Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Got the bot?

How do you improve your organization’s search engine ranking?

I worked for Away.com several years back and I remember coming across the term for the first time and thinking search engine optimization marketing was pretty obscure stuff. Not any more, and in fact, it's a booming business (read The Long Tail).

What I've come away with is that SEO is more of an art than a science and there are basically more things we can’t afford not to do. Leaving link farms and Google bombs aside (remember this is a non-profit, an ethical one at that), link reciprocity is still a must. However, trading links is not really the norm anymore and it's not that easy—why send folks off your page?

Though having our web pages linked from another site is still key, the competition has stiffened and the demand for dynamic web content has grown. Look at blogs, they typically have a good ranking, and wikipedia always comes up above the fold for me. Hands down, content is still king (bodes well for being in the mix and shaping the conversation online than the traditional approach of message control, don't it?) to reach new audiences, but what comes next? For me, this is somewhat of a gray area.

Here's what I know: Approximately 10-15% of our online traffic comes from search engines (and who am I kidding, 90% is from Google). But these numbers are nothing to sneeze at; the above percentage works out to be anywhere from 3,000 to 4,500 unique visits a month. And, if you break it down by our conversion rate, we recruit between 3 and 5 new supporters each month from search engine traffic—I'll save why our conversion rate is low for another day.

So, how do we grow our search engine traffic? Well, first of all, I think Google’s AdWords program is a good start and we are currently enrolled as a grantee. However, I haven’t been very good with the program given my newness and the growing demands of the web team, i.e. additional website redesigns. A big mistake there.

Secondly, create meta data for each page = language that only your website and Google crawlers speak. Um, I haven’t been that good with that either as most of our pages (so I believe) were created in haste and that information was not added.

Lastly, in addition to registering your website on all of the big search engines, introduce your sitemap to Google. To do so, I recently joined Google's webmaster tools and have begun to read the information that Google lays out pretty plainly on how we can best optimize our pages to be crawled by their bots.

Anyhow, take a look at Google’s SEO pages here, here, and here. If you know of anything else, or have tried something a little different that works well, please let me know. Or, include a link to an article in the comment section (you can also add it to my Del.icio.us page).

Unfortunately, I feel SEO is typically an afterthought, but I’d like to address it early in our redesign, so appreciate your input.

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