Make search engines work for you

Websites are valuable marketing tools but only if search engines direct clients to their virtual doors. Keywords and other forms of web optimisation are the keys to success, says Sally Laker

Websites are one of the most inexpensive marketing tools available to brokers who want to raise their profiles, enhance their reputations and boost new business enquiries. But all too often, firms forget that the websites themselves need to be marketed to ensure they receive a regular flow of traffic.

Known as website optimisation, this is less a black art and more a common-sense fine-tuning of the HTML source code that underpins each web page.

By making these pages search engine-friendly, firms stand a greater chance of gaining more traffic and climbing up the results ladder. If they consider that about 80% of first- time visitors to their sites are hooked up by one of the major search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, the implications are obvious.

To start this website-tweaking process, firms must put themselves in the shoes of their potential customers. How would they search for the firm? Which keywords would they enter into search engines?

If firms can anticipate the words or phrases that potential visitors are likely to use, they must ensure these terms appear regularly in their site’s text. Search engines rank their results according to the frequency and location of the keywords used in searches, so they should place as many of these target words in the opening paragraphs of their websites and litter them throughout the rest of the text.

But they must be sensible and not cram so many of the keywords into the text as to make it unintelligible, repetitive or boring for readers.

Firms must also be aware that ‘spamdexing’ – manipulating the relevancy or prominence of resources indexed by search engines – is frowned upon and may result in a ban.

With these caveats in mind, firms should give careful thought to the text and focus on the keywords in those vital opening sentences.

Avoid generalisations and concentrate on the specific ideas behind the keywords. Important information such as phone numbers and disclaimers should go at the foot of the web page in favour of the salient keywords.

But firms getting their sites ranked is only the first part of the equation. Next, they must convince searchers that their site, among the mass of results returned, is the one they are looking for.

To entice potential visitors to click through to your website, its description must be informative and enable readers to make instant judgements.

The simplest way to do this is to come up with a description that is concise and clearly sets out the purpose of the website. Firms should remember that anyone searching on the internet is goal-driven, so they must be clear about what their websites are about by specifying the business areas in which they operate.

To monitor the success of this fine-tuning, firms should review their changes and after resubmitting their websites to the search engines, should wait a couple of weeks before repeating the exercise. The first search will give them a base line from which to evaluate the impact of later changes.