Danny Sullivan has been dispelling the mysteries of search engines since 1995. He is editor of Search Engine Watch and its related newsletters, Search Engine Report and Search Engine Update.
First, the question we all want to ask: How well is Search Engine Watch placed within the search engines?
Fairly well. Several thousand people per day find it through that means, about 30% or so of the total referrals to the site.
I don't spend time actively trying to promote it in search engines, however. That may sound odd, but it actually follows the exact advice I give other people.
I write good content. Then I ensure my articles all have unique HTML title tags and good meta description tags. That's often enough to help a page do well for the myriad of ways people search for information online.
Search Engine Watch gets a lot of PR. Did the site generate the attention or did you work this angle?
Originally, I was one of the few people out there covering the search space to any great degree. So, as journalists researched stories on search, they'd often come across my site. Once you appear in some stories, other journalists discover you as a source.
It also helps to be a good source. I spend a lot of time explaining the issues to various journalists, and I think that helps them realize they can depend on me to give them a fair summary of what's going on.
What impact has PR had on the site's development?
Having the site appear in stories certainly raises its awareness among the public. It can also generate traffic to the site and add to people's faith in the site. Traditional publications such as newspapers and magazines generally only refer to sources that they have some degree of trust in.
Do you have suggestions for how small-business owners can promote their sites?
Search engines are a part of it, and the key here is that small-business owners need to begin budgeting for them.
You need to set aside at least $500 to cover submissions to Yahoo! and LookSmart. Both of those are musts and will quickly pay for themselves in terms of traffic.
It might also be worth experimenting with as little as $20 per month with GoTo to generate traffic with terms you might not naturally rank well with. Evaluate how the traffic converts, and if it is paying for itself; that's a guide towards moving forward.
Unfortunately, some small businesses still think search engines are all they need. Instead, they need to seek out alternative means of attracting traffic.
Link building is one key area. It helps with search engines, all of which now analyze links as part of their relevancy systems. It also helps you get continuing traffic from sites independent of [traffic from] search engines.
It is important to remember that link quality, not quantity, is what counts. Go to the search engines, search for the terms you want to be found under, and look at which sites come up for those terms. Those are the important sites you want to be linked from. Find the noncompetitive ones and offer to swap.
I'm also a strong proponent of participating in the Internet community especially e-mail lists. If you are a small-business owner, find a list that covers the topic in which you have products and services. Then participate in the list -- and I do mean participate, not "drive by" post.
Listen to the conversations and offer real advice where it makes sense.
Let your signature line be the subtle way to let people understand that you also sell products and services, but let your voice, authority, and advice in your posts speak that you are a community member people may want to support by giving you their business.
You should also build a Web site that goes beyond products and services. Offer real advice and information that stands alone from people needing to buy anything from you. The more you build an information resource, the more likely people will seek you out for advice -- and some of those people will convert into business.
Finally, remember that the Internet is not your sole business outlet. If you are a "real world" business, the Internet will be a valuable supplement to reaching customers that you cannot ignore. However, it is not likely a complete replacement.
If you are completely a virtual business, be wary. Unless you are especially unique, other virtual businesses may be able to easily compete with you. Alternatively, larger businesses may stomp you out of business entirely. The Web doesn't need more general-purpose booksellers. However, if you specialize in a particular type of genre, you are more likely to survive and thrive.
What is the biggest surprise search engines have delivered?
Honestly, that the basic rules to success have not changed for the five-plus years I've been writing about them. I've always told people they should have good content and they should build links to their Web sites. I continually hear from people who tell me they've done this and found it has sustained them over the long term. Doing that -- and not the little tricks that last for short periods of time -- is the way to success.