I first started in the Internet business about nine years ago or so. At the time, I was even then concerned about having already missed the boat. ECommerce has only grown since then. I started by designing a basic website called “Independent’s Day”, or “IndieDay” for short. I didn’t even have a .com at the time! It was all about selling independent musicians’ CD’s. It failed miserably.
The next thing I tried was a crafting site with my wife. She was into rubber stamping at the time, and so we started making stamps and selling them online. I designed most of the stamps myself, and we had a great time doing it together. She minded the craft side of the business, and I minded the online sales. We did pretty well. But my wife has very troublesome pregnancies, and so before our first was born, we decided to shut down.
But in the meantime I had learned a lot.
Then came Mark Hansen Music, where my personal professional passion is. Since then, I’ve added a number of sites, both commercial and non, to my list of active sites.
I tell you all that background to tell you this: I’ve seen a LOT of change. And a major part of that change has been centered in the search engines. And I’m not just talking about Who’s the current King of the Hill, or which one is doing promotions with which one, or who is buying out who. I’m talking about the changes in the way they rank the sites that list with them.
Back in the old days, the META tags reigned supreme. Especially the Keyword Tag. You had to have a huge keyword list of all the things people might search for in your list. And that list was hidden in the deep coding of your site. Invisible to the public, seen only by nosy geeks and search engine spiders. People used to do all kinds of tricks, like putting multiple repeats of their keywords in the list, and coming up with hundreds of irrelevant keywords. They’d put 10 or 20 repeats of a dirty word in their META keywords because that’s what people were supposedly searching for.
But then, someone else would come along and repeat that word 50 or 100 times, and the whole thing kinda snowballed out of control. Even the dirty sites got into the game, by including mainstream keywords in their list. There was a time in the late 90’s where it seemed like you couldn’t even search for “mom’s apple pie recipes” without getting at least two or three dirty sites in the list.
Fortunately, that all stopped working. The search engines decided that was absurd and did two things. First of all, they started penalizing people who had too much repetition in the keyword list. Second, they started paying more attention to the keyword matches in the actual website.
Then the webmasters started including huge lists of keywords at the bottom of their pages, sometimes hidden by making the text color the same as the background color. Then the search engines started checking and penalizing for that, and the cat-and-mouse game continued.
Finally we arrive at where we are today. It’s still a constantly changing flux, with the search engines constantly adapting their ranking criteria, and the webmasters trying to game their systems. And each search engine still does things a bit differently. But even still, it’s all starting to settle into some basic constants.
One of those constants is that the META tag keyword list is basically ignored now. What’s most important by far, now, is keyword matches in the actual content of the site, especially in the visible text of the site.
That shift is now so complete, that I actually prefer not to refer to them by the phrase, “key words” any more. That harkens back to the old META tag system so strongly that I think it’s confusing. Instead I use “Search Terms”. I think that “Search Terms” better describes their function. It’s what people are searching for. A search term is what you want to optimize your page for. It’s the term that you work into your site in all the right places, so that when someone searches for it, you rank high.
And picking the right search terms for your optimization efforts is the new key. But it can be tricky.
You want to find search terms that are first of all, relevant to your site. That’s what the filth purveyors found. When they were appearing on clean searches, rather than drawing people in, they were making people mad. Using irrelevant search terms just makes it harder for people to find what they’re looking for, whether or not it’s you.
Then you need to find words that are high in demand, and low in supply. Let me clarify. In economics an item is valuable when it is both rare and wanted. Like a diamond. If diamonds looked like raisins, it wouldn’t matter how rare they were, because nobody would want them.
Search terms are the same way. The most valuable term for your website is one that lots of people are looking for, but not so many people are using in their sites. If I go into Overture.com’s Keyword Selector Tool (http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion), and search for “Music”, I would find that in March of 2005, 9,963,606 searches were done for the term. Wow! 9 million+! That’s a whopping lot! That means that “Music” is in high demand! What a great search term, right?
Well, hold on. Let’s jump to Google.com for a minute, and search for the same term. Hmmm… Let’s see… Not much… Only about 508 MILLION websites are competing for ranking using that term. Let me say that again: 500+ M I L L I O N. OK, that’s a lot of competition. Supply is way high, here.
So, maybe I need to narrow things down a bit. Let’s try “Rock Music”. OK, that’s a bit better, only 96 million sites. How about “Christian rock music”? That’s more my style anyway… 13 million.
Now that’s still very high, but you can see how focusing my search terms has made the numbers more and more manageable. I could keep narrowing and trying different search terms, bouncing between Google and Overture, testing supply and demand until I found some search terms that had the best balance between the two. Not so much competition, but still in demand.
Then, I’d return to my website, and I’d make sure that those search terms were written sensibly into my text and titles there on my main page and my sub pages. And that’s one way I’d improve my ranking.
I’d work on my terms!