Friday, April 21, 2006

In search of search engine optimisation

Google's results are ranked in order according to the arcane PageRank algorithm, which essentially judges a website by the quality of other sites that link to it.

But content is just as important. As Google's spiders crawl through cyberspace, they break websites down to keywords that can be matched with a search.

Google claims that no one can buy a higher PageRank but the whole optimisation industry is based on the idea that those spiders can be lured or frustrated by site design.

"The process is not very complex, but rather meticulous," Mr Peczek says. "The whole strategy is to develop a network, kind of like a net, which can catch people from different searches looking in different areas."

Every page of a website can be optimised around three or four keywords.

Website text must be "Google-friendly", Mr Petryshen adds. "You must make sure it matches with the way a consumer searches. For instance, most health insurance sites refer to 'health cover' but most consumers search for 'health insurance'."

"We see them all the time - sites that put up a splash page with a bit of Flash," he says. "It does heaps more damage than having a more open home page with some content. Search engines also have a hard time getting past the query strings on database driven sites, and they can't read headings if they're images rather than text.

"Most of the struggles we have are with design agencies, trying to convince them of the value of search. Every choice has an outcome."

"To a great extent, search-engine optimisation is a repackaging of the basic usability principles," he says. "All the fancy graphics and multimedia mean nothing to search engines, which are basically the world's most influential blind users.

Once webpages are optimised, the next step is getting good quality incoming links. One factor is simply reputation, which is why small start-ups take a lot longer to get noticed, or have to go to greater extremes.

Another factor is the competition. If you're in "porn, casinos or pills", Mr Petryshen says, it's going to take a long time and a lot of work to get noticed online. Similarly, the travel and accommodation industries are now well-established and hotly contested on Google's front page.

"Our recommendation is to talk to your partners, see if you can get links from their websites," he says. "Look to directories such as the Yahoo directory. You build up over time."

"We don't spend any money on directory listings,"
"If you get a lot of exposure in the offline press and media, that's worth way more than any crappy links from dodgy dating sites. Just do good PR."
Advanet's Mr Peczek says the most prized links in Australia are from sites such as the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age or the ABC (all PageRanked eight out of 10).

To be honest, you just need to have a relevant site. Have a good service, build a good site with lots of relevant pages, make sure the content is nice and rich - and somewhat repetitive when it comes to certain keywords - and that's kind of all you really need to do.

"There aren't any quick fixes for getting inbound links."


How to disappear: Have an entirely Flash-based homepage

Make all your headlines jpegs

Use technical, in-house language

Don't exchange links

Keep your online business a stand-alone operation

Use an unrelated domain name

Links to arrive via javascript, cookies and frames

Make all page titles obscure

Don't have a site map

Avoid popular blogs or media sites

Nielsen Norman Group's eye tracking research reveals how web users look at a page of Google search results.

Red areas are those seen the most by users.

Yellow areas were seen a medium amount and blue areas were seen the least.

The eye concentrates on the first few organic search results, with a noticeable drop-off by the third result. It also shows that pole position in the sponsored links (at right) attracts strong attention. Blue "spots" in apparently empty space are likely to be the eyes flicking over to navigation tools as the user scrolls down through results.

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