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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I have two questions. In researching search engine optimization (SEO) companies to optimize and submit my site, should I be concerned that some are not very well listed? And, what have you done to optimize and promote your own company's site?

McKenna

Answer from our Guest Expert Expert Christian Nielsen of Nielsen Technical Services

Dear McKenna,

Thanks for your two questions. First, let's discuss the fact that some SEO companies don't have the best listings or best-looking sites.

The first version of our company's web site was like most. It had little optimization. In our case, it's like the saying about the shoemaker's children always going barefoot. At the time, it was a low priority and wasn't given the time to do it correctly. We were just too busy with work for our clients to take care of our own web site. About two years ago, however, I decided that some people would see this as a reflection of our ability and I took the time getting our site optimized. So just keep this in mind when making your first impressions.

Like any industry, the range of quality and expertise you'll find will be quite broad. This is especially so, since most people have little or no knowledge of SEO. This lack of knowledge allows those with just a little knowledge to act as though they're experts, with the average person not knowing the difference. It's very easy for a person to buy a program like Web Position Gold and go into business doing SEO and site submissions. And they may actually produce some good results, so you really have to do your homework.

Here are the main areas that need attention on any site submission:

  • Scored keyword phrase research to find what searchers are using to find the site.
  • Creation of a full set of Meta Tags, including some of the Dublin Core tags.
  • Editing of page titles and descriptions to include keyword phrases AND to "sell" the page to searchers.
  • Addition of a single HTML comment and some ALT text tags to the images.

A submission program CAN be used with systems that allow it, but hand submission is still the very best method. We don't use any questionable methods that can cause problems now, or in the future, if detected by the search engines.

I'd advise (and this is our competition I'm talking about...) to not dismiss a company just because they are not in the top 20 for "search engine optimization", or their site has little or no optimization. The competition is intense as you might think for companies that do this work, and a small company with lots of time will be able to work on getting better placement than a company that has paying clients to take care of.

What to Look for in a SEO Company

Ask yourself these questions when choosing a company to optimize and submit your web site:

  1. What are the methods that are used?
  2. Can they provide project examples?
  3. Can they provide references?
  4. What exactly, if anything, do they guarantee?
  5. Do they base results on ranking reports, or actual traffic to your site?
  6. Do they require that you pay for ongoing maintenance?
  7. Do they place equal importance on site optimization and site submissions?
  8. And most importantly, do you feel comfortable with them?

Here are three resources that can help you locate a submissions company. The first one listed, SEO Pros, has a free RFP system that allows you to specify what you want and then select companies that you'd like to get bids from. This allows you to compare bids and make an informed choice.

SEO Pros
SEO Consultants Directory
SEMList.com

Ways Websites Can Promote Themselves

Search engine optimization is the most cost-effective method of Internet marketing, but don't rely on this as your only method. Many methods can be used both on-line and off, but I'll just mention what has worked for my own web site. (Please don't tell our competitors, OK?)

Email marketing -- When we first started, I used to visit web sites and see if they were optimized. If they weren't, I'd make some notes and contact the site owner via email. This is the web equivalent of a sales "cold call". After a number of angry rejections, I gave up. I'd strongly advise not to try this because the results are so very bad. However, I'm so glad now when I get messages like this. Why? Because these people really need our services! We're one of the very few companies that welcomes unsolicited email where the senders don't hide their true identity.

Networking -- We attend trade shows and small business expos. We don't have much of a budget to display yet, but just walking around and talking to vendors always has them asking what we do. So we dust off the "elevator speech" and it generally has them asking even more questions about us. We plan to join at least one local Chamber of Commerce, and use what many other businesses use to get our name out, including some paid off-line advertising.

Forums and Discussion Newsletters --This has been fantastic for us and is highly recommended. It takes an investment of time, put pays off very well over a long time. We locate both industry-specific and general business forums and participate in them. We never just post about our business, but answer questions and give advice on specific topics. At the end of every message, if allowed, we have our business "signature", of company, URL, and sometimes description or catch-phrase. What happens is human nature. If you like what someone says, you want to find out more about them so you check out their web site.

The Idea Cafe forums have generated quite a bit of traffic for us, but no clients at this point. And that's OK. We started taking part in on-line communities to have fun and share and that's what it's been for us. The fact that it has gotten our name out was never that important and I'd keep doing it even if we never had a new client because of it.

Let People Know Who You Are -- I decided to put my photo on our web site. I don't like it when I can't find out much about the company whose site I visit. But if I find some personal information even if I can't really relate to the person very much, it allows me to be able to trust the company more.

URL Mania -- We put our URL on everything, including our magazine subscriptions. We use the URL and not the company name. We give old copies to friends and co-workers and sometimes leave them in waiting rooms!

In addition to these marketing strategies, our future plans are to start a monthly newsletter, perhaps host our own forums, have a contest, issue press releases, and offer discounts to some additional selected charities or non-profits that have web sites. All this combined is going to get attention and provide sold promotion for any web site.

Thank you,
Christian Nielsen
Nielsen Technical Services
Minneapolis MN

Search Engine Optimization and Internet Consulting
"Be what they're searching for!"

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