The SEM reviews are in

Jun 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

For many marketers, their Website is their baby, an entity that started small and that they’ve nurtured through rapid growth and changing times. For these marketers, having their sites critiqued during the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Labs at the ACCM was similar to attending a parent-teacher conference: They didn’t relish hearing about their offspring’s faults, but they felt somewhat better learning what they could do to improve those shortcomings.

“SEM is such a fast-paced, changing tactic that it seems you’re always behind the curve,” said Scott Frederick, president of business operations for Fairfield, OH-based Carson Wrapped Hershey’s, after his Website (www.wrappedhersheys.com) was critiqued. “We’ve been able to cherry-pick some of their great ideas, and we’ll put them into play soon.”

Bill Hunt, president of Farmington, CT-based search engine marketing firm Global Strategies, pointed out that while Carson sells personalized candy bars, the word “personalized” did not appear in the meta-description tag. The essence of the product needs to be in that tag; in this case, a potential customer who typed “personalized” into a search engine would not have seen the listing for Carson pop up among the top results of his search.

Hunt also noticed that the title tags for www.wrappedhersheys.com read like a string of keywords, which is something the search engines do not give additional weight to. Kevin Lee, cofounder/executive chairman of New York-based SEM agency Did-it, said that problem could be resolved by switching the order of the words and turning them into a sentence. He advised Frederick to start with a specific product, such as “baby shower gift,” then go with the more generic terms to let the search engines know what is unique about the site.

But Detlev Johnson, vice president of Geneva, IL-based Position Technologies, said Frederick should instead take the title tag and make it read like a Web page bookmark. But, he warned, don’t make the title more than 60 characters in length, or else it will not be displayed in full in the search engine results.

David Bolotsky, founder/CEO of New York-based gifts cataloger Uncommon Goods, said he felt his site had a lot of work to do on SEM. “My business philosophy has been that as soon as you’re satisfied with something, you’re in deep trouble,” Bolotsky said. “I know [our site is] not that good, but it won’t get any better unless someone criticizes it.”

Criticize it they did. Bolotsky was told that he needed to give more search-engine-friendly names to his products. For instance, he’d dubbed an antler-shaped candle product Cantlersticks. But Lee recommended using a more generic keyword phrase such as “candle antlers” on the Web page and as embedded keywords and description tags to help draw consumers who may be familiar with the product but not know its exact name.

To find search terms that could be relevant to the product but aren’t oversaturated (the more popular the search term, the less likely you are to land at the top of the search page), Johnson recommended using www.keyworddiscovery.com; it helps Website builders find alternative keywords and phrases based on what consumers are searching for.

Hunt said Bolotsky should consider using product categories as search terms as well. These can also be uncovered through www.keyworddiscovery.com or with Google’s online “site map” program.

Though Website Critiques have been a regular part of ACCM in recent years, this was the first year that SEM Labs were offered. “The first time I went through something like that, it was tough,” Bolotsky said. “But I’ve gone through the critiques for seven years now, and I’ve developed a hide.”