Driving site traffic with search engines, advertising

Useful tips on how to use a combination of SEO and search engine ads to increase your online business

You can't simply open a new Web site, sit back, and expect to welcome a horde of visitors showing up at your virtual storefront. If you want your online business to be successful, you must promote your site.

Both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid advertising on search engines can help drive visitors to your e-commerce site. More visitors can ultimately lead to more customers for your online business.

How can you use a combination of SEO and search engine ads to increase your online business and boost your bottom line? I'll give you useful tips on both, based on my real-world experience promoting my sites and those of my clients.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO refers to modifying your Web pages to enhance your visibility in search engine results. If your business sells, say, left-handed widgets, your goal is to be listed near the top of the results if someone performs a search using the keywords "left-handed widgets." Research shows that if your site isn't within the top 30 search results, very few visitors will click through to your site.

How do you reach that coveted high rank in a search engine? You have to learn to think like the robots (also called spiders and crawlers) that search engines such as Google use to find and catalog Web pages. First, learn to describe your products and services at your Web site using words that your prospective customers would likely use in a search (most search engines understand words, not images).

Search engine robots give certain aspects of a Web page, such as the page's title and its major headings, special emphasis. Don't squander the potential benefit by using a nondescript title such as "Home Page of Rick's Online Store" (the search bots wouldn't even notice that). Instead, develop a title that reinforces your search term for that page, such as "Left-Handed Widget Superstore, San Francisco, CA."

Links to your site from other, well-regarded sites can also give you a boost in the search results rankings. I recommend that you contact the Webmasters of related--but not competing--sites for link opportunities. Contact them personally, not through an annoying automated link spammer (which will usually be ignored). How do you tell if a potential link partner site is well regarded? Google's Web browser toolbar offers a PageRank, which rates the popularity of a given site from zero (worst) to ten (best). A link from a site with a PageRank of 10 can be quite valuable to you, while a link from a site with zero PageRank is virtually worthless.

Monitor your progress by checking your site's referer log (yes, that's how it's spelled, typically) to see where your visitors come from, as well as the search terms they use to reach your site. Don't expect instant results from SEO. Because the robots take some time to comb through the millions of pages on the Web, you may have to wait three months or longer before you see the full benefit of your "optimized" site.

After you've implemented the basic SEO measures, you can do even more. The Search Engine Optimization Forum (run by High Rankings, a US-based SEO services firm) offers a cornucopia of SEO tips and discusses additional techniques.

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