Natural Search Engines

How Using Our 20 Techniques Can Increase Your Site Traffic by 43% and Lower Your Per-Click Fees by 29%

We recently released the recording of our search engines clinic. You can listen to a recording of this clinic here:

Windows Media Audio

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In a previous report, we looked closely at optimizing sites to achieve a high Google PageRank. That report is available here.

The techniques outlined in that report are an example of how you might begin to optimize your site for natural search engines (as opposed to pay-per-click (PPC) search engines). However, you shouldn’t simply stop at Google.

For what other search engines should you be optimizing your site? With the predominance of PPC engines, how important are natural search engines? How much traffic can you expect from those sites? What techniques can you implement that will help improve your site ranking in ALL natural search engines?

Findings

1. How Important are Natural Search Engines?

“Natural”, “traditional”, or “organic” search engines are typically defined as non-pay-per-click engines. The potential traffic from these sites is determined by how well you have optimized your site, not by how much you are willing to pay for a click-through.

In the early days of the Web, organic search traffic was everything. Now marketers can simply buy their way in using the PPC engines. But what impact can organic search still have on your site’s traffic?

Consider the following chart:

Test Site A – PPC and Natural Search Traffic – May 2004
Clicks Total Cost CPC
Google 71,245 $4,700.27 $0.066
DealTime 14,377 $2,181.61 $0.152
Overture 2,572 $290.92 $0.113
FindWhat 1,749 $99.05 $0.057
Nextag 573 $85.95 $0.150
Total PPC Traffic 90,516 $7,357.80 $0.081
Natural Search Traffic 39,160 $0 $0
Total All Traffic 129,676 $7,357.80 $0.057

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: This site was able to augment its PPC traffic with an additional 39,160 clicks from natural search engines (an increase of 43.26%). This additional traffic lowered its overall cost per click from $0.081 to $0.057, a savings of 29.63%.

We significantly increased the amount of traffic this received from the search engines by optimizing its pages for natural search engines. In section 3, we will look at some of the techniques we used to optimize this site.

2. Which Search Engines are Important?

Consider the following two tables, which show referrer traffic from search engines for two additional test sites.

The chart below was created from WebTrendsLive statistics reporting for this test site over a period of six months. This site used very little PPC marketing, or the Overture percentage would be much higher.

Test Site B – Search Traffic for Six Months
Search Engine Percent of Search Traffic
Google 59.15%
Yahoo! 33.55%
Microsoft Network 2.74%
AOL Search 2.62%
AltaVista 1.13%
iWon 0.42%
Lycos 0.10%
Dogpile 0.09%
Mamma 0.07%
Overture 0.05%
About.com 0.03%
Ask Jeeves 0.02%
HotBot 0.01%
Evreka 0.01%
Kanoodle 0.01%
DMOZ 0.01%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: 92.7% of search traffic came from just two search engines.

The next chart was extracted from the Yahoo! Store statistics for this site for a period of six months. This site also used very little PPC advertising, so most search traffic came from traditional engines.

Test Site C – Search Traffic for Six Months
Search Engine Percent of Search Traffic
Google 39.17%
Yahoo! 32.45%
Microsoft Network 16.45%
AOL Search 4.12%
Ask Jeeves 3.54%
Netscape 0.97%
MySearch (MyWay) 0.97%
Dogpile 0.44%
WebSearch.com 0.28%
Overture 0.28%
iWon 0.26%
Excite 0.25%
AltaVista 0.24%
HotBot 0.19%
AllTheWeb 0.16%
Lycos 0.11%

What You Need To UNDERSTAND: Google, Yahoo!, and MSN accounted for 88.07% of all search traffic.

What can we infer from these charts?

First, there are some obvious similarities. Google is the top performer for each site, followed by Yahoo! and MSN. But these two test sites differ significantly both in percentage of traffic from these top-performing sites, and in additional sources of search engine traffic.

Your effectiveness with each individual search engine will vary depending on your website’s focus. Consult your own tracking program to identify your current top performers. This may also help you determine your site’s weaknesses, which are sources of more potential traffic if you can correct those weaknesses.

The best resource we have found for general search engine guidelines is SearchEngineWatch.com. This article from that site lists the major search engines with information on how to get listed in each one:

http://searchenginewatch.com/links/article.php/2156221

It is important to remember that many search engines derive their results from other engines’ data. A few examples: Ask Jeeves gets its primary results from Teoma and its paid listings from Google AdWords. AOL Search uses Google results exclusively. Yahoo! acquired Inktomi and is now Google’s main competitor in pure search. It derives its other results from Overture paid listings and its own directory.

