Indexable Websites: search engine-ready, born to compete (and win)

Website owners often request the services of a web positioning firm after they realize that their websites are not achieving the desired results. It turns out that in many cases, inherent programming issues, or the website architecture itself may keep optimization efforts from ever becoming 100% effective. Therefore, the best way to improve the indexability of a website is by involving positioning experts during the initial design phases. That is when certain aspects of a web design must be properly considered and nailed down to avoid costly web positioning efforts later on, or worse yet, to not make positioning an almost impossible task once the site has been published.

Once a website has been completed and published, obtaining a good ranking from an Internet search engine –Google, MSN Search or Yahoo- usually becomes one of the highest priorities. Oddly enough, during the conception, design and programming phases of a website –in other words, during its creation- that same priority does not seem to be present in a developer’s mind, nor is requested by a client when ordering the site. And even though a web developer, with very good intentions, may use the most advanced programming techniques and the most refined graphic designs, and a webmaster may also host the site on the most modern and sophisticated web servers, the website may experience problems at a later time when it fails to appear within the top search engine results. The reason for this is typically tied to the fact that the designer never took into consideration the most basic indexing aspects of a website and also ignored the fundamentals for web usability, accessibility and compatibility throughout the design process.

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Measuring and improving the performance of a website

The return on investment (ROI) for the implementation of a website is directly related to the level by which the website is able to achieve its objectives. Even though this concept may sound trivial to the majority of business owners, establishing a series of objectives for a website and putting in place a methodology for measuring how well these goals are being met typically become more challenging tasks.

Traditional business managers and economic strategists have always had at their disposal a variety of methods for measuring and evaluating the degree of success of business objectives. For example, an increase in productivity, cost reduction initiatives, meeting certain sales goals, or the impact of an advertising campaign are all objectives that can be methodically measured and directly linked to a quantifiable level of success within a specific timeframe. Then, as businesses successfully accomplish their short-term goals, they are able to establish and pursue mid or longer term initiatives.

When those same business managers and strategists that are used to operating in traditional environments, and therefore are very familiar with managing and classifying clients, calculating penetration ratios, measuring profitability and forecasting sales, are now faced with the new paradigm of a virtual business, they seem to forget that most of what they already know and do, including the use of common sense, is equally applicable to an online economy. However, in many cases, it is very difficult to see how a company’s website aligns with its general business strategy and in extreme cases, a website’s only purpose is to provide the company with a presence on the Internet.

This reality is even more paradoxical if one looks at the fact that the Internet, due to its technological foundation and highly interactive nature, provides the ideal ground for quickly testing new ideas, inexpensively measuring their results, and effortlessly obtaining direct customer feedback to guide future changes or improvements. Let’s therefore take a look at some factors that will allow us to measure the performance of a website in terms of its ROI, and also at some strategies that our traditional business managers will have to establish to guarantee that the same level of success that they are accustomed to is also achieved in a virtual online economy.

1. A website must be fully aligned with the corporate strategic objectives

The objectives for a website must closely follow the general strategy for the company, as established by their executive management. Therefore, when the term website is used, it should not be interpreted as a piece of the company’s Information Technology (IT) or computer systems. Instead, the term website should trigger and be identified with concepts such as Marketing, Sales, Human Resources, Customer Service, Product Support, etc. In other words, if IT is the department responsible for your company’s website you should have plenty of reasons to worry.

2. A website must establish tactical objectives

After the general strategic planning has been completed for the website, each department must then establish the objectives for their own area of responsibility as an integral part of the overall plan.

For example, a department responsible for customer support could help alleviate the load of their customer-calling center by adding to their website a section that contains frequently asked questions (FAQs), or by simply implementing an e-mail based help page where customers’ questions could be answered during non-peak periods. As a matter of fact, many people would rather fill out an e-mail form with their question than waiting on hold for 25 minutes listening to the same melody or sales message.

In the above example, the objective is clear: to reduce the workload of our customer-calling center and improve customer satisfaction. We should be able to measure the performance of this objective by tracking the ratio between the number of calls experienced by the call center and the number of customer inquiries registered by the website.

As another example, the department responsible for buying pre-owned properties in a real estate agency would like to concentrate their efforts in purchasing those properties with the highest customer demand. The objective of that department, in this case, would be to optimize and adapt the agency’s property portfolio to include those profiles with higher customer appeal. This objective could be measured by calculating the percentage of successful inquiries experienced by the website’s property locator.

