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When it comes to search engine optimization, here's how to earn Google's respect
The Internet has quietly revolutionized the world in this new century. Consumers are banking, shopping, and being entertained and informed from their personal computers. This massive shift of consumers to the Web has relevance far beyond those in the media and entertainment industries.
Today as never before, people are researching their health, their diseases, and their medications online. According to comScore, Inc., 61 billion searches were conducted worldwide on the Internet in August 2007; nearly half (43 percent) were medical or health related, according to Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence service. But although we see this shift of eyeballs to the Internet, drug marketing has been slow to follow.
Those who have transitioned to online advertising have found a medium that moves at light speed and operates under rules far different from the traditional offline world. Great online content delivers targeted messages to your audience. To stake out the high ground in the ever-shifting online landscape, marketers utilize Search Engine Optimization (SEO). SEO turned into a multi-billion-dollar business almost overnight. But don't be fooled by that impressive-sounding figure. There are plenty of outfits that say they perform SEO, but most don't do it very well.
SEO is the science behind earning first page results in a "natural search," displayed down the center column when using search engines. Natural results account for more than 80 percent of search-generated traffic. The results in the right-hand column and the very top, separated by a light pink-shaded area, are paid ads. Paid ads, known as Search Engine Marketing, are an important part of an Internet marketing campaign, but account for less than 20 percent of clicks.
So how do you win first page placement in the natural results on Google and the other major search engines? With a click of a mouse and some important tips.
Many people ask, "Why Google?" Simple. Google is the world's greatest search engine. Google's goal is to organize the world's information, and make it easily and instantly available to anyone with access online. This is being done by some of the brightest minds in the world and, not surprisingly, the complexity of their search algorithm is difficult to comprehend. After years of studying Google, my firm has simplified SEO into three easy-to-understand principles that I call "The three secrets to SEO."
Until your Web site has earned the trust of Google, nothing else you do matters, and you won't rank high in searches. The most important way you earn trust is by receiving links from other trusted Web sites. When Google co-founder Larry Page created the Google algorithm called Page Rank, he looked at an existing system of qualifying papers called academic citations. If your academic paper was cited frequently, it would become trusted and used more often. Page compared a link to academic citations. The more citations or links, the more trusted the source of the content would become. Therefore, the best way you'll earn Google's trust is by making your Web site the receiver of links, or in "geek speak," back links.
Google's trust also comes with a Web site's age. A business that has just opened its doors is less trusted than one that has been operating for years. Web sites work the same. You can't fake a Web site's age and this weighs heavily on earning Google's trust. As a result, it has created a whole new online industry of people buying, selling, and trading aged domains at online stores and auctions.
Once you've earned Google's trust by creating a compelling reason for great Web sites to link to your site, it's time to get Google to read your text in order to understand what your site is all about.
Most people think that if they can visibly read the text on a Web page then Google can read it. This is not always the case. For example, Google has difficulty reading Web sites created entirely in Flash, database-driven content management systems run by Java Script, and Web sites containing frames. These are just a few examples of Web sites that will probably not rank in searches; most webmasters are unaware of this. The second secret of SEO: Create content that Google can read easily. The best way to achieve this is by creating readable content and Web pages in HTML while following World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards.
Many marketers want multiple messages to be sent simultaneously to their customers. Brochures and posters may contain several product offerings or messages, and some business cards list five or six things the company does. Marketers often incorrectly utilize the same strategy on a Web page. A single Web page may contain 10 different products. Now that we have implemented SEO secrets No. 1 and No. 2, we can assume that Google trusts your Web page and can read the text. If the page is about 10 different things, then Google will reward you by ranking you for all 10. The problem is that you will rank on page 100 for product one, page 1,000 for product two, page one million for product three, etc. If you're not on Google's first page search results, the majority of Internet searchers will never find you.
In the world of search engines, keywords are powerful tools; they can be one word or a cluster of words on your Web page that identifies what the pages are about. "Cholesterol" is a single keyword. "Good cholesterol" is a keyword cluster. Single keywords are the hardest to win, but they offer the highest number of targeted visitors. Keyword clusters are easier to win, but usually drive less traffic.
We subscribe to numerous databases that collect information on Internet searches. They tell us how many searches are conducted daily on a given search query and how many competing Web sites are currently targeting the keyword. Two databases that I recommend are Wordtracker and Wordze. Both are reasonably priced, easy to use, and contain a wealth of valuable search-query information.
Laser beam focus means a Web page should provide an exact match with some density to a keyword that matters to your business. Select good keywords by guessing. Brainstorm with your SEO consultants, pharmaceutical executives, and patients then create a list of product-relevant keywords that you believe people might search for. Use these keyword guesses to seek actual keyword searches on the Internet.
Web sites are like real estate. Your domain name is a plot of land. The look, feel, and functionality of the Web site make up your hotel. Your guests represent the traffic driving there, and you want them to be able to find it. On top of that, you want guests to enjoy their visit and share the positive experience with family and friends.
A major pharmaceutical company created a fantastic patient Web site that assisted patients in tracking their health on a daily basis. Over the course of three years, the Web site grew in popularity as nearly 60,000 patients joined the program.
In the Internet/real estate analogy, a company purchases a piece of land and builds a great, extremely successful hotel. And just when the hotel reaches its peak performance, the company that created it brings out the wrecking ball and returns land to the city. The lesson: Every Web site is a valuable piece of property that gains customers over time. Each property can refer people to other similar and beneficial properties. It's good for businesses to own and develop several properties; create a separate Internet property for each disease that you treat.
Most everyone would agree that an increase in a patient's education about his or her disease leads to better compliance. We know that patients are turning to the Internet by the millions, and conducting searches by the billions, to look for answers about their health. This provides the pharmaceutical industry with an unequalled opportunity to reach a targeted audience of people who are seeking education on their specific diseases. The first pharmaceutical companies that create disease-specific patient education on the Internet that is search engine optimized will empower patients within their target market to be proactive about their health. Because in the end, educated and empowered patients are more likely to get treated.
Scott Wilson is president of Rank Higher and eMotion Picture Studios. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org