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Hide and Seek with Search Engines

It used to be, not so long ago, you typed something in the search field and hit search or “I'm feeling lucky” and in return you got ten blue links, and you hoped that at least one was relevant.

But now, as searchers, we have expectations: we want personalized and highly relevant results; the ability to search from mobile devices; we want real time results (think Twitter streams); and we want it in the format we wish to consume it in (think video).

With all those demands and expectations of the search engine it is no wonder that search engine optimization and search engine marketing (SEM) has become more complex.

At the recent “Search Engine Tune Up” conference produced by Marketing Magazine in Toronto, speakers talked about ways to be invisible to search engines and guiding principles for SEM.

10 Ways to be Invisible

Just to be clear, you don't want your site to be invisible, but some organizations seem to do it naturally. Andrew Goodman from Page Zero Media outlined at least 10 ways to stay invisible.

1) Be a minimalist with no or little content on your home page so that search spiders can't categorize your site.

2) Ignore the importance of information architecture and use uncertain or vague categories. Search engines collect data on click streams so if all the visitors to your site are confused there are no clear paths to denote important content.

3) Make sure your site is slllllloooooooow. Search engines look at the user experience over time and how that relates to conversion, so if users are abandoning or exiting quickly, there are no clear paths to mark.

4) Make sure you don't provide any indexing views like a sitemap so that search engines can't understand the site.

5) Hide stuff; throw up a firewall just when the user thinks they may have found what they want, and so the search engine can't index it.

6) Less is more – provide very little content on your products or services and don't provide content in different formats (e.g. photos with descriptions).

7) Don't use title or heading tags – you don't want anyone to know what they're looking at or how to reference it. That goes for search engines too.

8) Don't write for the web with search engine optimization and social media in mind. Just keep those long, text-heavy, scrolling pages with no headings or chunked text. And it doesn't matter if they aren't clearly written or updated… they're invisible

9) Don't measure referrals or build them. If you want to stay invisible, you don't want to build up your linking neighbourhood with relevant referring links.

10) Focus on having 10 blue links returned in the results and cross your fingers that your site is one of them, or not if you want to stay invisible. Ignore the importance of local search and universal search results that return photos and videos, which get higher click throughs.

5 Guiding Principles for Search Engine Marketing

Yes, it is still easy to remain invisible. But if you do want to be noticed and are exploring search engine marketing then consider these guiding principles:

1) Where you rank is incredibly important for getting visitors – people are less likely to scroll or go to another page and are more likely to conduct a different search.

2) Search today is blended and personalized and shows photos and videos available on the topic (just to add to your challenges, search engines are using partnerships and their own brand to add to the results – think People notice photos in the results first.

3) Free is important as search becomes your funnel. The goal then is to collect attention like currency and then monetize when you've built your bank of attention (e.g. the restaurant review site, which had over 26 million visitors in December and now sells ads on their site).

4) Consider mobile devices and the user experience. According to Tyler Calder at Search Engine People, 41% of mobile users compare prices and read product reviews on their device while in the store; 37% have made a purchase using their mobile; and 45% abandon the sales process because the shopping cart didn't load properly. He adds that “1.5 Million items were sold through Ebay's iPhone Application through the holidays (1 item every 2 seconds)”.

5) Get social – in the past year Facebook traffic has increased 185% and on March 15, 2010 Facebook overtook Google as the most visited site. Remember, consumers value other people's opinions higher than any advertisement.

Hide or Seek

As you can tell, it is easy for a site to stay hidden. There are now too many pages for search engines to index. If you are not putting key words in your page title, headings, content, alt tags and links and you don't have a site map or relevant links why should search engines bother with you?

But if you do want to get noticed, seek out communities of interest like Facebook. Social networking sites are where your customers are looking for information, and keep in mind, they may well be looking with their mobile device.

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