3. Identifying the Key Performance Indicators

Once each department has established their own tactical objectives, a web-based methodology must be implemented to measure the degree of improvement experienced. Although it might be interesting to know the overall web traffic statistics of a website (items such as unique visitors, pages visited, referrers, etc.) it is pretty obvious that special attention must be given to those visits that directly contribute to the success of the established objectives (buying, asking for an estimate, soliciting information, setting up an appointment, etc.)

This concept is very easy to explain by analyzing the behavior of visitors inside an online store. From all the visitors that access the homepage of an online store, only a portion will use the site’s product locator. Out of that group, only a few will add products to their cart, and from those, only a percentage will eventually complete the online payment process. The relationship between the total number of visitors that accessed our site and those that successfully completed a purchase can provide our website’s client conversion ratio. It goes without saying that the higher this ratio the better the performance of the website will be. This ratio is therefore an excellent Key Performance Indicator (KFP) for an online store.

But even if a website is not an online store, other KFPs, just as easily identifiable and measurable, can still be defined to evaluate the site’s objectives. For the customer-calling center objective mentioned above, the percentage of visitors that access the customer help page after having visited the FAQs could be considered a KFP. In other words, the fewer inquiries the help center page registers the better the FAQ page is probably performing and the less work the customer-calling center is therefore receiving. In the case of the real estate agency objective, a good KFP could be defined as the percentage of successful visits registered by the website’s property locator. Other effective KFPs for that website could be defined by measuring the number of visitors that access property specification sheets, or by calculating the percentage of visitors that eventually set up an appointment to tour a property, for instance.

4. Measuring a website’s performance

The identification of Key Performance Indicators allows us to implement two fundamental processes that will improve a website’s performance:

  • A “translation” of the website’s traffic statistical data into concepts and values that can be easily recognized by the individuals in charge of a department or area;
  • A “transformation” of that data into knowledge that will allow a department head to make decisions and take actions.

Let’s look at each process separately. Web traffic statistics, in general, contain technical information in a highly specialized language, and they measure an endless set of parameters, most of which lack any relevance to a department business lead. That is why, typically, this information is only accessed by IT professionals or webmasters, and even then, only sporadically.

If, on the other hand, we were able to identify only those pieces of information that are needed to calculate and measure the KFPs that have been identified to appraise the performance of a website, we would be “translating” the vast set of traffic statistics into a language that department heads could easily recognize and relate to. For example, someone in charge of a customer service department would not see that has registered 23,547 hits. Instead, the information presented to that individual would convey that the number of users that submitted an inquiry to the customer help page has decreased by 10%.

By only serving to each department the data that is relevant to calculate their own KFPs, the task of decentralizing a website’s huge traffic statistical data and converting that information into a series of executive summaries, customized for the each department head, becomes a much simpler endeavor.

Implementing the translation process described above also guarantees a higher degree of involvement on the part of those responsible for each department. By providing familiar and recognizable data, these individuals will be equipped with the information necessary to “transform” the data received into knowledge that they can use to propose changes or improvements. This process will be most effective if the KFP changes are monitored over short periods of time (e.g., every two to four weeks.) It is in this manner that the executives will be able to observe trends, anticipate changes and notice the effect of recently implemented improvements. By providing this constant feedback, these decision makers will be kept involved and motivated, supporting a continuous improvement process.

5. Improving a website’s performance

Once the Key Performance Indicators have been identified, the gauge for each KFP is thought of being reset to zero. From that moment, each department is free to propose and develop strategies that will improve the performance of their own area. Since each department has a set of KFPs and a methodology to consistently and continuously measure their performance, they have the necessary tools to “test” new strategies and evaluate their positive or negative effects almost immediately. At the same time, this feedback will stimulate new decisions and/or actions for implementing improvements in each area. Finally, the changes measured by the KFPs will be excellent indicators for determining the level of alignment between our website’s objectives and the global strategy of the company.


The performance and ultimate success of a website is for the most part based on the efforts of individual departments working together towards a common set of corporate goals. It will be the improvements made by those individual groups, in order to achieve their own objectives that will drive the overall increase in Internet performance. If we then establish a relationship between the cost associated with each of the proposed improvements and the return expected from them (for example, in terms of a workload reduction, or an increase in the customer conversion ratio) we will be able to not only measure the ROI for our entire corporate website initiative, but also collect the necessary data to justify future Internet investments. After all, the World Wide Web is just one more avenue for conducting business. An avenue, nonetheless, that still requires us to establish objectives, measure their achievement, and act when necessary to provide improvements. We must also be aware that those same principles that we have so heavily relied upon in a traditional economy still apply in this new virtual business world.

