Aug 2, 2009

If You Build It, NOT: 4 Pointers for Search Optimization

The field of dreams baseball players appearing out of the magic corn field walking on to the magic baseball fieldIt's a MYTH! A MYTH! A MYTH I TELL YOU!

Just because you build it, nobody will come. Sure, you announce to your friends and stakeholders, but then what? There will be no miles long trail of cars snaking through cornfields to experience your vision. It's a movie. And a myth.

Yes, viral is important, but you can't manufacture true viral. It just happens.

I have been calling out this myth for 12 years. And, in this time of fractured media and spliced attentions, it is critical to be level-headed and recognize that there is effort involved in driving traffic. Launching your website or application is not the end. You need to help folks find it.
Eighty percent of all online sessions begin with search. Google alone has a 63.7 percent share of all searches. Some quick math tells me that this means that just over half of the time someone starts an online session, they open to Google and begin to search. Bottom line: Most of the time people go online, they start with a search -- and don't type in your URL.

Instead of typing in your URL and ending up on your site, people are using search engines to find what they are looking for. The question is: Will they find you? You might not like the answer.

It turns out that the top three listings on a search engine results page account for approximately 63 percent of all clicks. That is, about two-thirds of the time, people look no further than the first three listings before clicking. So, clearly that's the place to be. --See
more from Jonathan Richman at I Media Connection
There are many books, blogs, websites and experts on helping people find you (also known as search engine optimization). My purpose today is to start you thinking about making your content more accessible to search engines. Here are four starting pointers.

1. Don't be cute. Search engines look for clues on your pages to let them know what the page is about. They usually think that titles and headings provide pointers to what is important. So, every time you create a cute name for your page and use teaser language for your headers instead of clearly telling and leading readers (and search engines) about your purpose, you are turning them away.

2. Use normal words. Speaking of not knowing, search engines can't translate your arcane, governmentese into something findable. Especially when you are using your own special language. You may love your acronyms, but the uninitiated will not have a clue. No clue means they can't find you.

3. Seek out resources. You can learn about words people use to describe your services. Your site search should report the words that people are searching on. If they are looking for "green card" and you only use the official name "LPR," you are turning them away. And away means to another source. Also, visit the Google Keyword Tool to learn related words and phrases. Incorporate these words into your pages.

4. Select some pages and make changes. Identify a few terms and their pages you want to drive people to. Update the page title, headers and copy with the normal words. Check your progress by searching on these terms on Google, Bing, YAHOO, Ask. The results are easy to see. Also see for quick keyword verification across multiple search engines.

Now go do some more research, you might want to start with Search Engine Watch. And feel free to share your own resources and tips in the comments below.


  1. What a great post! You are right on all counts, and yet, sadly, you'll still probably be able to publish this same post a few years from now and it'll be just as spot on

  2. Good article, it also shows the inequality of the search. Google even contaminates it's searches when it "captures" a web page that contains google ads, you do a search, the original page had a google ad containing info you're searching for, the ad is no longer on that page but google still shows it as a result, of course when you go to that page the ad is no longer there.

    Google also blacklisted sites a couple years ago that had little or no content but only google ads, said it was against their policy, they wanted sites with content, then they proceeded to partner with sites like godaddy where parked domain pages have nothing but google ads... hypocrisy?

  3. @B.L. Ochman thanks! Experience to date confirms your pessimism. It will be interesting to see what happens, tho, as content becomes untethered from individual websites. Will it be easier or harder to find? Oh, and woof! your dog is so sweet. I need to figure out how to blog about mine.

    @Jack C. thanks for your comment, and your reminder about how Google-oriented search has become. I like that you link your name to, there is competition to the Google.

  4. Really nice article, Gwynne. But I want to point out that I think Jonathan's math might be wrong. Just because Google has 63% of the search market does not mean it has 63% of all browsing sessions.

    Obviously that doesn't affect the fact that it's one of the most important traffic drivers...

  5. @Greg, thx! Don't think it makes the techniques any less important, but good catch on the sloppy stats. :-)


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