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Search Engine Optimization

Is it in your marketing plan?
By Diane Baedeker Petit




Photo by cohdra/morguefile.com.

So, you've got a website. Great! Whether you've had one for years or just recently set one up, consider this: If a prospective customer doesn't have your Web address or know your farm's name, or even know that your farm exists, how will they find you online?

The easy answer is that they'll find you through Google, right? Well, maybe. If your website isn't among the top few search results, maybe not. Think about how you use Google yourself. If you're like me, you only skim through the first page of results to find what you're looking for. Only when I'm looking for something very specific do I dig into the second or third page of results.

If I'm looking for the official website of a company or organization, I assume that it will be at the top of the search list. Anything lower down is more likely to be a reference on a third-party website, or so I think.

Did you know that it's possible to have some influence over where your site appears in search results?

It's called search engine optimization, or SEO. It sounds like an IT issue, but it's really an important consideration in marketing. This may be stating the obvious, but your website will be much more effective if people can find it.

Now, I don't claim to be an SEO expert, and you don't have to be either, but it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the concept and learn what you, or your webmaster, can do to improve your online presence. Just doing a little Googling, appropriately enough, will lead you to some resources where you can read more about SEO.

If you manage your own website and use a content management system like WordPress, you may have noticed a section labeled SEO. If you're not putting anything in the fields there, you should. By entering a description and keywords, you'll be helping Google or Yahoo to index your pages so that people searching for those words and phrases will find them.

SEO can also apply to other places where you have an online presence. For example, YouTube provides fields for a description and keywords that will help people find your video when searching on YouTube or Google. YouTube even suggests keywords based on the title and description you enter for your video.

When selecting keywords, think about the terms that someone might enter if they were looking for information that relates to your site, page, blog or video. Think in terms of the subject matter, your business name, your products and services, and your location.

In the old days of the Internet, all you had to do to make your site findable was to submit the URL to the various search engines that existed - and there were many. Then they would "crawl" your site using a program called a "spider" to index the information it found in both page content and hidden content, called metadata.

Today, most of those search sites have either folded or were bought by either Google or Yahoo. And those search giants have changed the way they index information on the Internet, in part because some unscrupulous Web marketers included irrelevant metadata for the sole purpose of driving more traffic to their sites.

That practice had the potential of making search results less useful, so to stay ahead in that game, Google uses a more complex indexing method and changes their indexing algorithms frequently.

As a website owner, you don't need to know the details of Google's methods or algorithms, but the hosting services you use likely know a bit about them, so if they offer SEO tools, it can only help to take advantage of them.

The author, a freelance writer, is a public affairs specialist for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service in Amherst, Mass., and was previously director of communications for the Massachusetts Department of Food & Agriculture.