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Making the Most of Google’s Search Engine

» What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

The world of e-commerce depends on Google. Even though there are more than 4,000 search engines available, including the biggies like Yahoo, AltaVista, Ask Jeeves, etc., the name people know is Google. Even the word itself has become part of everyday speak, as in, “Let me Google that.” (a verb) or “I want the Google on our competition.” (the complete picture). So, as a site owner or designer, it pays to get the Google on Google — more specifically, how potential visitors to your site might use this mighty SE with over 1 billion pages currently in its data base.

In addition, Google offers a lot of search options that will enable site owners to see their sites the way the Googlebot sees them. Something as simple as revising your site’s title tag can make a significant difference in how Google’s SE picks you up, views your site, ranks it and, subsequently, places your URL on its SERPs — all in one-tenth of a second.

Most users simply log on to the Google site, enter their query (in the form of key words), hit the enter key and wait to see what pops up. This is called a default search and it will deliver all sites in which the entered keywords appear as part of the SERPs available to the user. In other words, the user will get pages and pages of search results that are only marginally associated to his or her search topic.

By using common symbols, the more sophisticated users can narrow their searches, isolating those sites that are truly relevant. For example, by adding a minus sign (-) in front of a key word, Google’s SE will NOT show the results of that key word. So, let’s say you’re looking for a recipe for apple pie. The last thing you want is 118 useless SERPs about Apple, the company. So, you might enter: ‘apple pie -Apple computer’ to eliminate pages of information about Steven Jobs. The tilde (~) tells the SE to search for the entered keywords and synonyms of the keywords. Add quotes to key words and only pages in which quotes appear around the key words will be delivered to the user’s screen.

All of these basic search techniques improve the quality of search results for users, making users happy and Google shareholders even happier. But then there are Google Search operators — in fact, specified keywords that the SE recognizes as directions rather than words to be searched. And some of these operators will be extremely useful to the owners of e-commerce sites by enabling them to optimize their sites while conducting e-espionage on competitor sites — and it’s all free.

Here’s a for instance: want to find out how many inbound links are pointing to your site? Try this: link:www.yoursitename.com. Obviously, type in your site’s name where it says ‘yoursitename’. You’ll get SERPs with all URLs pointing to your site. And as most site owners know, quality, non-reciprocal links are like gold when it comes to improving your PageRank. You can also identify links that aren’t helping your site. In other words, this Google tool allows you to control inbound links — an ability that’s grown in importance now that Google heavily weighs inbound links in its ranking algorithm.

Want to know what the competition is doing? It’s simple enough. All you have to do is enter: related:www.yoursitename.com and sites that are, in some way, related to yours, will appear. Not only is this a good means of tracking competitor activities, it’s also a great way to find sites that might be interested in some link swapping — always a good thing, especially for the owner of a small or brand new site.

Now, turning to the matter of SEO and how Google’s search services can help determine if your site is, indeed, fully optimized. Check this out: try using the search engine to see how your site ranks when the SE is instructed to find keywords only in the title of your page. Enter: allintitle:fruit baskets (of course substituting any of your keywords in place of the example keywords, fruit baskets, unless you’re in the fruit basket business). Chances are, if your site’s PageRank tanks on this search, a bit of tweaking of your title tag just might be in order. If your title tag reads ‘Rosie’s Little Bit of Home”, i.e., no mention of fruit baskets, your visitor traffic will increase by simply adding the words ‘fruit baskets’ to your title tag.

You can also check out your site’s level of optimization by conducting the following Google searches:

  1. To have Google search for keywords — your keywords — in the text of the site, type in:

    allintext:fruit baskets

    This search will identify if keyword density and placement are sufficient to make the Google SE sit up and take notice.

  2. To ask Google to search for your keywords in URLs only, type in:

    allinurl:fruit baskets

    A search of URLs will reveal sites similar to yours (since all sites will have the same key words as part of their address, i.e. fruitbaskets.com, yourfruitbasket.com and, of course, the ever-popular fruitbaskets’r’us.com. If these sites are ranking higher than your site, check out what the competition is doing better than you. E-espionage is legal, so do a little spying on the competition and learn from them.

  3. How about a search of the anchor text of all sites that mention your keywords? Type in:

    allinanchor:fruit baskets

    This will indicate sites that mention fruit baskets somewhere in their anchor text, which might also indicate sites interested in reciprocal links.

  4. When Google discovers your site (or you submit your URL for spidering), the SE takes a snapshot of every indexed page and places them into a cache. To search the pages in your site’s cache, type:

    cache:www.fruitbaskets.com

    To further refine the search of cached pages, you can also conduct a keyword search within the cache. Simply type:

    cache:www.fruitbaskets.com web

    And finally,

  5. On of the most useful tools Google offers for no-cost marketing research is the info search. This will provide whatever information Google keeps on your site (or any other site, for that matter). Type:

    info:www.fruitbasket.com

    This will produce a general profile of your site and the sites of your competitors, at least from the Google perspective. Much of this information — everything from inbound links to meta tag text — can help you (or your web designer) deliver more visitor traffic and a higher conversion rate because visitors are actually looking for your product, not something like your product. In short, better results all around.

    Google’s objective is to deliver the highest quality search results to its users, which is one of the reasons they offer this variety of search tools for knowledgeable users and, of course, site owners. Your knowledge of how the leading SE views your site and compares it to similar (competitive) sites is a critical aspect of making adjustments to everything from key word density to fresh anchor text.

    To learn even more about the tools Google offers, click on the links below and get your site Googlized. (See, another new word!)

    » Advanced Search Made Easy
    » Using Search Operators (Advanced Operators)

    Subscribe to W3 EDGE Updates

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