Editor’s notebook – June 2009

Search Engine Optimization – Three words that could mean success or failure in 2009

Sheetal PintoSheetal Pinto is a professional with over 15 years of experience in corporate communications and online brand consulting. Based in Mississauga, Ontario, she is the founder and president of MintCopy Inc., a leading Internet marketing and copywriting firm serving clients across the globe. And, she has dubbed today’s website advertising as the “Amazing Race in Cyberspace.” The “racetrack” in this case, is a search engine.

“As runners (voluntarily or not), we are all racing along tracks like Google, Yahoo!, MSN/Live, ASK, AOL and others. This race is the opposite of ‘Hide-and-Go-Seek’ – it’s more like ‘Run-to-be-found FIRST.’”

“Search” is a numbers game

A “search” is a common activity for billions of Internet users looking to find something they need. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” (organic or algorithmic) search results.

In a highly competitive and crowded space such as the printing industry, you’ve got to make every effort to win this race and be found before your competition. The good thing is, there’s room at the top for more than one printer.

“A search engine listing for a particular search term can show at least 10 front-runners (organic listings) and an additional five or more sideline heroes (the ones that pay to be listed). Even as you’re reading this, the number of people searching for ‘key words’ relevant to your industry is mind-boggling,” Pinto adds.

The table below from Google Canada illustrates this. The global figures would be even higher:
Search Term/Keyword/Key Phrase No. of Searches (monthly average)
Print shop    53,400,000
Printers    72,100,000
Graphic printing    47,100,000
Graphic print design    9,340,000
Graphic arts    16,800,000

“Having a great looking website isn’t enough,” Pinto says. “Your site must show up high in search-engine rankings for the key words that matter. The secret to success is optimizing your content to ensure that customers find you when they are looking for your products and services.”

For example, let’s say you run a print shop in Markham specializing in short-run digital. The trick is to re-write your website promotional text into SEO (Search Engine Optimized) text. This involves putting key words and phrases up front – in your headline, in the first sentence, and throughout the body of your text – and repeating them as often as possible, without your text sounding too contrived. However, remember that you’re still writing for human readers, not only for the search engine “spiders.”

You should also add the same key words and short descriptive text in the back end – these are called meta tags, which the search engines match to the actual content on your site. Never stuff key words into the meta tags without them appearing in a relevant manner in the actual copy that users can see.

In this example, key phrases would be “Markham, Ontario,” “digital,” “short-run” as well as the usual “low-cost,” “rush orders,” “weekend service,” “free estimates” or anything else you want to promote. The various search engines will then identify these phrases and list your site in the top several links that appear on the screen when a potential customer conducts a search.

“Search” is also a usability game

While SEO has evolved from a trend into a necessity, many SEO service providers are thriving on your lack of knowledge, insists Pinto.

“A SEO specialist may promise that your site will be in the top 10 searches on Google within three months for a particular search term. Have no doubts, you may actually see these astounding results. But, what happens next? Do your website visitors actually take the next step and buy?”

Common “conversion” actions to spur buying, according to Pinto, are subscribing to a newsletter, downloading a free trial product or video, clicking on a discount coupon and so on. Therefore, SEO is only one critical step in the broader concept of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), she says.

“Always remember, the higher your ranking, the more customers you’re likely to convert. This is the much-sought-after trophy in the ‘Amazing Race in Cyberspace.’ Good luck and may success be yours online.”

For more information visit www.mintcopy.com, or you can email sheetal@mintcopy.com or phone 1-888-MINT-003.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.