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Vol. 1 issue #35 Oct 28, 2002

 

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Drive Holiday Sales
With Search Engine Visibility

 2002  by Paul J. Bruemmer

 

With the 2002 holiday season fast approaching, it's important to ensure that your site ranks well in major search engines. Jupiter Research predicts $13.1 billion dollars in online sales for November-December. This figure is 17 percent higher than 2001 holiday sales and represents 32 percent of online spending for the entire year!

The Jupiter report also suggested shoppers will start spending early this year, up to four weeks before Thanksgiving. So it's wise to ensure good search engine visibility to take advantage of the holiday selling season.


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Shoppers Use Search Engines

Studies of online buying patterns consistently reveal that the online sale begins with a search engine listing. Jupiter found that 55 percent of e-commerce transactions originated from a search engine link. The 10th GVU User Survey reported 84.8 percent of users find Web pages through search engines, and 85.7 percent of these are searching with intent to buy.

How good is your search engine visibility? If it's lacking, here's what you can do to ensure being found by online shoppers during the holiday season.

The Road to Search Engine Visibility

There are two ways to achieve good search engine visibility, one is through pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, and the other is through search engine optimization (SEO) editorial listings.

PPC Advertising: You'll get instant traffic, but it can prove costly, depending on the popularity of your keywords. PPC campaigns also require constant tracking and tweaking to ensure a decent ROI. Here's how to get started with a PPC campaign.

 

  • Keyword bidding usually starts at $0.05 per click with a $50 minimum. Create an account online, write your ad, and voila -- you're listed. You only pay when people click. Sounds easy, right? But that's only half the battle You must have a good offer on the landing page to close the sale.

     

  • When writing your ad, editorial rules vary for acceptance. Google allows 25 characters in the title and 35 characters each in two lines of description. Overture limits the number of characters in the title to 40 and in the description to 190.

     

  • There are copywriting guidelines as well. Google doesn't like a generic call-to-action like "click here," so be specific. Overture likes to see the search term in the title and description, but doesn't like superlatives, exclamation points, and unnecessary caps. Both Overture and Google want your landing page to be relevant to the terms in your ad.

     

  • You can set a fixed monthly budget for your PPC campaign. If you exceed your budget before month end, your listings will drop and reappear next month. Compare revenues with and without PPC to see if additional expenditures are warranted.


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SEO Editorial Listings: This takes longer but is the most cost-effective and longer-lasting approach to search engine visibility. You can speed up your campaign with paid inclusion programs (some guarantee a listing in 48 hours) and directory submissions.

 

  • Keyword Research. Start by identifying the words that your target audience will use to find you by performing keyword research on the search engines and by examining your Web logs. Most people use 2 to 5 words in a search query. WordTracker is an excellent tool for keyword research and offers a free trial. Also useful is the Overture Suggestion Tool.

     

  • Copywriting. Use your strategic keyword phrases several times in your Web page copy, but don't overdo it and don't repeat the same word consecutively. Your most important text is that in your title tags and in the visible text at the top of each page. This is the first thing your audience reads so it must be compelling for customers and keyword-optimized for search engines.

     

  • Site Design Tips. Ensure that your site is legible with good navigation and consistency in layout. It should load quickly and permit users to find information easily. Navigation is particularly important for both customers and search engines. Search engine spiders can benefit from a site map (a list of links to all the important sections of your site). In sum, search engine spiders like keyword-rich text, navigation that's easy to crawl, and quality content that attracts in-bound links.

     

  • Directory Submissions. Submit first to the directories, namely Yahoo! and ODP (Open Directory Project). This is advantageous because search engine spiders crawl the Web to index sites from directory databases. LooKSmart is also an option with PPC pricing.

 

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  • Paid Inclusion. Take advantage of paid inclusion programs to speed up visibility. You can submit pages selectively (those you want found), and you can remove and enter new pages as you see fit. Another advantage is 48-hour refreshes to reflect site changes, so you can monitor the impact on traffic and conversions as you update your site. Popular paid inclusion programs are offered by AllTheWeb, AltaVista, AskJeeves, Inktomi, and Lycos.

    For instance, Inktomi offers Index Connect for larger sites with CPC pricing and Search Submit for an annual fixed-fee depending on number of pages submitted. This provides good reach with partners like Overture, MSN, HotBot, LookSmart, About, Lycos and others. Inktomi also provides good reporting, with keyword and click-through data from sources like MSN.

     

  • Manual Submissions. Submit manually to major search engines like AllTheWeb, AltaVista, AOL Search ( through ODP), AskJeeves, Google, Lycos, and MSN (through Inktomi or LookSmart). Each engine has its guidelines, which should be followed closely. Maintain a record of the dates and details of your submissions.

     

  • Verification. Monitor your listings, which should start appearing in four to six weeks. If you're not listed in six weeks, re-submit and check monthly until you can verify your listings.

     

  • Link Popularity. It's important to have a number of quality sites linked to yours. This is accomplished a lot easier if your site is well designed and displays relevant content. Seek links from sites offering information of interest to your target audience.

Track and Tweak Your Campaign

Track your costs for PPC and SEO editorial listings. As your campaign progresses, you'll find that many of your "free" listings will reduce the need for PPC listings. You might find that an Overture or Google PPC listing appears in addition to a regular editorial listing. So cancel the PPC ad, you don't need to appear twice. Once in place, the editorial listing can last forever. That's the advantage of SEO over PPC. It takes longer to establish, but is worth more over time.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Paul J. Bruemmer paul2@web-ignite.com is the CEO of Web Ignite, a search engine marketing company founded in 1995. Web-Ignite earned a top grade in the Buyers' Guide to Search Engine Optimization Firms and has helped promote over 15,000 Web sites. Client testimonials report traffic increases of 150 to 500 percent. Bruemmer's articles have appeared on ClickZ and other publications

 
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