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Search Engine Marketing 101

Written for Canadian Tourism Commission’s Tourism Magazine – September 2006.

Have you ever wondered what determines the ability of some websites to come up at the top of search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, and others? Much of this is determined by how these websites have been optimized for search engine marketing, one of the most important elements of online marketing tactics today. It usually requires a combination of organic site optimization (making sure the website is search?engine spider?friendly) and an investment in paid search engine advertising (bidding on keywords, and being charged per click?through to your website).

For positive results to occur, a number of steps should be undertaken. The first is brand protection. This involves making sure you have acquired the right domain names, no one is bidding on your keywords, and you have protected your meta tags. (You might want to consider buying advertising on search engines to compensate for the competing use of keywords.) Avoid distracting pop?ups and pop?unders, to make sure the consumer is not confused when he or she looks up your company or destination on the web.

Paid placement or pay?per?click advertising can be an attractive solution especially if

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you have a price?point attached to the ad. To use the example of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, many people might not know that the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth is a luxury hotel. Potential guests clicking on paid links hoping to find bargain accommodation would quickly move on, and a paid “click” would be wasted; pre?qualifying visitors through ad content is very important. Once the visitor clicks through to the landing page, it is important that this page is designed to accomplish the goal, such as selling a hotel room, capturing email addresses, or excite about the brand or destination to increase awareness.

There are tools out there to help you protect your keywords and meta tags. These resources will scan the web and ensure you are the only one bidding on your branded keywords. Your approach should vary according to the goals and objectives you wish to achieve; at the CTC, for example, our goal is to get people to think differently about what

Canada stands for so they will consider it as a destination for their next holiday. We don’t really want to bid on “Montréal” or “Toronto” keywords to get them to www.explore.Canada.travel because consumers who would use those keywords are already considering

Canada. From our standpoint, we want to be on global travel websites; we want to draw in consumers who may be thinking about going on a cruise to Alaska, travelling to Mexico, or going skiing in Colorado or

Utah. This means we may bid on keywords like “skiing in

North America”.

Remember that all these aspects of optimization are interrelated. Having the right keyword density in your web pages, and having the right keywords in your content, are very important. Is your content actually what people are searching for? Do you have the right linking strategy so that when you link to different sites, they have high link popularity? This also influences how you come up on the search engines. Engines use algorithms that change all the time, and the number of different websites that link to your site matters – but of course the linking sites should be relevant to what your website conveys: if an automobile website links to you, that may not be nearly as helpful as having a link from a travel site!

Listings in website directories like Yahoo involve manual searches where people look at the relevancy of your website, and you want to be on those directories. Some cost money and some don’t, but you want to make sure you leverage all of these available resources. Everything should be optimized, especially if you have a dynamic content management system where the content is generated automatically from a database. Each web page should have the look and feel of having being generated individually with tender loving care.

Spiders like clarity!

If you look at a URL and it doesn’t look like it was written by a human being, this may make it hard for search engine spiders to crawl through the page. You can mask domains to make sure they are easier for search engines to find. Remove characters like questions marks and dollar signs. (The easiest thing is to go into your site and view the source code in your browser window. If you look at the source code and you are unable to understand what the page is all about just by reading, then it is likely the search engines won’t be able to pick it up either.)

If

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you use images, make sure the image files contain some form of description. Instead of naming a photo file 9650.jpeg, call it sanctuaryintherockies.jpeg. Then, the algorithm puts it together with your site content and gives you a higher score. It also will help to get indexed for image searches on search engines such as Google. Alt tags and anchor links

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on your web pages, among others, are important elements when designing a website that is successfully optimized for search engines.

Niche marketing efforts involving the development of different lifestyle or destination microsites – or even multilingual microsites, and then interlinking them with your global site, can be very effective. They create a funnel to drive link popularity, while also being very relevant to consumers looking specifically for, say golf or ski content, or for German?language content. This is very powerful from an organic search optimization perspective; those micro?sites go up to the top of organic search rankings a lot more quickly than your global site.

Make sure your site includes a site map at the top of the page, because the spiders can go in there and index the entire site. If you have “flash” content on your site, make sure it is overlaid with real content, so when the spiders go in they don’t get stopped by the flash. (There should be content in there they can grab; design companies often like to imbed text into images because it is easier for them, but really text should be at the root, because that text will get indexed and the images won’t.)

Bear in mind that organic search optimization usually takes six to eight months to take effect. If you want to be up and running very quickly, you may want to consider paid search advertising as a complement to having direct XML feeds where you actually show up in the organic listings. The paid clicks can compensate for the shortcomings of organic search optimization.

Remember that you are trying to build a network around your key site. It is a bit like building a home in a neighbourhood, as opposed to simply building a house on a lot. Wouldn’t you want your home to be all it can be?

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