Demystifying Search Engines for Winery Websites
Explaining, in very simple terms, why Search Engines are important to you, what the rankings mean, how Search Engines work, choosing your keyword phrases and using them to improve your Search Engine rankings, and ways to check your progress.
This article is by no means the end-all, be-all of Search Engine Information!!!! They are such complicated beasties it would be as difficult to try and totally explain them as it would be to explain the U.S. tax system!
Instead, what I’ve tried to do is focus the article on those of you who may not be very familiar with Search Engines and to give you an idea of how they work and what you can do to help your winery website’s rankings — without spending a fortune at a marketing company.
Importance of Search Engines and Rankings
We all know Search Engines are important, but you may be asking yourself "How do they effect me and my winery?" Well, believe it or not, people are actually using the Search Engines to look for new, undiscovered wineries and wines.
For example, I just checked on Google to see how many people searched using the phrase ‘buy pinot noir’, and was FLOORED! An average of 1,600 people search using that term per month! PER MONTH!!!! How do you think it would effect your pinot noir sales if you showed up in the first few pages of these results? (And to be effective, you want to show up in the first 3 pages of the results for the keywords you’ve targeted.)
But how do you get on the first 3 pages? Well, first you have to know a little bit about how Search Engines work . . . .
Explaining the Search Engine Process
How Search Engines find web pages and content to rank for their search results is they send out little computer programs called ‘web crawlers’ or ‘spiders’ who browse through websites on the internet and, based on certain words and phrases in the web page’s coding and text, rank it for the keyword phrases it feels are most relevant.
For example, if the ‘spider’ reads through your ‘Vineyard’ page and encounters the phrase ‘sustainable farming’ a lot, then it will consider your page relevant for that keyword phrase and rank you for it accordingly. Of course, this is a gross simplification of the process, and does not take into consideration how much competition you may have for these same keyword phrases, but I hope it helps you understand a wee bit about how they work.
So, what do you do with this knowledge? Why, make sure every page on your site is rich with the keyword phrases you want to be ranked highly for! Sounds easy doesn’t it? NOT!!!!
Finding Good Keyword Phrases
You may be asking yourself, "Why do I need to FIND good keyword phrases? Can’t I just optimize my site for ‘buy pinot noir’ and get ranked high for that?" Unfortunately, no. The more popular a phrase is, the more competition there will be amongst websites for space in those coveted 3 results pages I mentioned above. For example, below you can see that over 4 million web pages showed up in the results when I searched using the term ‘buy pinot noir’ — that’s A LOT of competition!
Unless you are pretty dedicated to being ranked for this phrase (and when I say ‘dedicated’, I mean with both your time and your money) your chances of showing up in the top 3 pages is pretty slim. So now what do you do?
You are going to have to get creative with your keyword phrases and narrow your focus. You want to use keyword phrases that are popular enough by potential consumers to be worthwhile, yet not so popular with your competition that it is impossible to make it to the top 3 pages.
So, Instead of shooting for ‘buy pinot noir’, maybe you should focus on ‘willamette valley pinot noir’ or ‘award winning pinot noir’. And maybe there are keyword phrases out there people are using that you never thought of! (We are so involved with the wine industry it can be impossible to try and ‘think’ like a consumer and figure out what keywords they would use to look for wine.) So, to help you come up with keyword ideas is Google’s Adword Keyword Tool. (This is actually for their ‘Adwords’ customers but anyone can use it.)
When you click on the above link, you are taken to the page where you can enter in the keyword phrases you want to use as a starting point. In the below example, I used ‘willamette valley pinot noir’.
After you click on ‘Get keyword
ideas’ the following page comes up:
What you are looking for on this page are keyword phrase ideas you can use and how popular they are (like I mentioned above, you want a phrase that is popular enough to be worthwhile in pursuing but not so popular you don’t stand a chance of ranking in the first 3 page results).
After looking at the keyword results Google gave me I found several phrases I hadn’t thought of! One of these is ‘willamette valley vineyards pinot noir’ and with it averaging 260 searches a month, this would be a great phrase to pursue for your website! You KNOW at least 260 people are using it to search with per month, and when I searched for it using Google it returned only around 50,300 results. This may SEEM like a lot, but with a little work optimizing your site you have a good chance of rising to the top.
Take your time and have fun using this AWESOME Google tool! You may be surprised at the keyword phrases that pop up and the more specific keyword phrases you find the better your chances of showing up in the top 3 pages of the search results.
Where To Put Your Keyword Phrases
Now that you have your list of keyword phrases, what do you do with them? I’m going to go over where you need to insert these words and phrases and once you understand how this works, either you or your web designer can put them into action.
Search Engines consider your home page to be the most important page on your entire site! (This is the page that comes up when people type in www.yourwebsite.com.) Because of this, you need to make sure your home page is chock full of keyword rich text! So, if you have an intro page that only includes a graphic and/or Flash animation with a link to the rest of your site, you could be missing out on many Search Engine opportunities.