We recommend checking out the search engine relationship chart:

http://www.bruceclay.com/searchenginechart.pdf

The article and chart above (and other articles on SearchEngineWatch.com) cover the specifics of each engine in great detail. We won’t get into those specifics here. The balance of this report will focus on techniques that can improve your ranking across all the traditional search engines.

3. How do you Optimize Your Site for Traditional Search Engines?

We have created a concise list of 20 changes that have been proven to impact organic search engine rankings. Beyond these points, there is much more that can be said on this topic. We have provided links to our previous reports in the notes below.

Note that this is a very general approach to search engine optimization. In upcoming reports, we will be testing specific optimization techniques (these and others) to determine their true impact on search rankings.

  1. Choose the right keywords. One of the first tasks you should undertake when optimizing your site for traditional search engines is to identify the best keyword phrases for your site. Which phrases have the most potential to drive well-targeted traffic to your site?

    There are a number of online resources that can help you identify popular search phrases for your target niche.

    Overture’s tool is one of the most useful because it provides actual quantifiable numbers based on the previous month’s searches.
    http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/

    Google also provides a keyword suggestion tool, available at:
    https://adwords.google.com/select/main?cmd=KeywordSandbox

    Finally, the Teoma search engine suggests related search terms based on your search query:
    http://teoma.com/

  2. Select the phrases that are well-targeted and offer significant traffic potential. Focus on two- to five-word phrases in order to minimize competition for terms. Optimize individual pages for just a few phrases rather than trying to cram them all into a single page.
  3. Use strong, keyword-rich text on your pages. However, be wary of going overboard in terms of keyword density or you will be penalized by some engines. Generally, repetition breeds results, but there is a fine line between ideal keyword density and what some engines will interpret as “keyword spamming”.
  4. Pay attention to word order. If you want to target the phrase “big red widgets”, then use that exact phrase rather than “red widgets that are big”.
  5. Use appropriate link and anchor text. Link text is important on both the page itself and on pages that link to it. Encourage webmasters that link to your site to use keyword-rich link text.

    During our recent web conference on this topic, we uploaded an example page that you may find useful to illustrate these points,
    here.

  6. Individual pages should be focused on specific keywords. Don’t dilute your pages by trying to cram in every relevant phrase you can think of. Instead, create multiple pages and focus each page on a few important keyword phrases.

    See our examples page.

  7. Put special emphasis on the top of your pages, because spiders will do the same. Relevant keyword text is more important here than lots of images or irrelevant text (“All in-stock items will ship in one business day”).
  8. For sites that sell products or services, always include at least a few lines of copy at the top of every main offer page. If a page lists 50 of your newest cellular phones, don’t just list each product on the page with a brief description. Write a short paragraph introducing the page that uses a few relevant keyword phrases, such as “new cellular phones”.

    See our examples page.

  9. Although “meta tags” are not the magic solution that they once were in the Web’s infancy, they can still be useful. There is an excellent article on meta tags on SearchEngineWatch.com: http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/article.php/2167931
  10. In all tags, put keywords close to the beginning of the tag, as spiders will often ignore anything after the 6th to 10th word (approximately 65 characters).
  11. KEY POINT: Title tags should be keyword-rich, and the most important keywords should be near the beginning of the title. An effective title tag can have a significant impact on the ranking of your page.
  12. Some search engines will grant more weight to keywords contained in special tags such as “heading”, “strong”, and “emphasis” tags.
  13. Give your pages relevant names. “12345.html” is not nearly as effective as “cellular-phones.html” if you are targeting the keyword phrase “cellular phones”. This has the effect of enhancing the keyword relevance of inbound links.

    Note that most experts currently believe that this will help your keyword relevance only if the displayed link name is the full URL itself. A link that is displayed as “Click Here” won’t help you even if the page is named after a relevant keyword.

  14. Similarly, use a relevant domain name if possible. Some engines (Google? See below) place emphasis on keywords that appear within the URL, so domain name, directory names, and file names are all important.

    In a recent SEO contest on Google, the winners were all non-keyword-relevant URLs. This has led most experts to agree that Google no longer places relevance on keywords in the URL.

