Although there are many ways to promote yourself online, one of the simplest has been around since the beginning—search. “Any web marketing strategy needs to be heavily weighted toward search,” says Eric Holter, CEO of Newfangled Web Factory, a Carrboro, NC-based web consultancy. Holter founded Newfangled in 1995, back when the web was in its infancy, so he has the rare bragging rights to being in the web business since its beginning.
“Studies consistently show that organic search results, the ones that display on the main body of search results pages, significantly outperform paid ads that appear on the top and right of search results. Organic search results are free, they get clicked much more frequently, and they carry a sense of trust and authority over their link-for-hire cousins—precisely because they can’t be bought,” he says.
It’s not just about your homepage. As your site grows with rich content that’s indexed by search engines, you have exponential opportunities to attract new traffic to your site. “Search engine optimization is not about getting your homepage to the top of search results,” Holter says. “It’s about optimizing every single page on your site—since they all contribute to traffic.
In optimizing your site for search engines, you need to recognize the difference between how visitors read copy and how search engines interpret words. “Trying to balance your choice of words so that the content is well-written for people yet seeded with effective keywords is always a challenge,” Holter says. “For example, when I wrote an article for my site about splash pages, I titled it ‘Splash is Dead.’ If you were interested in the subject of website splash pages, you would not likely type ‘splash is dead’ into a search engine. Words that make for compelling titles are not likely the words people would use if they were searching for that topic.”
There are two kinds of titles search engines weigh heavily: the actual title displayed on the page, and the title in the “title tag” that appears at the top of the browser window. “The choice of words for a web page’s title are the most important, most heavily weighted words that search engines look at when ranking a page,” Holter says. “But the bottom line is that website copy and page titles need to work first for the site and those who read it. Secondarily, where appropriate, copywriting should be influenced by search engine-sensitive keywords and phrases, and it should be displayed using HTML text instead of graphics. When it comes down to it, if a site isn’t well-written, well-structured and clear, it won’t matter if it’s effective with search engines, and no one will read it once they get there.”