Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Show Me A Way Away From San Jose

This is part one of a (hopefully three part) series on life beyond eBay originally written by Mark Dorsey and Bill Harding of and liberally 'adjusted' (BaySpeak for = definition changed almost beyond recognition) by myself.

eBay's motto could be

Ask Not What Your Online Marketplace Can Do for You; Ask What You Can do for Your Online Marketplace (and you will use PayPal while you are at it.)

eBay was not built in a day or even in a year. It grew. One of the reasons it grew was the enthusiasm of thousands of small sellers all of whom told their friends "you can find anything on eBay" and at the time it was true. This is a classic example of ‘organic site growth’.

Many of us who boycotted in May have tried a variety of alternative sites. Some have crashed and burned, one turned into a cult complete with Dear Leader. Many have no traffic and one or two work quite well. The market is fragmented, buyers do not know where to go to look for whatever IT is that they desire today. They can't find IT on eBay anymore because their sellers have vanished; either off the site or into the swirling wastes of Best Match. Going through a bunch of alternative sites is boring and laborious.

As sellers we have learned that choosing a venue is not all about what it costs. The saying ‘you get what you pay for’ does not necessarily hold true. It doesn’t matter how much you pay for exposure on a venue if that venue does no promotion, feed submission or SEO optimization. Conversely some of the low cost and free sites have excellent SEO policies.

Ideally a buyer would type their IT of the day into Google product search and find IT on which ever venue or website IT is. Before that can happen Google (or whichever search engine is used) has to be able to find IT. Helping the search engine find YOUR product is called Search Engine Optimization.

SEO is geekspeak for Show Me the Way Away From San Jose. Just kidding.

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What is SEO and How Does It Work

Search Engine Optimization is simply online marketing for your web pages. Search engines such as Google rank web pages depending on the content of your web pages. Sooner or later a search engine will inevitably notice almost any page you post to the web, but what we want to do is grab their hand and show them the quickest way to get to know us. We also want them to like us so they’ll come back often. The smarter the content, the better the chance you have at driving traffic (customers) to your web pages.

For example, let’s look at the page title of an item that Mark has listed at Bonanzle: “Heavy Duty Work Overalls.” At Bonanzle, we have a tool called Booth Stats that reveals the amount of traffic (number of page views) for any item. Booth Stats is a great tool to gauge how SEO-friendly a page is, since it allows you to measure the success of this one compared to others. Looking at Mark's overalls, the Booth Stats show that this item isn’t getting views, so let’s see what he can do with simple SEO to fix that.

If someone comes along and Googles “Heavy Duty Work Overalls Seattle” then we can be pretty sure Mark will have a sale. Bonanzle’s Oodle integration makes Mark's Bonanzle item amongst the top Google results for this query, but chances are slim that particular search is going to happen so he needs to make his listing more visible to search engines. Let’s optimize or improve the page title so it will be more visible. We’ll change it to “Carhartt Type Heavy Duty Work Overalls.”

Now, we’ll still have an equally good chance to get noticed if a user searches for the original query, but we’ll also grab traffic from anyone who searches for the more specific (and illustrious) “Carhartt” brand overalls.

Some points to ponder about search engines:

There are two methods of SEO. Organic search engine optimization provides free search engine positioning, instead of paid for results.

Search engines use automated software agents called spiders, crawlers, robots or bots to crawl text. They are very simple automated data retrieval programs. They can only gather what they can see.

It is all about words. Bots don't understand frames, Flash, images and JavaScript. They can't click buttons, so if there is no static link for them to follow, they will not follow it. They can't navigate drop down menus. They will not run a search on your website to find the content. They can't index a dynamically generated website.

Listings need pictures to sell but bots do not 'see' pictures. Use the 'alt' tag or title whenever possible on your pictures because that tells the bot what the picture is about, if you use the right words.

Google no longer indexes any Auction format pages. The reason for this is that the indexed page has a much longer life than the auction. Months or years later it will come up in search and the searcher is then disappointed because it is long gone (eBay redirects all such queries to the home page).

In part two of this series we are going to look more closely at the content we put into our web pages and make sure that we maximize our chances to be preferred by search engines.

Y'all come back!

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