Search Engine Traffic: It's Not All About Rankings!

Jan 16 2009

Have you Googled yourself or your company lately? Or rather, have you typed in keywords you hope to rank well for to check what spot in search engine results you hold? Have you hired an SEO to take you to the top, or at least as high as you can get?

Many site owners and marketers can put too much stock in an absolute search engine ranking (what position you are in). I say this for several reasons:

1. Search engine rankings are affected by the exact keyword search. If your most desired keyword is “murphy beds” – you might Google yourself and find you’re #5 for that term. But for variations of that term that actual customers type in, like “queen murphy bed” or “murphy wall beds” – you may be even higher. So your search engine traffic will be driven by a number of terms you might not have thought of.

2. Search engine rankings are affected by user location. Search engines use different “data centers” that deliver different results based on location. You wouldn’t want to see New York pizza parlors when you live in Denver. If you’re showing up as #3 in your city, you may be higher or lower in any other city at any given time, and for any given search variation.

3. Past search behavior affects what a Google searcher will see. Are you logged into Gmail or another Google Account service? Unless you have manually turned your browsing history off, your results may be skewed to sites you have visited before. This is called “Personalized Search.” There is no way to predict or control what individual users will see anymore.

4. Google’s incorporation of video, news and image results into regular search pages is called “Blended Search.” If you obsessively check rankings every day you may see your positions bounce around as Google tests placement of multimedia and news content at various positions.

The point is you can’t control search engine rankings, and even with search engine ranking reports (or manual checks), the position you see is not the position you are at all the time.

However, there are elements of how your listing appears that you can control, and can be more effective than your actual position at attracting clicks. These are your title tag (which appears in blue text in search engine results), your meta description (text you craft that explains what a page is about) and your URL.

Market In Title Tag

Do you have a promotion or customer service policy that trumps your competition’s — like free shipping? Even if you’re #5, you can win a click over a website that just lists a product or service title. Which would you click on first?

Murphy Beds Factory Direct
Murphy Beds
Murphy Bed Company
International Murphy Beds: Ready to Assemble
Quality Murphy Beds: Free Shipping

If your site uses the Drupal CMS, you can change your Title Tag in the Page Title field. If you do not have the Page Title field module, simply install it and you can control your title tags.

Market in Your Meta Description

Similarly, your meta description tag allows you to “sell yourself” to the searcher. You can’t control whether the search engine will use your meta description or text from your web page, but it’s always a good idea to have one because it can really help attract clicks. Because you have more characters to work with than your title tag, you can include more offers and value propositions.

Here are some real examples I pulled from a search for “murphy beds”:

Murphy Beds and Space Saving Furniture – Factory Direct, Shipped Worldwide, Save Hundreds. Order Toll Free 888-730-3003.

Selling the finest Murphy Beds and Wall Bed accessories from contemporary to traditional styles. Ask about our Free Shipping offers.

All units are equipped with the original Murphy bed mechanism. Choice of six cabinet styles. Order by toll-free telephone or e-mail.

Space saving furniture. Models, specials, and product information.

Here’s an exercise: If these were your competition, how does your meta description compare? How could you make your description more compelling?

Drupal users: you can change your meta descriptions using the Nodewords module.

Short URLs

Marketing Sherpa in its Benchmark Report on Search Marketing discovered that shorter URLs appearing directly below longer URLs enjoyed a 250% higher click through rate. This research suggests short URLs are a competitive advantage as long URLs are complicated, messy and difficult to decipher. Using keywords in a short URL aids in usability for the searcher – your URL is easy to scan and reinforces that your page is relevant to the search performed.

If you decide to rename your URLs, always make sure to redirect the old URL to the new, this helps search engines and eliminates broken links to your pages (the dreaded 404 Not Found!) In Drupal, you would create an alias for the page.

These 3 simple things can help attract more visitors to your site, even if you’re not the first result.

Linda Bustos is an eCommerce Analyst for Elastic Path Software, an enterprise ecommerce framework. Linda blogs daily about Internet Marketing for online retail at the Get Elastic eCommerce Blog.