Search engines have become part of our lives now. Very rarely do I use browser bookmarks or type specific URLs in the address bar. If I have to look for a website of a company, I find it a lot easier to just type the company name in the Google search bar. If I meet someone new or hear a new concept, my first instinct is google it i.e. to search for it on Google.

My guess is that 99.99% of Internet users use search engines on a typical day. Given the information explosion on the Internet, the surging Internet usage across the globe and people with lesser and lesser time, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that search engines are and will continue to be popular.

But this also creates a problem. If you have a web presence, how do you ensure that you get noticed amongst these zillions of pages? How do you prevent your website, blogs or articles from getting lost in this jungle of information? I am sure there is hardly anyone who has not heard of search engine optimization and search engine marketing etc. In fact more and more people these days are also talking about social media optimization and pay per click (PPC) and many such marketing jargons.

Every problem is also an opportunity! Search engines can be a fantastic tool for generating traffic, increasing leads and revenue. There are many service providers who are offering SEM, SEO, SMO services these days. They claim to perform miracles(almost). Often these companies and some bloggers confuse SEM (Search Engine Marketing) with SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and sometimes they are projected as mutually exclusive concepts. Neither perception is accurate. Instead of thinking of them individually, it is important to completely understand what each of these terms mean and create a holistic plan to improve your online presence. Instead of having an SEO plan, you should have a digital marketing plan or ‘Internet Visibility Optimization’ plan that is focused on generating qualified leads and revenue and not ranking. Sure rankings help, but it might not necessarily get desired results.

Internet Visibility Optimization can be thought of as the whole gamut of activities that boost the visibility of a website or a webpage on the Internet. This encompasses SEO, PPC (pay per click), paid inclusions,SMO (social media optimization) and ensuring your website is created in such a way that traffic is converted to leads.

Before you jump into this bandwagon it is important to understand what these terms are about.

Search Engine Optimization

Most companies love to play with this concept. And most companies that do, get it wrong! The focus of SEO should be about quality of traffic and not quantity. The focus should be on increasing sales and conversions. If you are a financial media company and you receive a whole lot of clicks from folks looking for frying pans, it’s quite useless. This is irrelevant traffic and your SEO efforts are producing results but might not generate revenues.

Sometime SEO can become an ethical debate. There are many SEO specialists who guarantee top search engine rankings. Some of these self proclaimed specialists or gurus use SEO techniques that can do more harm than help. This style of SEO is also referred to as “Black Hat SEO.” Although there is no clear definition of what is allowed and what is not, the following can clearly be classified as unethical and wrong.

  • Blog commenting: Irrelevant and automated blog comments (and they are as disgusting as the guy talking on a cell phone in the middle of a movie!). Search engine algorithms are increasingly becoming intelligent, understanding the context and ranking the page and links accordingly.
  • Backlinks: Spamming sites to create backlinks to your site. Search engines eventually figure out when they notice too many outgoing links from a single page or site.
  • Content spinning: Rephrasing the same content multiple times in order to maximize the use of keywords. No one has time to read crap (pardon my French!). So, while keywords can get people to your site, they aren’t going to stay there if they don’t see anything that adds value.
  • Keyword stuffing: Long lists of keywords and no “real” content could eventually get your site penalized by search engines. So, overuse of keywords is not the best idea. Instead keywords can be positioned strategically to help search engines search better.
  • Invisible text: Some wise guy came up with the idea of putting long lists of keywords as invisible text – where the color of the text and the background are the same. So, while readers don’t see anything, search engine spiders do. This is, however, not a great idea.
  • Doorway Pages or Bridge Pages: These are fake pages that users can not access. They are designed to attract search engines. Most search engines attempt to prevent and even ban doorway pages.

Search engines do not rank websites… they rank web pages. In other words, search engines like content with specific keywords in specific places. Having quality and informative content that is unique is the best way of eventually increasing your search engine rank. It takes patience and persistence.

There are two very important things one must keep in mind during any SEO campaign:

  • Relevant Traffic: The idea should not be to get as many people as possible to visit your website. The idea is to attract relevant traffic… people who are part of your target market and those who are genuinely interested in what your website has to offer.
  • Focus on the User and not the Search Engine: The design of and content on your website should focus on the user/reader. The idea is not to get people to your website, but to make them stay there.

Pay Per Click

A pay per click campaign is a form of advertising on the Internet. These advertisements could appear on search engines, websites and blogs and/or advertising networks. The main advantages of PPC are that it focuses on relevance of traffic and that you need to pay only if a user clicks on the advertisement. This is a huge topic in itself; important thing about PPC is keyword research and identifying the keywords that will be used and creating an Ad-Copy/ Banner that gets noticed.

Social Media Optimization

Social media has grown exponentially over the past few years. Online marketers are now capitalizing this platform to get their message across. Social media optimization uses the publicity technique on social media sites and online communities to enhance visibility. In short, find where your customers are networking and connect with them on those social media platforms. For example – If your target market is in the age group of 25 – 40 internet savvy users, it might be time you start taking a look at Facebook, MySPace etc. If you are planning to market in India, Orkut cannot be ignored.

If you’re looking for a magic formula to increase traffic and revenue, there isn’t one. But if you’re wondering what clicks, the answer is continuity and consistency. Onetime effort or a short-term focus just would not work. As I mentioned earlier objective is to generate leads and increase revenue not to have random traffic coming to the site. Also, what helps is to keep reading good articles about these concepts. And, of course, a little bit of luck won’t do any harm!!