When someone inevitably comes to me about having a difficult time finding clients, I ask them for the URL of their website; nearly all of them tell me they do not have one. This is a REAL PROBLEM in this day and age. A huge percentage of people no longer consult the Yellow Pages when looking for many local services and I can guarantee you that a potential client two states away does not have a copy of your region’s phone book. How then is he or she going to find you? If you do not have a website that is found in the major search engines they will not even know you exist.
I’m going to save you the rhetoric about what your website says about you and your business for another issue and just focus on being visible among the more than 200 million websites on the Internet today.
The process of making your website “search engine friendly” is referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and involves basically three specific areas of your website:
- Your Content
- Your Meta Tags
- Your Site Structure
The process of making your website more “attractive to the search engines” and hopefully provide incentive for them to move you up in their rankings is called Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and essentially involves 3 key concepts.
- Content, Content, Content!
- Inbound Links or “Back Links” (links to your website placed on other sites)
- Keyword Research
Make no mistake CONTENT IS KING when it comes to be being search engine friendly and placing well in the search engines. The content you feed the “bots” and “spiders” (essentially the software that scours your website for content and reports it back to the search engines) will pay huge dividends. Search companies are very clear on this topic: websites that offer loads of new and unique content will be rewarded with higher search engine placement. There is no disputing that fact. Content should come in the form of articles and documents, checklists and descriptions.
BUT your content has to be focused!
What is your website about? If it is about private investigation or fugitive recovery services then you must provide content that is centered around these particular subjects for it to be relevant to the search engines. More specifically, your content must be tightly focused on specific “keywords” and “keyphrases.”
A keyword or “keyphrase,” in Internet marketing parlance, is the word or words most often used by your potential clients to find you or your competitor using a search engine (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask.com to name just a few). For instance, if you are a private investigator in Atlanta, Georgia what search term do you think that a new customer might instinctively type into the Google search bar in order to find your business? More than likely he or she will type in “private investigator Atlanta” or “Atlanta private investigator” or some other derivative of the term “private investigator” such as detective or PI or private eye; the same goes with just about any other service you might be offering- service of process, bail enforcement, automobile repossession, polygraph services, etc. etc.
To market your private investigator website you must first determine what search terms your potential customers might be using and then incorporate those phrases into your content and your Meta Tags. Stay away from single-word search terms such as just “investigator” or “fugitive” as it is not practical to think that you will achieve a top 10 search engine placement result for these terms easily. Instead, be more specific and you will have a better chance at a great result. Write a list of all of the phrases you think a person might type into a search engine in order to find you, keeping each phrase between 2 and 4 words long, and that will be a great place to start for now. There are several services on the Internet that track search engine usage and compile search terms but I find that the investigations businesses are too small to be of significant research value. If you are having difficulty generating a list then call a friend or a client and ask them what phrases they would search if they were looking for your services.
Incorporate your keyphrases in your Meta Tags. Meta Tags are information placed in the HTML “header” of a Web page, providing information that is not visible to visitors to your website, about keywords and descriptions of the web page. This provides search engines with the information they require, enabling your site to be cataloged. Meta Tags can be inserted using most website design software or though manual coding. Every page in your website should be focused on a separate keyphrase have its own unique set of Meta Tags incorporating that specific keyphrase.
There are three Meta Tags that you must be aware of, in order of importance:
- Title Tag
- Description Tag
- Keywords Tag
Through my own research I know that when someone searches for a private investigator in my area they usually type in “private investigator in Pensacola” or “Pensacola private investigator” so I created the following Meta Tags for the homepage of my website:
<title>Pensacola Private Investigator</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”Florida Private investigator in Pensacola serving the Gulf Coast with offices in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.”>
<meta name=”keywords” content=”Pensacola Private Investigator Investigation PI Detective Florida Pensacola Alabama Mississippi Fraud Theft Embezzlement Legal Training Education investigate detective p.i.”>
The “Title Tag” is the Meta Tag given the most importance and is the information you see at the top of your web page (in the blue bar if you are using Internet Explorer or the Firefox web browser). The Title Tag is also the information used to present search results in the major search engines; see “Pensacola Private Investigator” in the example above. Most people leave this title set to the default that says “Home” or “Index” or “Page 1,” which is terrible and you NEVER see these websites in the first few pages of search results. The Title Tag on your homepage should be your most important keyphrase! Hint: your homepage Title Tag should NEVER be your company name because when people are looking for a fugitive recovery agent in, let’s say, Boston they are not going to search by company name that they do not even know exists, instead they are using search phrases like “Boston bounty hunter” or “Boston bail agent.”
The “Description Tag” is used to provide more information about your website to both searcher and search engines alike. It is important to use your keyphrase in a manner that makes sense to both a human visitor and a search engine trying to determine what your website is about. I chose the description “Florida Private investigator in Pensacola serving the Gulf Coast with offices in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.” because it incorporated the separate phrases “Florida Private Investigator” and “Private Investigator in Pensacola” and still remained “readable” by a potential visitor.
The “Keyword Tag” is much less important these days but should include a list of about 10 to 20 individual words that can be assembled to create phrases and search terms that match your desired keyphrases and your website’s content. Put valuable keywords at the beginning of your list.
One word of caution: Be careful with your use of your keyphrases! Do not “over do” it or the search engines might believe that you are “keyword” spamming and ban you altogether. “Keyword Density” is a term used heavily in search engine optimization and is essentially the number of times any keyword is repeated within a web page, expressed as a percentage of the total number words on the page. Generally speaking keep your use of keyphrases to one or two specific search terms per page, use them once in each Meta Tag and keep keyword density between 5% and 10%. Don’t fret over this too badly but you can find simple and free keyword density tools on the Internet by searching on the term “keyword density analyzer.”
Using your keywords and keyphrases in your website’s navigation structure is important too. Ideally, your URL (http://www.yournamehere.com) and your page naming structure (http://www.yournamehere.com/pagename.htm) should also incorporate your identified keyphrases. For instance if you were a process server in Newport Beach, CA then maybe your website’s URL should be http://www.newportbeachserviceofprocess.com or if you already have a URL that you are attached to then you might include the search phrase into one of your important pages like http://www.yournamehere.com/newport-beach-service-of-process.htm.
Lastly, developing an intelligent strategy to develop inbound links is critical to search engine marketing. Inbound links are important because they give search engines and site visitors a way to find your site too. They are like little “onramps” to your website on the Information Superhighway. Search engines are designed to believe that more links to your website means that your website is more important than the others competing for the same keyphrases. If those inbound links also happen to come from sites with similar subject matter then they think your site is even that more important! Links on other peoples websites pointing back to yours should ideally incorporate your keyphrases rather than just your URL. Search engines give more “statistical weight” to text links like “Bounty Hunter” over http://BeABountyHunter.com.
There has been a lot of debate over whether “reciprocal links,” basically links on separate websites pointing to each other (“I’ll link to you if you’ll link to me.”) carries the same weight as one-way inbound links. The bottom line take away here is that reciprocal links and inbound links are weighed exactly the same- the search engines only begin to ignore links when it becomes obvious that the link is from a “link farm” or other method webmasters use to try and manipulate search results. Think quality over quantity.
Search engine optimization and marketing really takes very little time to accomplish effectively and the results will pay huge dividends. Putting up an attractive website and making it visible to your potential customers searching the Internet must become a cornerstone of your marketing and advertising foundation. If it is not, then you will languish among the others who most often wonder why their phone is not ringing while their competitors are staying busy.