    However, keywords in your domain name will definitely not HURT your cause. It can still help you if someone links to your site and uses your domain name as the displayed link text.

  15. Optimize your site for Google PageRank. By paying attention to the engine with the most potential, you will make improvements to your site that will help elsewhere as well. Our full report on Google PageRank is available at:
    http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?mgp

    Most experts agree that Google PageRank is not as important as it once was, having become just one of many variables that Google uses when determining search rankings. But again, achieving a high PageRank certainly won’t hurt you.

  16. Avoid overusing graphics or Flash animation. Spiders can only read text, so text-heavy pages stand the best chance of achieving a high ranking.
  17. Use “alt” tags for all images on your site. Use relevant phrases such as “low-cost red widgets”. Avoid loading alt tags with lists such as “widgets, blue widgets, red widgets, super widgets”, as most spiders will ignore these.

    See our examples page:
    https://www.marketingexperiments.com/resources/seo_brief.asp

  18. Submit your site to DMOZ.org and as many specialty directories as you can find. This will help the spiders find you and will create some relevant inbound links.

    A list of the best free directories is available at:
    http://seo-lab.com/directory-articles/best-free-directories.php

  19. Encourage reciprocal linking. Exchanging links with related sites will enhance your link popularity (which helps at Google and elsewhere) and will bring in some traffic directly.

    For a eight-step guide to encouraging reciprocal linking, see our report on Google PageRank:
    http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?mgp

  20. KEY POINT: Pay attention to your competition. You’re competing with these groups for traffic, so becoming aware of their search engine strategies can only help you.

These techniques have created a significant amount of natural search traffic on our test sites. Although a great amount of traffic is available via PPC engines, optimizing your site for natural search engines presents an effective means of lowering your overall per-click costs and increasing the overall traffic to your site.

Notes

Related MEC Reports:

Google PageRank Tested:
http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?mgp

Google AdWords Tested:
http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?mg2

Overture Tested:
http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?mov

Small PPC Engines Tested:
http://meclabs.com/cgi-bin/pl/pl.cgi?msp

Literature Review

As part of our research on this topic, we have prepared a review of the best Internet resources on this topic.

Rating System

These sites were rated for usefulness and clarity, but alas, the rating is purely subjective.

* = Decent ** = Good *** = Excellent **** = Indispensable

Search Engine Watch ****
http://searchenginewatch.com/

ClickZ – Search Engine Marketing ****
http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/

HighRankings Articles ****
http://www.highrankings.com/articles.htm

THE Search Engine Relationship Chart ****
http://www.bruceclay.com/searchenginechart.pdf

Major Search Engines and Directories ****
http://searchenginewatch.com/links/article.php/2156221

Essentials of Search Engine Submission ****
http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/index.php

High Rankings SEO Forum ****
http://www.highrankings.com/forum/

High Rankings Advisor ****
http://www.highrankings.com/advisor.htm

Submitting to Directories ***
http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/article.php/2167881

Submitting to Crawlers ***
http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/article.php/2167871

Google Information for Webmasters ***
http://www.google.com/webmasters/seo.html

WebmasterWorld.com Search Engine Forum ***
http://www.webmasterworld.com/forum5/

SEO Chat Forums **
http://forums.seochat.com/

WebPosition Gold **
http://www.webposition.com/

PageRank Calculator **
http://www.webworkshop.net/pagerank_calculator.php3

Google Resources **
http://google.indicateur.com/

3D Google Link Analyzer **
http://www.touchgraph.com/TGGoogleBrowser.html

Google PageRank, Meet Yahoo! Web Rank **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/opt/article.php/3343641

131 Link-Building Strategies **
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2160301

Is Aggressive Linking the Only SEO Strategy You Need? **
http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/2175161

SEM and Online Publicity **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3351131

The One-Two Punch: SEO and PPC **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3347951

Web Positioning Software: Good or Bad **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3344231

Understanding Search Results Pages **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3291021

How to Spot Search Engine Spam **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3325301

How to Survive Search Engine Changes **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3318701

Titles and Search Engine Marketing **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3306541

Relevant Links Begin in Directories **

http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3093951

Natural Search: The Overlooked Strategy **
http://clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3076661

About this Brief

Credits:

Editor — Flint McGlaughlin
Writer — Brian Alt
Contributor — Aaron Rosenthal
Jeremy Brookins
Jimmy Ellis
HTML Designer — Cliff Rainer

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