Get discovered – Understanding search engine optimization

If you’re one of the 694 million people who used the Internet in March 2006 (according to comScore) then you also probably conducted at least one of the 2.7 billion searches on Google or 1.6 billion searches Yahoo (Center for Media Research). Did you find what you were looking for?
Everyone loves a great find – whether it is where to purchase gas at the best price or get a good deal on shoes. It is human nature to search out our interests and revel in our discoveries. So it is no surprise that the behaviour of users on the world wide web has shifted from send me information and tell me what I need, to I want to choose what information I receive, when I receive it and how I receive it. Users want more control of their information and they are demanding the flexibility.

So what does this mean for your website, especially when you are trying to drive traffic to it so you can achieve your strategic site goals? Essentially, people are using search engines to find what they want, so you better know how to make sure they find you.

Search has become an online sales tool; a highly effective marketing channel for engaging consumers throughout the purchasing consideration process. Consumers pull information to themselves in various ways with different media and may take as many as 12 searches before they make their purchasing decision, each find helps them to refine their search and define their needs more until they get very specific in what they want, including brand choice. So users will arrive at your site at different phases of their decision making process – are you ready for them?

The importance of search engine optimization

A quick scan of the facts reveals why SEO is so important for marketing effectiveness:

Being found and clicked on
  • 62% of users click on first page search results with an accumulative 90% clicking on results from the first three pages of returns. And 87% of results clicked on were from the organic (non paid) portion of the search results – which are totally dependent on their ranking by ensuring they follow the optimization techniques.
Given credibility – leaders rise to the top

Some things you should do to be found:

So how do you ensure that your product, service or information is one of the top results amongst billions? More importantly, how do you ensure that you’re included in the 12 searches made in a buying cycle?

You need to increase your search engine optimization, which requires a good understanding of search engines. For instance:

Crawlers (A web crawler, also known as a web spider or web robot, is a program which browses the World Wide Web in a methodical, automated manner.) rank by:

Here are some tips and best practices that you should follow:

  • Try the 8 second test – have someone view the page for the first time for 8 seconds then ask them what they think the site is about – you may be surprised
  • Page titles (title tag written in the head of your html and appears in your browser title bar) should be between 40-69 characters (Google)
  • Have user friendly URLs (ideally the url should be easy to remember and reference so avoid complex folder systems or if dynamic, don’t return more than 3 parameters)
  • Write about 250 words per page which will enhance search engines’ efforts to index
  • Be more specific in writing your headings (e.g. not Our Office but Our Toronto Consulting Office)
  • Have keywords in main body content and throughout the site – top to bottom; in headlines and sub-headings; in call to action links
  • Have 10 phrases for your site, each phrase should have two or more words
  • Maintain context – put words in link so search engines know what the link means and it will also look at text around the link to ensure it is in context (so not just a page of links, and please, no “Click here”)
  • Use your own search engine to test key words – if your site isn’t promoting your key words then how can the search engine find them…?
  • Write good headings and people will remember them.
  • Users misspell words in over 10% of queries (tend to go to spammers) and 50% of users will still click on a misspelled response – therefore develop a strategy for misspellings (good example see
  • Cross link within your own site by indicating links to similar or related content
  • Use a 301 redirect – which Google likes (The W3C guidelines for a 301 "permanent redirect" say that this is for use when a page has been permanently moved and you want people to record the new address in place of the old one - read more on redirects on SearchEngineWatch.); use it when changing URLS; is dynamic; It is normal to dip in traffic when change URLs (code example:
  • Use 404 pages - Page not found error (The 404 or Not Found error message is an HTTP standard response code indicating that the client was able to communicate with the server, but the server either could not find the file that was requested, or it was configured not to fulfill the request and not reveal the reason why. See wikipedia for full definition) – Search engines will index them so use keywords on them and customize them so they keep your navigation that way people are more likely to stay on your site (see A List Apart for coding a 404 error page)
  • Use robot.txt to block internal search pages or repetitive pages (like printable versions) so search engine doesn’t think pages are redundant or doing something suspicious
  • Search engines like PDFs because they are text based; they can be added to site map and should be added under a publication page (but not if you have an html version)
  • Create an information architecture that includes key words (Most costly Search Engine Optimization mistake is a bad IA; IA represents 80-85% of usability)

Tools and techniques to try:

Search engines are just a tool to help you help people find your site faster. You shouldn’t let terms like search engine optimization intimidate you. You can quietly, efficiently and effectively help people discover your site by arming yourself with the knowledge and tools that work best in today’s online world. The only other option is to just stay lost.

Prescient Digital Media is a veteran web and intranet consulting firm with 10+ years of rich history. We provide strategic Internet and intranet consulting, planning and communications services to many Fortune 500 and big brand clients, as well as small and medium-sized leaders.