Update: search or “pay to play”

We posted on December 17, 2006 (6 weeks after we launched our online marketplace) that to drive customers to our site and create brand and product awareness, we wanted to be included in the major search engines and to advertise both online and offline. However, because Google did not rank us (at that time) in the top 1000 results for several of our keywords, including espresso cups, cappuccino cups and fondue pots, we decided to participate in “sponsored search”. We were aware that sponsored search is expensive and our early experience indicated sponsored search resulted in primarily low quality visits. So we asked the question: “Should we be patient and wait until we move up in the Google search results, or do we continue to spend on the Google Adwords program knowing that it doesn’t bring quality visits, product sales or even long-term customer relationships?”

We’re pleased to provide an update. The two screenshots below show that as of today, Google organic search ranks our website in the top 15 results (middle of page 2) for espresso cups (2,350,000 results) and top 20 results (bottom half of page 2) for cappuccino cups (1,940,000 results). For fondue pots (1,580,000 results), we rank in the top 90 results (bottom of page 9).

googleespressocups.jpg

googlecappuccinocups.jpg

To achieve this impressive keyword ranking on Google, we have continued to improve the search friendliness of our website as per the earlier post and we have been very patient. We worked and waited almost 12 months!

To improve the site, we have focused especially on page layout using Divs rather than tables (whenever possible – obviously for tabular data, tables make perfect sense) and ensuring that the site uses valid HTML and is CSS compliant. For example, it does matter where your content with keywords is on the page. If you use CSS and have column layouts, the search engines read left to right and top to bottom and give more weighting to content that appears on the top left vs. the bottom right. Also, the search engines cannot read images so you should use alt tags that contain keywords. HTML validation and CSS standards do impact on search rankings, i.e. it is important to understand that search bots that crawl your site are “blind” and do not visualize your site but instead “read” your HTML markup. Bad HTML or unecessary or messy code will negatively impact your ranking. Good HTML like using tags for titles will help Google boost the importance of the title (useful if the title contains your keywords). Using Div tags to lay out your pages rather than tables will help the search bot “read” your page faster because there is less “clutter”, which will also improve your ranking.

You can find advice and tools that should help you to structure your site at googlerankings.com. Also read Google’s FAQ for webmasters and Google’s Webmaster blog with great advice and news about coming features.

The key (pardon the pun) now is to maintain those search rankings. Our competitors can view our keyword rank and keyword usage using a variety of online tools. We are redesigning our navigation to use a pure CSS based navigation bar, instead of the current navigation bar based on HTML tables, javascript and jpg image files (although we do use alt tags). We’ll post about that later.

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