This past month I was examining the logs of sites that link to ButterflyVista=s site. A few months ago, I took advantage of a service that Promaxum.com offers to upload JobFish to what they consider the top 500 download sites. In reality that number was more like 200, as the other sites didn=t apply to my category. I halfway expected to see those sites appear in my search engine spider report that indicates sites that link to me. The reason that you want spiders to show a high number of links to your site is that that is part of what determines your page ranking. What I saw unfortunately was the opposite. Only a few download sites appeared on my link report. The links that I did see were my explicit link swaps with other companies. To be fair, typing in JobFish in Google or Overture does yield quite a few download sites, which is good, but not as good as it can be.

I investigated the problem and found that not all download sites are optimized for search engine spiders. Furthermore, spiders usually can=t see the page that talks about your product. The reason is that some sites don=t have straight forward links back to you, your product page is buried too deep, or it can be for a number of other reasons.

If download sites don=t directly affect the bottom line or help in creating a higher page ranking, then why bother with submitting to various download sites? The answer is because it helps create buzz for your product. People don=t want to buy software or products from an unknown quantity. That is just human nature. The more times and places that people see your product, even in passing, the more likely they are to remember you when they need your product or service. WinZip Computing definitely learnt this lesson well. Another thing to consider is that download sites help seed search engines and create possible affiliate relationships. I wound up with an affiliate relationship this way.

As you can see the whole subject of search engine optimization revolves around page rank and keyword positioning. Before delving into these two hugely important subjects, let us review what page ranking is.

Page rank is a measure of how popular a particular page on your website is. The most popular page rank statistic is by far from Google. You might have heard of their PageRank. You can see what your page rank is by downloading their toolbar and then enabling the PageRank calculation. I find it quite informative.

A high page rank is not a direct measure of how many people visit your site, but rather a collection of other factors. A page rank is more of a calculation of how many web pages on the Internet link to you and with what quality. Google interprets a link from web page A to web page B, as a Avote@ by page A for page B. Google, like other search engines, uses the link structure of the web.

Another important factor is the quality of the link. A link to your site from a web page outside of your domain that has a higher page rank than you counts more than a link to your site from a page outside of your domain that has a lower page rank. That only makes sense, as real life works that way too. The other aspect of quality that matters is whether search engines consider the site that links to you a legitimate (not spam) site.

Website statistics show that 85 to 90 percent of all website traffic comes from search engines. Using a service to submit your website to various search engines and directories only guarantees you that they will look at your site. That does not mean that people will see your site. Statistics show that people only look at the first three pages of a search. That means that if your term is not there among the top 30 for that keyword, then you are out of luck. Furthermore, if people haven=t heard of you or get the wrong idea from your keyword description, then they won=t click. Another factor is where they land. Landing on the wrong page or a page that doesn=t specifically target the search term that somebody typed in is possibly even worse than not clicking on your keyword in the first place. The reason for that is that they will then formulate an opinion of you and won=t come back to you in the future, when they see you again in response to some other keyword or advertising method. They will have already formed a negative opinion and turn elsewhere.

Take my product JobFish for an example. Let=s say that somebody typed in Arecruiter@ into a Google search box. Let=s say that they saw a link to my site and that that link went to the JobFish home page or to the main index page. People will spend upwards of 15 20 seconds after they land on the page. If they don=t get instant gratification, then they=ll split, almost never to come back. Your visitors must see the relevance to their search term and to the meaning that they had in mind or they=ll leave. People won=t sit and investigate. In my case, the main index page barely talks about staffing services and reading the JobFish product page doesn=t give the visitor a nice warm fuzzy feeling that JobFish will help them locate a staffing service. They=ll see ActiveWireless.com and a host of other stuff, just not anything really staffing service related. I don=t think that I=ll ever forget the time that I searched on Google for my keywords. One of them bypassed the landing page that I targeted for that word and rather went to my error page. I spent quite some time trying to figure why Google did that. In order for the visitor to have successfully stayed on my site in response to typing in recruiter as the keyword, he or she should have gone to my dedicated recruiter landing page. That whole page talks only about staffing services.

When you move visitors from one location on your site to another, text links work better than graphic links. I can=t tell you how surprising that fact was to me. I=ve had several big companies tell me that, and I can see the wisdom in what they told me. That means to you that you shouldn=t overdo your Macromedia Flash and graphics. They can turn people off. Too much text is also not good. A good website takes a lot of work and effort.

Before continuing, I should clarify to you the distinction between a search engine and a directory. Search engines use specially-designed algorithms that send spiders, or ants from my perspective, out to your site, where they crawl around, gather information, and report back what they learnt. If that doesn=t perfectly describe an ant, I don=t know what does. Spiders don=t crawl around gathering information. That is the job of ants!

A directory uses information that you specifically provide to build their indexes. Search engines look at each page on its own value rather than on your website as a whole. You might have noticed when browsing web pages on a site, assuming that you have your Google Toolbar enabled, is that some pages can have very high page rankings, while others almost zero. That shows that Google is an engine and also shows where search engine optimization comes into play. I was surprised to learn that Yahoo is not an engine, but rather a directory. I was surprised to learn the other day that Yahoo owns Overture.

