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Matt McGovern's "Know How" (February 2006)

"Know How" is for the well-rounded entrepreneur and small business owner looking for useful computing, marketing, writing, and Web-related articles and tips—plus the occasional topical observation of the world around us.

IN THIS ISSUE:
"Playing the Search Engine Game"
"The Write Audience"

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"Playing the Search Engine Game"
by Matt McGovern

Search engine placement has become sort of a game—and it can be an expensive one. To ensure top placement, Web site owners literally need to pay. This is usually in the form of something called a "pay-per-click" which means that you essentially agree to pay a search engine a certain number of "cents" per click for a specific keyword. It's like an auction. If you're the top bidder—let's say you agree to pay 20-cents per click while your nearest competitor agrees to pay 15-cents per click—then you get top placement.

Many of my clients aren't able/willing to play the "pay-for- placement" game, so they rely on the old-fashioned approach: we embed Web pages with keywords, textual descriptions, author information, and other so-called "tags" designed to increase the chances of top placement when an automated search engine program visits their Web site and indexes it (Tip: the more unique your keywords, the better!).

Another element that helps increase a Web site's ranking is the number of sites to which it links (through, say, a "resources" page) and especially the number of sites that link to it. The search engine programs view this as an indicator of the Web site's popularity. In other words, if other sites link to it, and it links to other sites, it must be popular!

You can also submit to search engines manually, but be forewarned, this can be time-consuming and placement isn't always "free." SUBMISSION to the search engines is usually touted as being free, but "placement" is not always so. Many search engines charge only a nominal fee—$10 to $20—but some may charge a substantial fee just for the "privilege" of being considered (not even guaranteeing a listing, let alone good placement).

There are also "search engine placement" services available. These are primarily vendors who use a combination of their own skills, experience, and software to get your Web site placed in search engines. This approach can be costly, and usually requires a monthly fee for however long it takes to achieve and maintain desired results.

The approach I've taken with my site and with many of my clients is to . . .

1) Do the most I can for "free," such as EMBED PAGES with keywords, text descriptions, etc., so that the site is attractive to the automated indexing programs.

2) LINK my site to others, explore linking other sites to mine (the more relevant links the merrier—so long as they don't detract from content or my Web site's "mission").

3) List myself/clients in SPECIALTY-SPECIFIC DIRECTORIES (such as professional services directories).

4) Target TRADITIONAL MARKETING to prospects in my area through postcards, ads, direct mail, word-of-mouth, press releases, etc., publicizing my Web site address that way.

5) Using my EMAIL SIGNATURE to direct traffic to my Web site and/or specific Web pages.

6) Using an E-NEWSLETTER to promote my services and drive traffic to my site, while also providing useful content for readers.

The bottom line is that the search engine game is just that, a "game"—and to some extent a crap shoot. Years ago, search engine placement used to be more straightforward in that if you were popular, you got good placement. But that was before the "pay to play" approach.

So it boils down to who's willing to spend the money and keep on top of their rankings day-to-day and week-to-week . . . and that's a game that (for me and my business at least) I'm not willing to play.

Feedback? Send your comments to knowhow@700acres.com.

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"The Write Audience"
by Matt McGovern

There are few "absolute" rules of grammar, usage and style. Much of what we write depends on our audience, and what writing convention we—or they—prefer or expect.

Take for example the word "X-ray," which can be spelled Xray, xray, x-ray, or X-ray. Which is correct? Each is an acceptable spelling according to "Webster's New World Dictionary."

But consider this, what spelling does your audience expect?

Back in the 1980s, I used "Xray" as my preferred spelling in a newsletter I wrote and edited for a health care provider (I like to avoid hyphenated words whenever possible . . . I’m just funny that way!). As a result, I received two letters from internal practitioners (email wasn't yet available) pointing out my apparent "misspelling."

Ouch! Embarrassed, I made a frantic search of my "Webster's" and discovered that all of the variations noted above were acceptable, but made the decision to stick with "X-ray" thereafter since that variant appears to be the most widely used spelling of the word.

What lesson did I learn?

Always consider your audience when making usage, grammar, and style choices—especially when there can be more than one "right" answer.

Feedback? Send your comments to knowhow@700acres.com.

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About Matt McGovern
Matt McGovern combines a rare blend of creative and technical know how with more than 20 years of hands-on management and consulting experience. Through 700acres Small Business Services (www.700acres.com), Matt provides writing, editorial, book design, project management, Web development, and marketing consultation services--primarily for small businesses and solo professionals. He has authored and edited numerous Web sites, books, e-books, and newsletters; and has also published articles and short stories, including his first novel, CURRENTS—Every Life Leaves an Imprint (read more about it at www.mattmcgovern.com).

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Copyright © 2006 by Matt McGovern. All Rights Reserved.
(207) 929-8633 | knowhow@700acres.com |
www.700acres.com | 27 McGovern Drive | Buxton, Maine 04093

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