although there are many other factors, by positively answering these questions, you will have a more positive user experience on your website. If you have happy visitors, then you will probably have happy search engines. This, of course, leads to more happy visitors.
4. Link Building
The search engines don’t just look at the content on your webpage. There is also a reputation that they look for. If alot of folks are linking to the content on your site then that website and webpage gains authority. More authority equates to a higher rank.
So the next question that comes up is, what are ways to legitimately build authority? This topic was not discussed during in the meeting, but I’ll paraphrase some of Chris Azzari’s recommendations from his blog (2):
- Submit Press Releases
- Add yourself to directories. Paid directories are preferred.
- Get links from websites in your industry or your niche
- Here it comes again… CONTENT. Did I mention content?
- Digg and StumbleUpon are two great avenues to share your valuable content.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to build authority, but Chris does give five strong examples.
5. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In order to efficiently find the content to be displayed, the content either needs to be created with search engine optimization in mind, or the pages need to be optimized retroactively.
Why? Search engines have billions of pages to crawl and only fractions of a second to deliver search results. If the end user is searching for a phrase that you know is a great match for your page then it had better be optimized for that phrase. The easier you can make your content to find, the better rankings you will get with the search engines.
If you’re using a Content Management System (CMS) like WordPress, then you’re already in good shape. In addition, a good web design company with Search Engine Optimization or SEO skills can help you here.
In order to make the best of your existing content, Susan Moskwa of the Google Webmaster Tools division said to pay attention to the following Google features:
- Sitemaps: Does the search engine know about all of your webpages? (3)
- Rich snippets: Do you sell a product on your e-commerce site? Then enhance the products, make them pop on the Google search results page with rich snippets. (4)
- Authorship: Do you write news releases, articles, or press releases? Make sure that your authorship markup is helping to elevate the profile of the author. (5)
- Instant previews: Sometimes folks just want to see what your website looks like before clicking on the link. Instant previews provide a thumbnail of your website. Beware, if you’ve got Adobe Flash elements on your site the thumbnail may not generate correctly. (6)
- Sitelinks: These are navigation links that show up on the search engine result page. Make sure you’re showing the pages you want and that they have good descriptions. (7)
Google has worked on many of these features for years, and some of the features like sitemaps were adopted by other search engine. So, what do these features have in common? They help the end user find information on the search results page quickly. This in turn, translates to more visitors to the content you have put out there.
Conclusion for the State of Search
The search engine marketing industry is growing at a rapid pace. Companies wishing to make the most of their advertising dollars are shifting out of print media and the marketing dollars are going online. At the end of 2011 “The State of Search”emphasizes higher rankings and better exposure to websites that create valuable new content, interact and share on social media, create an exceptional user experience, are able to harness the power of outside links, and use SEO methods to optimize content for search engines. In doing this, companies big and small can position themselves to grow their visitors, and hopefully in turn grow their revenue. In this economy, that is a hard opportunity to pass up.