The words do matter, more than anything else on your web site. Look around, there is lots of advice on how to increase your web traffic. More than a bit of the advice entails turning over some small fee to someone's service. Truth is, that approach is almost a confession that there is no real reason for anyone to visit your site. People want stuff. They are looking for it, actively. If you turn up on a search engine, you win. How do you do that? With the words. Write, all the time. Write about everything on your website. Text is what search engines look at. If you have non-text content (as I do) you have to describe it well enough to rank well in search engines. And the sentence or phrase has to match the mental template of the searcher, or they are just going to skip right past your pitiful single entry in that list of 2,937,368 possible matches.
My own experience has supported this approach. The more I wrote, the more correspondence I got from folks who'd found my web site. Most, if not all of them, had found me through a search engine. Because I've tried to make all the aspects of my site obvious no matter where you enter it, readers often arrive for one reason, and end up talking about some other subject.
Dale Austin 2004
Update: January 2005
Just a few months ago I had this notion confirmed. I have, elsewhere on this site, mentioned work I did for a friend's theater company. That company puts on performances for public schools. It seems that the principal of a small Christian school did a Google search on the company name, and my site turned up. My friend got asked about his connections with me, the well-known pornographer. Long pause...
So, what happened? I repeated the Google search myself, using the properly capitalized and spelled version of the company name. My page was about halfway down the first page of search results. The official page of the company was at the bottom of the fourth page of results. A couple of other sites which mentioned my friend's company were also listed well above his. Why? Well, for one thing, his own site uses graphics to represent the company name as part of a logo. This has the effect of making those pages practically invisible to search engines as far as his company name is concerned. (you will notice I haven't once mentioned that company name-I don't want to make the problem worse yet) For another, there are very few documents-which mostly fall under the "brochureware" description. By that I mean information which is of use to someone looking for you product, but not something that would add value as a link from someone else's web site. In other words, a visitor might bookmark it, but not add it to their own web site.
You never really know what search terms people are going to use. I've had a couple of interesting correspondences this past year. I recently heard from a descendant of the man who built my house. Genealogists have stumbled across me while searching for my mother's somewhat uncommon family name, and more than a few boat builders have found my Egret building project-mostly by searching for "Egret" and/or "Commodore Munroe". Not one of these connections was deliberate on my part. I hadn't planned on becoming a resource on any of these subjects-but I have. My article on the house has been reprinted in a newsletter published for the McAllaster clan. Genealogists get forwarded to an aunt who has done extensive research into that side of the family as a retirement project. And I've gotten some good advice about modifications to the basic Egret plan as well as shared some of my own ideas.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization-we've all heard about it. Web firms want to help us achieve it-for a fee. Yet it strikes me as one of those things that will only work for a while, and only for the early adopters. The effectiveness will diminish over time, requiring a new (and probably expensive) strategy. First, there were keywords, then there was the link farm. Each of these, through overuse, became ineffective as the folks at Google lowered their weighting. But the one thing they will never code against is good writing. Or even mediocre writing.
Update: April 2006 My friend has fixed the problem with his web site, so now his is the first item on the first google page, and mine is the second.
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008