Let me give you a series of steps that you should follow during the entire course of your web development. You=ll be doing as much writing for yourself, then for others. The upshot is that you=ll have a winning site. First of all, you should write down the goal of what your website is and what you want to accomplish. You should write down your target audience. Don=t just say that you want to make sales. Be serious. You=ll be using this list later, so take some time here.

Next, create a spreadsheet indicating what your current page ranking is along with today=s date. You=ll want to track the changes as you make progress. Create an initial list of keywords, if you haven=t already. You should determine which pages on your site will be landing pages and which pages are for visitors who have already landed on your site. Please de-emphasize your error page. You don=t want a user landing there from a search engine. Submit your site to the various search engines initially after every change and then later on monthly. Don=t be bashful. Make the most out of the $100 bucks you paid to a service like SubmitFire.com. Monitor and track your changes, correcting problem areas. You want to keep keywords results in click-though-rate (CTR) averages of 0.7 or higher. CTR is the total number of clicks per impressions showed.

Remember that higher doesn=t mean better. A keyword with a CTR value of 1.5 that results in 50 clicks per month is better than a keyword that has a CTR value of 15, but only generates one click per month. Don=t forget the object of the game is to attract visitors. Using Overture=s pay per click (PPC) service is very useful for this purpose, because you can pay for positioning and get immediate feedback without having to worry about the actual CTR for a keyword. My main problem with Overture.com is that I have to fight with them, sometimes bare fisted (or so it seems), to get them to add a keyword that I want.

I strongly recommend that you record your Overture keyword statistics monthly. I use the form that aggregates the information for each keyword on a monthly basis. Also, create a spreadsheet to track your website log keyword statistics. The Search Engine Power Pack by NetMechanic.com can help you track your primary keywords on a weekly basis for the top search engines and tell you what position they are in. They track the top 40 or so entries for each keyword in their report, unfortunately.

Keyword positioning will have a lot to say about page ranking. Many search engine crawlers give a plus when your keyword is at the beginning, but not necessarily as the very first word in your title. Be careful to not repeat your keywords more than once in any tag or suffer the consequences. Repeating keywords too often has a term, called Akeyword stuffing.@ Many search engines allow you to get by with mentioning a keyword twice in the description, but I=d stick to one.

Don=t target more than a few keywords on any landing page. Just as too many cooks can spoil a dish, so can too many keywords. Make sure to mention your keywords throughout the body text of your webpage. Feel free to experiment here and gauge your success by watching your ranking.

Overture and many other search engines place an importance on keyword weight, the number of times your keyword or keyword phrase appear in your body text compared to the total number of words, but again, be careful to avoid appearing as you=ve “stuffed” your page with your keyword, or you=ll take a hit. Heavier keyword rates are not always better, just as I indicated last month that the PPC keyword with the highest traffic is usually not the best. I can=t emphasize enough that you should keep your eyes on the prize.

Many search engines use relevancy to determine position. Since keywords can have multiple meanings, you want search engines to think that the meaning of your keywords is the meaning that you have in mind and not somebody else=s definition. That is where affiliates, download sites, and partnerships come into play.

A word of advice to you is that search engines can=t see graphics, but they can see the ALT tag associated with images. When working with your webpage source, make sure you use the headline (h1, h2, h3, etc.), title, description, keyword, comment, ALT, and long ALT tags. You=ll be glad that you did.

Let me give you some tips on software that will come in handy for your software promotion. GroupMail by Infacta (www.infacta.com) addresses a subject that I talked about in my last issue, namely an effective tool to help you with sending out targeted newsletters. I have the privilege of testing their current version and their upcoming v5.0 release and it addresses most of the areas that I talked about, such as open rate, click through rate, and other stuff like that.

The next big Internet related thing appears to be the blog. I won=t go into the details of blogging, as that would be another article. Suffice it to say is that a blog is a webpage that lists news articles. Many blogs allow users to add their own comments on a posted article. Think of a special type of forum. You should definitely consider adding in a news feed for your site. To that end, Sharon Housley of NotePage, Inc. created FeedForAll (www.FeedForAll.com), which you should find useful for doing exactly that. Anybody who ever created an XML file manually will appreciate Notepage=s software package. I simply type my news entries into her cute multi skin program, click on an upload file, and watch my website automatically update. You=ll need a free service that Sharon also provides on another website and in no time, you=ll have your website ready for the 21st century.

I=ve talked with several of you this past month and what I would like to tell you is that if you want to become self employed selling your shareware creations, then don=t be afraid to ask other ASP members for help and don=t ever get discouraged. Selling software doesn=t happen overnight for the majority of us. Stay with it and act smart!


NOTE:

Published originally in November 2004 in the Association of Shareware Professionals publication.

BIONOTE:

Sarah M. Weinberger is the CEO at Butterflyvista Corporation and is the creator of Jobfish, the professional tool for the serious job seeker. She spends her day performing software development and marketing related tasks. She is also politically active and is the founder of Progressives Leading.

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