By Suzi Batta
Submitting your Web site to the search engines is a tedious task. Visiting each search engine individually and typing in the title, description and keywords is a daunting task for anyone as there are literally thousands of search engines out there. Those who have caught the online marketing bug, realize the advantage of strategic search engine placement and are way ahead of the game. Search engine marketing is the most important building block of your Internet marketing strategy. It's not the only way to get your Web site noticed, but the first step in creating a successful Web site.
In the earlier days of the 'Net, one of the best things about doing all the work in submitting your Web site was that the search engines were FREE! The major search engines like Yahoo, Altavista, Web Crawler, Excite (remember those last two?) structured their business plan on selling banner ads based on attracting lots of visitors. Since FREE is the most powerful word in the dictionary for attracting attention, the plan worked well for a while.
Banner ads soon became passe and click through rates diminished. Visitors demanded speed and accuracy, advertisers wanted response and the search engines headed back to the drawing board to figure out a plan that would cover the high costs of maintaining their search engines. So they built elaborate portals of information, covering every topic from a to z hoping to attract and retain visitors. That worked for a while to build community, but the visitor was still using the search engines as a jump off point to find what they were looking for. Unusual sized banner ads and pop-up windows satisfied the advertisers by improving click through rates, but most users found them annoying.
The real value is in the search results, both to the visitor for the relevancy and the advertiser for driving targeted traffic to their Web sites. Featured sites and sponsored links started appearing above the search results. These are reviewed sites or paid links based on the search terms the user was inputting. The search engines realized that the Web was getting crowded and advertisers were willing to pay for premium placement. So many of the search engines changed their revenue model to paid search engine listings.
Overture, one of the first bid for placement engines was ridiculed when it first introduced it's pay-for-placement revenue model. Advertisers bid on specific keywords and phrases that they want their site to be found with. The higher the bid, the higher your placement. The advantage of this is that the site owner only pays if the visitor clicks on their link. It's generally more economical than banner ads and only costs the advertiser per click. The disadvantage is that the market determines how much one will bid on a keyword. The minimum bid is $0.05 and depending on how competitive the market, the price per click can keep going up. This can create a bidding war driving the prices up to the point it is no longer cost-effective or the site that is willing to spend the most wins. Many of the major search engines have partnered with Overture in a revenue share to display the paid links above their own search results. This revenue model seems to be working well for Overture and other search engines are sprouting up based on the bid-for-placement model.
Yahoo was one of the first search directories to charge for a listing. Technically Yahoo is not a search engine, but a search directory. They charge a fee to have one of their reviewers check your Web site and determine whether it is suitable for inclusion. They also decide which category your site gets listed in. Yahoo sets the standards for all things search engine, still maintaining it's presence as the #1 search utility. The standard review fee is $299/year to be listed in their directory. Their search results currently display their directory links first, you still have to drill down to the specific category to find what you are looking for. Sponsored matches are next, these are paid listings pulled from Overture results. Web matches are generally Google results. Yahoo can drive a substantial amount of traffic to your Web site so it is wise to get listed, just make sure you do it right the first time. Changing a listing in Yahoo is near to impossible.
Google, the ultimate search engine is still free to submit. Their revenue model was built on providing search solutions for larger companies and they haven't compromised their search results with banner ads. They incorporated a bid-for-placement module that displays 'Sponsored Links' to the right of the search results. They also offer only two paid positions above the search results. These positions are tied into an ad campaign structured for larger companies.
MSN search results are a mysterious collection of reviewed links, Looksmart listings, sponsored links and results from The Open Directory Project (Dmoz.com). To get listed in MSN you have to submit your site through Looksmart, a paid program. The Open Directory Project is a human-edited directory that is still free to submit. The reviewers volunteer their time to review sites for inclusion and it's a free service, so turn around time is extremely slow.
Looksmart followed Yahoo's $299 fee when they first started charging for listings. They caused a big upset in the search engine community when they changed their revenue model to a hybrid pay-for-placement model. Their network of site includes MSN, About, Altavista, Netscape, CNN, Cnet and their own directory. Their listing fees includes a set up charge of $49 per URL, $0.15 per click charge and you have to maintain a monthly budget. Their search engine listing process is slow, elaborate and very complicated. Proceed with caution and read the fine print. Their saving grace is that their customer service department is generally very pleasant, patient and receptive when you can get a hold of them.
Contrary to popular belief, paying for placement does not guarantee that you will automatically get top placement. You still have to optimize your Web site to make it 'search engine' friendly.
Search Engine Optimization involves preparing your Web site for search engine submission. You want your site to be search engine friendly to achieve the highest possible ranking. This includes using a combination of techniques to improve your placement in the search engines. Once your site has been optimized then you can start submitting it to the search engines.
If the task of submitting your site to the search engines seems overwhelming, consider hiring an online marketing company to do this for you. The companies that sound to good to be true, you know the ones, emailing you claiming to be able to get you listed in thousands of search engines for $19.95/month. They are too good to be true.
Reputable companies can provide you with references. They should be able to show you the ranking they have achieved for other clients by demonstrating with actual search results. They also should be able to answer your questions, help you set up a budget and timeline for your search engine submission program with realistic goals.
Good luck with your search engine submissions. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about submitting your Web site to the search engines.