Monitoring Your Search Engine Positions - Five Tips

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Increasing numbers of companies are recognizing the importance of high search engine rankings as part of their overall marketing strategy. Unfortunately, many do not recognize that search engine marketing is an ongoing process, rather than a one-time "quick fix". Monitoring high rankings, once attained, is critical to the ongoing success of any search engine marketing initiative. It is also important to approach your monitoring efforts with a solid strategy and a proper mindset. The following five tips can help.

1. Treat your rankings as a portfolio.
Search engine management is an inexact science. Typically, the first several months of a campaign (especially if the site is monitored and adjusted for maximum effect) will show a steady upward trend. At some point, the increases begin to level off and the campaign reaches the "monitoring and protection" phase. In this phase, as with a stock portfolio, it is important not to worry about the short-term ups and downs, as they are inevitable. It is, however, extremely important to measure the long-term trends. You would not consistently judge your stock portfolio performance based solely upon comparing the present month to the last- you would base your assessment upon how the portfolio performed over a long period of time. Your search engine rankings are no different. Unless you have a system in place to chart your overall performance each month (such as creating an ongoing monthly chart of your overall number of "top 50 positions" or "rankings on first three pages"), you cannot determine whether the value of your "portfolio" is trending upward or downward.

2. Monitor on a monthly basis.
Changes in the search engine landscape are frequent and numerous, and any number of them can have an influence (positive or negative) on your month-to-month rankings. Individual search engines often make subtle tweaks to their algorithms that can improve or degrade some of your positions. In addition, most engines have several different sets of data (for example, Google has www2.google.com and www3.google.com). These different data sets are all in different stages of "freshness", and your positions can sometimes vary widely based upon the one that is currently in use. Another consideration is that your competitors may undertake search engine initiatives of their own, pushing some of your rankings lower, or lose rankings themselves, pulling your rankings higher. For whatever reason, monthly changes in rank are inevitable. However, it is much more desirable to proactively discover a large monthly ranking loss as it occurs rather than accidentally discovering it sometime later as a result of lost sales. By taking the time each month to monitor your positions and react to unexpected losses you are protecting your initial investment (whether it was time, money, or both). In addition, monitoring allows you to discover areas in which you can improve your search engine rankings, and then to track the effectiveness of the initiatives you undertake to do so.

3. Monitor the engines that are currently popular.
A common mistake that people make when monitoring their search engine positions is including the wrong engines in their analysis. The top ten search engines account for the vast majority of search engine traffic (studies vary from between 85 and 98 percent). However, the top ten search engines can change on a monthly basis. A search engine campaign that was launched just a few years ago may have targeted engines such as Excite, DirectHit, or iWon (which have slipped out of fashion) while ignoring Google and AskJeeves (which have seen dramatic increases in popularity). This illustrates the importance of keeping abreast of the most recent search engine popularity figures and basing your monitoring strategies on engines that people are using in the present, not the engines that people were using when you launched your search engine initiative.

For a list of the engines that are currently popular, visit the Neilson Netratings page at Search Engine Watch (http://www.searchenginewatch.com/reports/netratings.html).

4. Look for big losses on any particular engine.
As mentioned above, it is fairly common to see a wide range of losses and gains in any given month, which tend (on average) to equal out. However, a large downward shift in all of your positions on any one engine bears some very close scrutiny. In some cases, a search engine "spider" (the programs that search engines use to index web pages) may encounter problems at your site. These could include recent changes to the code that confused the spider (such as the addition of a large block of javascript), a subtle but disastrous change in the navigational structure, or an attempted spider visit while your site was temporarily down. In rarer cases, an individual search engine may extensively overhaul its ranking algorithm, causing most of your site to be deemed less relevant. More frequently, a search engine that relies primarily on another engine for their results (such as MSN or AOL) will suddenly shift alliances (a recent, stunning example was the switchover of Yahoo to displaying pure Google results- but this will probably change again in the near future). Of course, the first step toward addressing any of these scenarios is to be aware of the problem through careful monitoring.

5. Look for big losses across a variety of engines for a particular keyphrase.
It is also important to make certain that you haven't lost your positions on a variety of engines for any particular keyphrase (or set of keyphrases). Such a loss can indicate that a page of your site has suddenly become inaccessible to most search engine spiders. It could also indicate that there was a sudden large increase in competition for the keyphrases on that page (and that you should take steps to regain lost ground). Keyphrases are the building blocks of search engine campaigns, so be sure to pay them individual attention when monitoring your positions.

Conclusion:
If you have taken the time and energy (and/or money) to initiate a search engine marketing campaign, it is crucial that you protect this investment by regularly and objectively monitoring your positions. Following the five tips above can help ensure the long-term success of your search engine optimization campaign. For the volumes of motivated prospects that search engines can bring to your site, it is certainly worth the effort.


Publication Date: Tuesday 22nd July, 2003
Author: Scott Buresh View profile

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