Spangler Vineyards is an example of a winery who knows what keyword phrases they are targeting and do a great job of making sure their home page is rich with them. ‘Distinctive Red Wines’, ‘Vibrant White Wines’ and ‘Wines in Southern Oregon’ are all keyword phrases used in their main header and are popular enough terms to be searched for in the Search Engines but not so popular they’re impossible to get ranked in. These phrases are also used in the text that follows which makes the Search Engine ‘spiders’ think this page is even more relevant for these keywords — thereby increasing their chances of being ranked high.
Keywords In The Code
Something you may not be aware of is that much like the wiring for your home is hidden in the walls, the coding for your web page is hidden behind the visible face it shows to the world. To the right is an example of the coding that makes up a web page.
Those of you using Mozilla FireFox, Google Chrome or Internet Explorer can view the coding by pulling up a web page, right clicking anywhere on the page (except on an image or flash animation) and selecting ‘View page source’ or ‘View Source’ from the window that pops up. This will open up another page that includes all the coding for that page.
Why do you need to know this? Because within this coding section are some very important areas to the Search Engines: your Meta Title, Meta Description, Meta Keywords and Header Tags.
Meta tags are snippets of code at the top of your page that can be used in a variety of ways. You want to use them to give your page a Meta Title, a Meta Description and Meta Keywords.
Below is an example of the meta tags on my home page focusing on my primary keyword phrase of ‘winery website’
|<title>Winery Website Design and Vineyard Photography</title>
<meta name="description" content="Focusing on small, boutique and micro wineries." />
<meta name="keywords" content="wine marketing, wine web design, wine web site, wine website, wine websites, winery creative services, winery ecommerce, winery ecommerce solution, winery shopping cart, winery web design, winery web site, winery web site design, winery web site maintenance, winery website, winery website design, winery website maintenance, winery websites, micro wineries, small wineries, boutique wineries" />
As you can see, ‘Winery Website’ is the first phrase in my title, and focus this even more by including in my meta description the type of wineries I prefer to work with. If you are wondering why I did not include my company name in the title or description, this is because the keyword phrase ‘winery website’ has a lot more competition for high rankings in the Search Engines then ’4 the Grapes’. And ’4 the Grapes’ is used often enough in the site that I rank high for my company name anyway — make sense?
VERY IMPORTANT: Be sure to reinforce the keyword phrases used in your meta tags on the rest of your page! If you were using the above meta tag examples for your page, you would back them up by having ‘Winery Website” in your page header and also use it in the regular text of the page. This way the Search Engine spiders who are browsing your page can see you really do have relevant content for these keywords and will factor this in during rankings
Header tags are the HTML tags used to code the headers on your page. The Search Engines consider <H1> to be the most important heading on your page and the higher the ‘H’ tag the lower is its importance.
As you can see in the above example, I reinforced my relevancy for the keyword phrase ‘winery website’ by including it in my <h1> tag.
Alt tags are part of the image coding describing what the image is about. They are mainly for folks who have their images turned off or for the seeing impaired, but the Search Engine spiders read these descriptions too and you can use them for your keyword phrases.
In the example to the left, the alt tag describes this picture as "Abacela, a southern oregon vineyard" which will help their ranking for ‘southern oregon vineyard’
Other Factors That Effect Your Search Engine Rankings
I know I’ve already given you a TON of information, but I promise, we’re almost done! The Search Engines consider 2 other factors when ranking your site.
#1 is how often you update your web pages (especially your home page). You see, they think if a website is updated often then the site owners are ‘obviously’ on the ball and should have their keyword phrases ranked higher then a website that’s been sitting, unchanged, for months. (I always recommend to my clients they update their home page regularly with the latest wine releases, new reviews and awards and listing any events they will be having.)
And #2 is how many outside websites are linking to yours. The Search Engines feel a site that has a lot of links leading to it from other sites MUST be important, so they will rank this site higher then a site that has no other sites linking to it. There are many ways to get other sites to link to yours but here are just a few to get you started:
- You can ‘trade links’ with other websites. For example, set up a ‘Visit’ page on your website and ask the various businesses you want to include on this page if they would link to you if you link to them.
- You can start playing with social media websites like Twitter and LinkedIN and post links to your site there.
How to check your progress
For my Grand Finali, I’m going to let you know a little secret on how to track your progress in the Search Engines — Web Position. This program will look through the Search Engines you specify for the keyword phrases you set to see if, and where you rank. It is a WONDERFUL tool and is considered the industry standard software for Search Engine marketers everywhere. You may think because of this it would be pretty expensive, but you can buy the ‘Standard Version‘ for about $150 and they do offer a free trial. Below is an example of one of their result summaries for my own site:
I hope I haven’t completely overwhelmed you, but by breaking down all the different elements of the Search Engines I’m hoping you have a better understanding of how they work and some solid ideas you can implement on your site to improve your own Search Engine rankings.