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Every Friday, I post a small insight into running Curio City and/or Blue Hills Editorial Services. My most recent posts are directly below. You can also start with the first post, or use the subject labels to the right to home in on particular topics. Feel free to comment on anything that interests you.
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Thursday, September 21, 2006

(SEO) The 900-Pound Marketing Gorilla

First, please welcome a new Friend of Curio City. FluidPC uses the same Sunshop software as I do, and its owner has encountered many of the same problems that I’m facing. We’ve been talking about the subject of this week’s post: Search Engine Optimization. Check out their high-quality, reasonably priced, customizable gaming computers.

As I mentioned in If You Build It, Will They Come?, I have known from Day One that search engine results have to drive most of my traffic. PPC advertising is too expensive by itself. Making one’s site appear prominently is a dark art that has spawned a whole industry of SEO companies.

Very few of my product pages ever appear the top 1,000 results for keyword searches, if at all.

I know that the problem is Sunshop. I don’t understand the nitty-gritty well enough to do anything about it.

Consider my bestselling DayClocks. If you search the literal string “DayClock Classic” on GoogleRankings.com, my product page ranks #1 on Google and Yahoo (but is invisible to MSN; go figure). Trying just “DayClock” ranks me at #24 on Google, #18 on MSN, and a respectable #4 on Yahoo. The bots are clearly indexing my product title. However – and this is a huge however – searching the keywords embedded in my META tags (“dayclock”, “day clock”, “week clock”, “day of the week clock” and others) returns no results at all. If you look at page source, you’ll see that the keywords appear properly in the header. Why, then, are the bots ignoring them?

I tried to help the bots by creating an XML site map (as well as an HTML version for customers). The free online sitemap generators, and the one commercial program that I tried, all choke on Sunshop’s sloppy URL generation. I screened out some of the garbage results with filters, but even my best effort still produces lots of duplication and missing category information. I’m unsure whether a decent site map will really help my page results or not, but it's all I've got to go on. So I am going to take another shot at hand-editing an XML sitemap.

A post in the Turnkey Support forum indicated that adding a couple of lines to my header file might make the bots see my product META tags. I just edited that file a few days ago, so it’s too early to say whether that made any difference. I hope it is mere coincidence that a bad sales slump began at about the same time.

Sunshop 4 reportedly contains major SEO improvements. I am hoping that the upgrade will alleviate my problem. Unfortunately, it keeps being delayed. Even the Beta won’t be ready for another month. The release version will almost surely come after Christmas.

If the upgrade doesn’t help automagically, I could change the way Sunshop builds my site. Instead of letting the PHP engine build pages on-the-fly, I can make it generate standard HTML pages, which should be bot-friendly. The drawback is that I’d need to regenerate my whole site every time I make any changes. It is probably a huge amount of extra work to maintain the site if I go that route. Another alternative, which some Sunshop users are trying, is to make a main page outside of Sunshop. This kludge would enable me to directly edit the header information that goes to all of the assembled pages. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t allow me to have custom keywords for every product page.

I suppose I could try to work variations on product titles into my product descriptions, and see if the bots index those. I could rewrite my DayClock descriptions to refer to “day clocks” and “dayclocks”. It would look like a style error to readers, but I might have to try it. I don’t know if the bots are reading product descriptions or not.

The last resort is hiring a professional SEO company. The one’s I’ve talked to are all ruinously expensive – $6,000 and up, which is considerably more than half of my entire Phase 3 budget. SEO is also a shady industry that I would rather not engage unless absolutely necessary. A mistake here would probably be fatal.

Solving this problem is absolutely critical. Sales will improve dramatically when my pages start coming up properly in keyword searches. They will never amount to anything if my pages remain invisible. All the listing and submitting and linking that I’ve been doing is ineffective.

I need help. The Sunshop upgrade is the first step. A decent site map is the second. Professional SEO is my last resort. If you have experience with SEO, please leave a comment or shoot me an email.

Other Forthcoming Topics:

The Royal We

Where the Money Came From

Good Debt, Bad Debt

Long-term Prospects

Planned features

O, Canada

2 comments:

  1. I suppose I could give you these thoughts by email, but this seems more fun. I think you are over-rating the impact of META tags on natural rankings. Search engines have to fight (as far as I understand the problem) people "cheating" the system, which means not using easily exploitable ranking schemes. They need ways to weight relevance. URLs, page titles, h# tags, and such are more likely candidates for a weighting algorithm, especially combined with traffic based on similar items (ie link sources sharing similar weight values).

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for replying publicly, Eric. I want to encourage open discussion...especially among people who know what they're talking about!

    In the time since I originally wrote this post, I've collected many links to SEO articles, newsletters, etc. I intend to study up on the subject next week and gradually improve what I can, with my very limited technical skills. I know that I was obsessing with META keywords; I've since learned that META descriptions, page titles, and page content are all more important, and I've already begun to rewrite my pages with that in mind. I will undoubtedly come up with many questions as I delve into the subject.

    Eventually I'll post a followup to this subject. Meanwhile, I heartily encourage all informed readers to chime in with observations and advice.

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