Can we all fit in Google’s top 10 results?

Appearing on Google’s 1 – 10 web results is every web administrator’s dream. With Google generating over 85% of all Internet search engine referred traffic, reaching that privileged ranking can differentiate the professional Internet players from the amateur website owners. As a matter of fact, numerous tests have demonstrated that the top three Google results are read by the majority of web surfers, the remaining results on that first page are the second most efficient ones, but only about 10% of Internet users explore beyond the third page of results.

In other words, if your company is not part of the elite, or the top 30 results, the probability of being contacted by a client becomes almost non-existent. Thirty spots are all you have. And only ten of them are reserved for the cream of the crop. Is this truly all the space that is available for everyone around the globe? In reality, there are several factors that make those top rankings that you so feverishly compete for less contended than they first appear. The answer lies in the segmentation and accurate identification of your market niche along with an effective positioning of your website for this niche.

For now, you may want to temporarily forget about the Internet and start by asking yourself how many competitors you have in the real world. Or, if you prefer, you may want to list those businesses that are offering a product or service portfolio resembling yours and targeting the same client segment that you are profiting from. It is entirely possible that you may have already gone the extra mile differentiating your product or service offering, finding a market niche that can be addressed in a unique way, or identifying some other competitive advantage of your own. In other words, you may already be competing with a reduced number of firms, probably less than 30, and perhaps even less than 10. If this is what your real world looks like, why should it be any different on the Internet? Even if we accept the fact that there will always be markets or segments that will attract a greater number of competitors, as long as we have accurately segmented our piece of the pie, we will frequently find that only a handful of competitors are vying for our same portion.

Let’s look at this issue now from an Internet perspective. Can we all fit in Google’s top 10 results? The answer is a definite yes, at least as it applies to those results generated by search terms that potential clients use when looking for companies like yours. The good news is that Google has reserved for your business a small number of pages where your website can appear on the top three results, and then, a handful more where your site will definitely rank among the elite, but where, unfortunately, you will also contend alongside your closest competitors. Therefore, constantly measuring and tracking the amount of traffic that a site experiences does not seem as important -after all, in a real shop, one is more interested in helping customers than visitors. Instead, you should concentrate in assuring that when potential Internet clients look for your products or services they can indeed find your website. Let’s see how this is done.

1. Accurately identifying your market niche

You must get to know the type of clients that you are addressing: who they are, where they are located, and how they look for your products or services. Keep in mind that the typical Internet user begins a search using very broad terms. For example, someone in Great Britain looking for homes in the Costa Blanca of Spain may enter “houses in Spain” as search terms. However, those same keywords could be used by a student who is interested in Spanish architecture, or by a person looking for rental property in Madrid, or by an economist who wants to know how real estate prices have recently faired in Spain.

When a search engine returns an unmanageable number of results, users typically restrict their next search by including more specific criteria. For example, they may limit the geographic coverage -“house in Costa Blanca”-, include the type of product –“townhouse in Costa Blanca”-, or add an action –“opportunities + townhouse in Costa Blanca for sale”. If your business happened to be a small real estate agency in the town of Javea -in the Costa Blanca of Spain-, a potential client of yours would probably belong to the profile of those that entered “opportunities + townhouse in Costa Blanca for sale.”

Nowadays, a great majority of Internet searches are conducted by entering concepts consisting of two or three words. However, after a user becomes more familiar with Internet search engine technology the tendency is to type in more specific and detailed phrases.

2. Identifying your keyword sets

Are you targeting a general English speaking audience or perhaps Scandinavian customers that may be interested in buying luxury homes in Javea? One of your first criteria should therefore be the language.

After a language is selected, you must figure out how potential clients will look for your website. Keep in mind though that if you are a small real estate agency in Javea, focused in selling local properties to a British market, for example, it will be extremely difficult for your website to appear as part of the elite results when someone simply types in “real estate in Spain” as the search criteria. At the same time, be aware that the chances of your small business capturing a customer that entered those terms in Google are much reduced. The problem is that “real estate in Spain” is not the space where your small local company should be competing in. If, on the other hand, you had correctly identified your market niche, you would be enjoying a definite advantage when users entered more specific terms, such as “townhouses in Javea”, “villas in Javea”, “apartments for sale in Javea”, or “real estate agents in Javea”. In summary, the keywords that we select must always identify very clearly our specific market niche.

3. Optimizing your website

Your next step will be to ensure that the contents of your website reflect precisely the products or services that your clients are looking for.

