The Search Tango

For some, search engine marketing (SEM) is a science. People who write about SEM frequently refer to the "Google Dance." At the best SEM companies, however, this dance is really much more like the exotic, Argentinean Tango.

It's easy to learn the basic steps. You can even search Google Images to view the footwork. With a bit of practice, you quickly become mildly competent. The real challenge is to get so good, everyone else on the floor turns to watch.

The first of the search tango partners is the search engine. This is the one that leads. Follow it closely. Did the tempo pick up as it changed algorithms? Or is it in a slow, quiet waltz, buying you time to brush up on your footwork?

Your Web site is the other half of the partnership. And it needs to learn how to dance.

Let's look at how this fits in with MSN's forthcoming search engine, of which MSN offers previews here.

The tests of MSN's search technology preview are coming in, with one pundit after another reporting the same thing: it's a step in the right direction, but MSN's not there yet. Yet why isn't MSN hitting one out of the park?



Tango lessons could help here.

MSN is in a frenetic dance pace right now, gaining partners left and right, filling up its dance card. Currently, its new search engine has indexed roughly one billion Web pages, a number MSN says will grow quickly. While much is made of algorithm changes in Google and Yahoo! that shift a site's ranking up or down a few places, observers of MSN's search technology get to play with something far more exciting - a search engine developing from scratch.

Check MSN's search preview and run a search for your site. If your site is there, see what pages are indexed. See what keywords bring them up. It could teach you a few things that could be applied to the established search engines.

What if your site isn't yet indexed at all among MSN's billion pages? It may just be a matter of time; the dance partner hasn't gotten to you just yet. It could also be a sign that your site is particularly hard to find, or that the site's architecture isn't welcoming to search engine spiders, which would cause some pages to get overlooked.

What if your site is listed, but it doesn't appear as high in MSN's rankings as it does in, say, Google and Yahoo!?

This might signal a bigger problem coming, and it's worth following now. For instance, in running a search on "Cadillac spare parts" (minus the quotes), MSN's search preview returned 15 results. Google retrieved over 47,000. If your site's one of those 15 on MSN, what's going to happen when there's another 10,000 or 100,000 (depending on just how good MSN's search engine gets)? More to the point, how can your site stay on top of the other 100,000?

Take MSN as your dance partner and follow its lead.

For some sites, it may be a good time to sign up for dancing lessons. Leading search engine optimization (SEO) companies can start showing results within several weeks, but complicated sites can take months to get optimized, and it's an ongoing process. By getting started now, when MSN's new search technology debuts later this year, your site can jockey for position with the best of them.

Otherwise, if the SEO budget is just not there or your site is too small to warrant such an investment, planning ahead is still important. Learning the intricacies of search optimization doesn't happen overnight. Sure, you can search in Google to find the dance steps, but that doesn't mean you can dance.

Microsoft's Eytan Seidman writes on the company's "Discussions in MSN Search" newsgroup, "We are learning what it means to run a search service end to end and to return results in a few hundred milliseconds."

The leader's in training too. During these warm-ups, forgive it for stepping on your toes. But you'd do well to practice your moves, with comprehensive dance lessons before the competition begins in earnest.

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