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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - February 2008

Welcome to the second edition of our monthly web search and marketing newsletter for 2008.

In this issue we look at some of the common errors that websites include that can have a negative impact on their search engine optimisation potential. We also review some recent research into the search patterns and related buying behaviour of travel consumers in the UK, plus we consider the role of social networking and search engine results with some new developments from the past month.

Read more about these stories below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subjects covered.

On to this month's edition...

Common SEO errors on websites

Since we have been offering a free website assessment to companies we are regularly receiving requests to review both new or established websites. There are usually common themes that arise from these reviews which can create problems with the search engine optimisation (SEO) of a site, and so ultimately affect how it can perform within the search engine results.

Apart from the obvious errors in the way that keywords are being used on the site, including how the Title tag and metatags are being used, the main issues tend to be related to content or structure. For example, Flash sites have always been a major problem for search engines and are really a non-starter for SEO unless there can be an HTML mirror site. Sites built using frames are mercifully few and far between now since their popularity in the late 1990's but these can still cause difficulties for search engines to index the site effectively.

A more common issue these days comes from a poor navigation structure on a site, so that pages are not linked in an understandable way and that menu bars are confusing, both for users and sometimes for search engines. This can lead to poor usability on the site with visitors quickly giving up and going elsewhere if they can't find the product or information that they want. It can also result in a poor link structure between key pages of the site and therefore an inability of the site to get the most benefit from internal 'link value'.

The other main stumbling block for many sites these days can be content whether there's too little, duplicated content or content that's getting lost within the site. In most cases it can be the former problem, with a limited number of pages or text on a page that can support the way the site is being indexed or optimised. It can sometimes be difficult to create content for the sake of it, but website owners do need to consider ways of adding good, relevant information to small sites which can add value to the user and to their search engine ranking potential.

In contrast, some sites that have developed a large amount of content pages can face the problem of this information being 'lost' within the site so that search engines fail to index it, or rarely update the pages which can make then perform poorly in search results. The other problem can be too much content being duplicated, from information on the page to Title and meta tags being repeated throughout the site, which could otherwise be harnessed more effectively to create some effective optimisation across more search terms.

With many of these issues we can advise website owners about the recommended changes that need to be made and how important this work can be within the search engine optimisation strategy for the site. We can also help with content development and site changes where appropriate, in consultation with the website's developers.

If you'd like to know more about our free website assessments and the recommendations we might make to help improve the optimisation of your website, please contact us now for more information.


Online marketing for travel websites

Google and the online behaviour analyst ComScore recently reported results of a study into search patterns of UK travel consumers. It found that search engines are increasingly used to find and buy travel and holidays, with travel consumers using and combining a variety of search query types to research, compare, purchase and book travel online.

A sample of over 20,000 UK consumers was involved in the research, which reviewed their search queries for travel sector terms and search paths during the buying process. Activity across all major UK search engines was tracked over a 12 week period in early 2007.

The survey found that travel consumers are prepared to spend a lot of time researching what they want and to find the best deal. On average, it reported that travel consumers make 12 travel related searches and visit some 22 websites over a period of about a month, with 54% of travel consumers starting searches with generic product or destination search terms. Over a third of all buyers use a generic term as the last search before they purchase.

The research also found that 10% of searchers use no brand terms at all when conducting a travel related search and that some 45% of transactions do not occur until 4 weeks after the initial search has been made. Most consumers were also found to have visited the successful travel website 3.9 times before making their purchase.

These findings hold important implications for those marketing and designing travel sector websites. The fact that consumers are using generic terms, and at all stages of their research and purchase path, provides opportunities for travel websites to market more widely for new customers and those websites marketing purely on a brand basis could be missing out.

The number of visits and re-visits to each site highlighted in the study also serves to show how important it is that customers can easily find the information they are looking for and that information is kept fresh and relevant to keep customers returning.

If you would like advice about search marketing for your accommodation, travel or holiday website, please contact us now.


Social networking and search engine results

With the popularity of social networking websites where people collaborate and exchange information online it was only a matter of time before this power of human interaction is harnessed within search engines. This month has seen the launch of the alpha test version of the new Wikia Search tool, as well as reports that Yahoo! is testing the integration of del.icio.us bookmarking tags within their search listings.

At the start of January the long-awaited Wikia Search tool was launched in an alpha version. This project has been developed by Jimmy Wales and the team behind the successful Wikipedia resource and is designed to be an open source search tool that develops from user contributions and feedback. At the moment the search results are limited and the site is quite basic as they freely admit on the Home Page yet they also claim that this site 'represents the first draft of the future of search'.

The intention of Wikia Search is to rely on an extensive and active community of users working together in an open, transparent and public way to develop this as a powerful resource. This openness will include access to how the search systems and algorithms operate. It will certainly be a fascinating project to watch develop and to contribute to - over the coming months and is bound to face some difficulties and criticisms about elements attempting to 'fix' the search results to their own means, particularly if the tool ever reaches the same popularity as Yahoo! and MSN, let alone Google!

Possibly as a response to the use of human-generated content or recommendations, there have been recent reports of Yahoo! testing some alternative search results that include data from its del.icio.us social bookmarking site. An article on Search Engine Land includes some sample screenshots which show that a listing in the search results will display the number of users that have bookmarked that site or page on del.icio.us and how the page has been tagged.

Yahoo! have apparently said that the del.icio.us results are not affecting the ranking algorithm at this point but are simply adding an additional layer of information for the user to assess within the site details being ranked and clearly those sites that have been bookmarked by more people could imply that they are a good resource. We will wait to see whether this test is eventually rolled out into the main search results and how this data may eventually be used to influence search results on Yahoo!, if at all.

If you'd like to know more about these developments in the web search market and how they may impact your website in the future, please contact us.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.