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How to profit from...the Internet: Maximizing traffic to your Web site

Getting on the Internet is simple, but having users find you there isn't. The problem? Getting your Web site to come up on Internet search engines. Simply getting listed by a search engine doesn't guarantee an increase in site traffic. That's because every product or service category has approximately 3 million matches. A recent study by the journal Nature shows that few people click past the first 30 matches. So, being listed way down on a search engine often is tantamount to not being listed at all. The root of the problem is the sheer volume of the Internet. The Web now contains an estimated 6 trillion bytes of information spread among 800 million Web pages.

Why isn't anyone visiting our site?
You may not have considered that Web site placement and promotion would have anything to do with designing a Web site, but they are key considerations when putting a successful site together. Your objective is to have surfers or potential patients "hit" (i.e., visit) your site when they're looking for services you can provide. But having a great Web site full of wonderful graphics, text, and photos - without including other key elements - is like putting up a giant billboard for your practice in the middle of the woods. It may look great, but no one is going to see it!

Here are some tips to place you on the Internet superhighway instead of on a rural dirt road. First, highlight your Web site address, stylize it, and turn it into a logo. Then, place your Web site address on everything you put out about your practice - your business cards, stationery, signs, press releases, newsletters, mugs, toothbrushes, and ads. Many dentists who track visitors to their Web site report that most of the hits come from their existing patient base or new patients who saw the Web site address elsewhere (e.g., an ad) and wanted more information. On your site, add links to other sites (the ADA, the AACD, local dental societies, etc.) and ask if other companies will add a link to your site (plastic surgeons, hair salons, etc.).

Steer clear of banner advertising
Banner ads are those ads that pop up on your screen when you search for a particular item. For example, someone searching on the Internet for information on a particular topic may very likely see a banner pop up on the screen from a company offering to sell a particular product or service related to the inquiry. The banner invites the surfer to click on the banner to purchase a book or otherwise get connected with a business that can provide information or is related to the inquiry. Clicking on the banner acts as a hyperlink to this business site. There are certain companies that offer this type of banner advertising (usually for a fee, of course) to businesses, including dentists.

If you use the Internet daily and virtually never hit on any banner ads that pop up, your experience is not unusual. Research indicates that banner ads are far down the list of effectiveness. In the fall of 1999, Forrester Research reported its research showed that of the 13 forms of advertising most used to drive traffic to a Web site, banner ads were ranked 12th.

Five factors that determine Web page rankings
Over 85 percent of Web visitors use search engines to find what they are looking for. So, a major key to getting traffic to your site is good search-engine placement. High search-engine placement is based on the site containing the right key words, site descriptions, and being properly registered with the search engines. Some research shows that as many as 95 percent of all dental Web sites fail to get the traffic that they could. This happens because they have not included the right key words and site descriptions in their content as part of the Web site development process. Many also fail to register with Internet search engines.

Although more than SO separate factors may affect the ranking of a Web site, in general, the search engines consider five primary categories:
1 key word prominence (how early in the document the key word occurs)
2 key word frequency (how many total occurrences of the key word are found on the page)
3 key word placement (where the word appears on the page)
4 key word weight (what percentage of all words does the key word make up)
5 link popularity (how many other sites link to your Web site)
Every search engine works differently, but following a few simple guidelines when designing or revising your site will help tremendously This is not to say that you will be found instantly on the top of every search engine by following these guidelines. However, you certainly will give yourself a much better chance of being found by eager Web surfers.

Key words that dentists' Web sites should have
Which words would you expect someone on the Internet to use in searching for your services? "Implants?" "Family dentistry?" Your geographic location? Then, these terms should be part of your key words. Your key words also might include words with more than one spelling (i.e., aesthetic and esthetic) or words that are frequently misspelled (porcelain spelled as porcelan). You include these words so that Webusers - even when using an alternative spelling or a misspelling of search terms - can find your site.
Companies that specialize in Web design and Web traffic can help you develop your key words. One expert in the field is Dr. Bill Williams. He can be reached by phone at (770) 614-7300 or by e-mail at wbw@afdd.com.

Meta tags and why you need to optimize them
Meta tags are strings of key words that describe various aspects of what a Web site is about. If a site has these, they usually are discreetly embedded in various pages within the site. To view the meta-tags on any one page, click on "View" at the top of your screen, then on "Source." These meta tags are critically important if traffic is to hit your site, because the Internet search engines categorize and find your site based on these terms. Similarly, site descriptions are used as part of the search and registration process.
Optimization of meta tag strings is an endeavor that is a bit more complex than it first appears. But it becomes easier once you understand some of the rules. One reason for the difficulty is that most Internet search engines have different sets of rules and criteria for placement. Each search engine strives to be the best retriever, but each has its own unique approach. Therefore, meta tags that can get you placed high with one search engine may get you placed lower on another. Also, the rules and criteria constantly are changing. Just as businesses discover more of the factors that get their sites listed at the top of searches, the search engines may alter their criteria.

How do search engines index your Web site?
Sometimes, search engines find your site even if you don't register your Web site with them. This is because some search engines rely on software agents dubbed "spiders" that are programmed to "crawl" over links seeking out new or updated pages. When visiting a Web site, a spider usually will record the content of every page within that site. It then visits external sites linked to that site. Spiders will then revisit the site periodically to update their information.
Even the most comprehensive search engines have managed to index no more than 16 percent of the Web, according to a 1999 study by NEC Research Institute in Princeton, NJ. That's why a number of search engines have abandoned relying only on spiders to automatically search the Internet.
How do you get your site to be one of the ones found by the big search engines? Submitting your Web site speeds up the process by notifying a spider to visit and index your site, instead of hoping one eventually locates you through one of your external links.

Registering your Web site
Once your site is up and running and your meta-tag string is optimized, you must register your site with the various Internet search engines, directories, Yellow Pages, etc. The main difference between a search engine and a general directory is that a directory will not list your Web page if you do not register it. Directories do not make use of indexing spiders, so they have no automatic means of knowing your site is out there. Directories usually are subdivided into categories. You need to submit your Web site, using the most appropriate heading. The goal is to have your site appear in multiple search categories and business directories that show up on typical consumer searches for dental services of your type. You can either do it yourself using off the-shelf software available at your local computer store, or pay someone to do it for you. Some commercially available software packages will help you build key words and descriptions. They also will automatically handle the registration with most major search engines in multiple search categories, as well as industry directories. Companies like PlanetOcean.com will register your site with hundreds of search engines for a one-time fee of less than $30. MSN LinkExchange offers a free trial search-engine registry service called Submit It! MSN also offers one fee-based service that costs $59 per year for registering your site on more than 400 search engines and directories. Although the large number of registrations appears impressive at first, keep in mind that the 20 largest search engines and directories generate over 90 percent of the Web's search traffic.

Measuring your results
Getting registered can take from two to four weeks for most search engines, and up to two months for Yahoo! After you have gone through all the steps of optimization and registration, you should begin testing the various search engines and see how your site fares. Professional Web-site promotional and tracking services also are available that will monitor traffic for you and give you rankings for your site. To measure the effectiveness of your site and registration efforts, first determine where your traffic originates. Then, measure what visitors do once they get to your site to determine if traffic generated from one source produces more calls to your practice than others. With this information in hand, you can begin the process of fine-tuning your Web-site marketing programs.

 

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