If you are wondering how search engines classify websites, you must bear in mind that after all, a website is nothing more than information. Books have been organizing and presenting information for centuries. If you were handed a book and asked what the book was about, you would probably first look at its title, subtitles or any other text on the book’s cover. Next, you might turn the book over and look for a summary or synopsis on its back. A third level of information could be derived from looking at its index. Finally, and without having to read the entire book, you would browse through some of the pages, where individual chapter and section titles would catch your attention. If you were considering buying the book, you would probably take a look at recommendations from prior readers, paying more attention to those that you consider experts in the field.

Google is no different. When it comes to classifying a website, Google will look at the title of the default page, at its description or subtitle, and at the contents inside the page itself, which if properly built, should be a synopsis of what the users will find in the website. Google will next evaluate the website’s navigation or indexing by traversing through the various links inside each page or chapter. While Google navigates through a website, it will repeat the process of looking at the title, description and contents of each and every page.

In the same manner as we use recommendations from prior consumers before making a purchasing decision, Google will also take into account those links that point to your pages from external websites. And, the more important and prestigious those external referring sites are, the higher your own website will be rated by Google.

It is therefore extremely important to have a good title and description for our website’s home page, but it is equally important to make sure that the titles and descriptions for the remaining pages accurately reflect their contents (nobody wants to read a book whose chapter titles are all the same). It goes without saying -unless your company name is Coca-Cola or Nike- that you should not use the name of your business as a page title. If someone already knew your company by name, they probably would know your web address as well.

4. Learning from your clients

You should review from time to time your website’s traffic statistics and derive from them those search engines and search terms that have primarily been used to find your website. At the same time, this information will identify those keywords most often entered by your potential clients. If you then create new pages using these same concepts and look for partners willing to include in their websites a referral link to your home page, you will start noticing a progressive improvement of your website’s ranking, at least for those searches that deliver the most profitable results.


In your race to become a highly ranked website, do not try to compete using very broad terms. Your site can join a search engine’s elite (top 30 results), or even be part of its cream of the crop (top 10 results), if you identify and segment your market niche accurately. In fact, even though you may end up registering less Internet traffic than before, or less than your competitors, the ratio between the number of visitors that simply pass through your site and the number of potential clients, also known as the customer conversion ratio, will be much higher. After all, what are you most interested in, traffic or clients?

Search Engine Positioning: Trends for 2005

Anticipating what the future may bring –even when this future is immediate- can always be a risky business. But if the subject being considered relates to the Internet, rather than trying to project or estimate, one is better off relying on the magic powers of a good crystal ball. In spite of these difficulties, businesses must work within predictable and potential boundaries that can generate good intuition for the future. This will allow firms to establish strategies that will prepare them for changes before they occur. But, just like Bill Gates, who at one time said that 640 KB of RAM would be all anybody would ever need, we humbly accept the possibility of making erroneous assumptions and predictions while delineating what Human Level Communications anticipates for the fast growing and highly competitive world of search engine marketing during 2005.

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What is your real goal: web positioning with top results or the ability to attract more qualified traffic to your website?

If placing your website within the top search engine results, entering certain keywords in Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, or Alta Vista, has become your daily obsession, stop for a moment and reflect. Is achieving top search results with selected keywords the real objective, or, is it perhaps developing a means for connecting with your potential customers, thus attracting more qualified traffic to your web site, what you are truly after? Besides, what are the chances that your prospective clients will key in, exactly, those keywords that you chose in, precisely, those same search engines that you have targeted to locate your website within the first page of results?

Now that the majority of website administrators have finally accepted that online marketing applying search engine technology is the most efficient strategy in the long term for capturing qualified Internet traffic, companies that offer web optimization and search engine submission services have started launching aggressive campaigns guaranteeing top positions for their clients by using a limited number of keywords (typically five, ten, or fifteen), regardless of their websites’ business domain. This approach should immediately raise doubts as it is obviously much easier to position a website dedicated, for example, to the dissection of butterflies, that probably enjoys very little competition, than positioning a website dedicated to real estate operating in an extremely crowded market. Therefore, one must always carefully weigh in the promises made by these web-positioning firms since two different scenarios could occur:

  • In order to achieve the promised top search results, a web-positioning company may be forced to choose keywords that are so exclusive and specific that even if your website surfaces among the first few spots, the chances of a prospective client typing those exact keywords is extremely remote.
  • On the other hand, a client may demand from the web-positioning company the utilization of keywords that are so generic and belong to such a highly competitive business domain that the web-positioning company is unable to realize their promises even after applying all the proper techniques correctly.

