SEARCH ENGINES: To Pay or Not To Pay

We've all received the same messages: "I visited, and noticed that you're not listed on some search engines!" Horrors!

First of all, they didn't really visit your site. All the spammers claim that. And for that matter, if they did, they must have found it through a search engine, right?

They go on to say that for an "affordable fee" they can submit your web site to more than 30,000 search engines. Wow, that's a lot!

But consider this... When was the last time you went to a search engine other than Google, Lycos, Yahoo, Excite, or Altavista? And for that matter, why would you? If you can't find what you're looking for in those five search engines, it's just not out there. And don't you think most people head directly to one of those sites when they're searching for information?

What it amounts to is this - yes, there are probably 30,000 different search engines out there, but there are only five or ten that anyone actually uses. All of those "primary" search sites use what's known as "spider" technology to browse the web automatically and catalog what they find. Unless you have a personal web site on Geocities or AOL, or you're trying to promote your business with a site buried in a long URL, your site has already been cataloged and included in all the main search engines. Type in your business name in any of them, and your site will come up near the top of the list.

What's really at issue is whether people will find you, and where on the list of search results your site will appear.

First, consider how people would be searching for you. If you're the Topeka Tornados, a minor league baseball team in Topeka, Kansas, are people just typing "baseball" into the search box, or would they be more likely to search under "Topeka Tornados"? Or perhaps "Topeka" and "baseball"? Most likely, it'd be one of the latter examples. And in those cases, your site will almost always appear in one of the first few results listed. Your site will be found among the cataloged sites because we've optimized your web pages with "Meta tags" - keywords and descriptions that aren't visible to someone visiting your site, but geared to the spiders as they catalog information.

If you operate Joe's Auto Body in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and people search on that title alone, it's possible that your results won't be nearly as good. That's because the name is rather generic, and it's likely that you're not the only "Joe's Auto Body" out there. You might also be hoping to attract people from a particular geographic area who do a simple search under "Auto Body" and "Wisconsin", or more specifically "Auto Body" and "Milwaukee". In that case, you're more likely to show up nearer the top of the results only because the person searching has been more specific with the keywords they've plugged in.

In addition to the Meta Tags used to help your search engine success, many search engines rank their results on "popularity" - in other words, the number of other sites linking to yours. This can often be accomplished by trading links with other businesses. You list their site on your Links page, and they reciprocate.

The only sure way to guarantee that Joe's Auto Body will come up first in the search results is to purchase keywords from the various search engines. That means that if you've "purchased" the term "Auto Body" on Yahoo, your site will come up listed first if somebody enters those search words. That's good news, isn't it?

The drawback is that in order to market yourselves sufficiently on all the major search engines, you'd need to purchase keywords on all of them. And since you'd be paying anywhere from $50 to $1000 a month, depending on the search engine and the popularity of the keywords you want reserved for you - multiplied by five to ten search engines - you'd need a marketing budget the size of Microsoft's to pull it off.

What it all boils down to is that most small or medium size business can't possibly compete on that level. But between proper use of "Meta Tag" keywords, and some reciprocal linking, you'll at least have a shot at competing.

Does it take being listed in 30,000 search engines to do that? Absolutely not.

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