This raises the question of whether the mechanisms currently employed for determining the success or failure of a web positioning strategy are adequate, or, perhaps, better alternatives exist. In most cases, web-positioning companies justify their success by providing periodic web positioning reports to their clients. These automatically generated reports show the positions achieved by each of the selected keywords with every search engine targeted. Software programs repeatedly launch queries once a week, or once a month, with each of the search concepts using all the search engines selected, capturing the results and presenting them in weekly or monthly reports. The customers review these reports and apply their information as the only basis for determining the level of success, which brings us back to the original question: Is achieving a good positioning the real objective, or is it using web positioning as just another means for obtaining more qualified traffic the intended goal?

From my perspective, attracting qualified Internet traffic should be the ultimate goal of any online marketing strategy, from web positioning to online advertising, including email strategies, permission marketing, or pay-per-click campaigns. That is why marketing professionals should be using web traffic reports as the true indicators of their online marketing success, as opposed to relying solely on the information provided by web positioning reports. Even though these latter reports can offer a good indication of where a website would appear if certain keywords were used in a search engine, the cornerstone for determining how well a website is actually performing comes from analyzing the real-time statistics provided by web traffic reports. Let’s analyze next some of the reasons that make these reports such an invaluable asset.

  • A potential customer can locate a website entering such a large variety of keywords, phrases, synonyms, misspelled words, expressions, etc. that limiting the positioning of a website to the utilization of five, ten, fifteen, or even twenty keywords would not begin to cover the spectrum of possibilities available to any Internet user.
  • The origins of prospective clients are typically so diverse that adopting an online marketing strategy that simply positions a website for a limited number of search engines would greatly reduce the chances of capturing additional audiences frequenting areas such as forums, user groups, e-mails, newsletters, referrals, chat rooms, blogs, online articles, etc. Even though, in most cases, Google, for example, generates over 75% of the traffic referrals for a website, it is important to note that external referrals to a website from areas such as forums or newsletters are also taken into consideration by Google and other search engines while positioning a website. A complete web positioning strategy should therefore take into consideration external website referrals due to the effect that they have on the overall positioning and also because these referrals are excellent sources for directing more qualified traffic to a website.
  • A web positioning report illustrates the ranking that a website would obtain if the keywords chosen by us were submitted to the list of search engines also selected by us. A web traffic report, on the other hand, shows exactly how a prospective customer found our website (i.e. shows both the keywords typed in by the customer and the search engine used by the customer.)
  • A web positioning report shows the spot that could be achieved, but provides little insight on how to improve the results obtained. One of the many features of a web traffic report is the ability to capture what specific keywords and corresponding search engines generated the majority of the visits to a website, or those that actually converted visits into real customers. This continuous feedback provided by the web traffic reports is an excellent mechanism to fine-tune search concepts and improve their effectiveness.
  • Web traffic reports can also be utilized to analyze how the popularity of a particular search concept evolves over time and how new trends or concepts are born. This information enables the incorporation of new niche keywords that will improve the positioning of a website not only by reducing the scope of a search, but also by increasing the chances that a potential customer will select those keywords.
  • Finally, a web traffic report also lists all the external referring entities (e.g., forums, chat rooms, blogs, etc.); information that will prove invaluable for expanding a web positioning strategy and enhancing its vision for a more global reach.

Attracting qualified Internet traffic to a website (i.e. customers that are interested in the products or services being offered) ought to be the ultimate goal of any online marketing strategy. This effort cannot be simply limited to the selection of a series of search keywords and engines, all chosen beforehand. Instead, a more global approach must be adopted that encompasses web optimization, search engine submissions, inclusion of references in external areas such as forums, user groups or value-added portals, the publication of articles, and the contribution of content to other websites. This expanded strategy will enhance our overall Internet presence and will enable the most popular search engines to locate a website applying a greater variety of search concepts. Lastly, by applying the feedback obtained from the web traffic reports, our global Internet presence can be continually improved and sustained to ensure consistent and effective results.

Do-it-yourself: Improve your web site positioning in 8 simple steps.

Digital marketing, based on the utilization of Internet search engines, is a complex science that requires specialized knowledge in the field of Internet searching. Experts study how search engines evolve, their performance and behavior with particular search concepts, and their popularity at any given time. Armed with this intricate information, these specialists are able to provide advise to web owners on how to improve the performance of their web sites. Nonetheless, there are a few things that all of us can do to advance the positioning of our web sites without having to resort to the subject matter experts or without the need to write complicated code. The following eight steps, along with some familiarity of your market space, and a pinch of common sense, will allow anyone to increase the rankings of their web site on the most popular search engines.

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