Search Engine Spotlight

If there’s a truism in the camp business it’s that the Internet has unleashed a swarm of hits on camp websites as parents and kids use it to find the perfect camp.

For a lot of camps those hits translate into more campers from a wider geographical area. It is the World Wide Web, and camps are even seeing more international flavor listed on their rolls.

GET LISTED

Listing your Web address in traditional media, like newspapers and magazines, will certainly drive traffic to your site, particularly if it’s focused. But not everybody has the budget to run a bevy of ads in various media to beef up registration.

In order to reach the Net-savvy camper your camp needs to show up on search engines.

Andrew Ackerman and Ari Ackerman of Bunk1.com, which offers Web services to camps, offer this advice when you initially register on a search engine…

“Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to register your site. Go to the search engine or directory and look for a link that says register your web site or submit a page, or words to that effect. Click on that link. At a minimum, you will be asked to enter your camp’s website address.

“You may also be asked to supply an email address (in case the search engine or directory needs to contact you), to choose a category (like summer camps), to enter a short description, etc.

“Each search engine and directory is different, but the instructions are usually pretty clear. Some quick rules of thumb:

1. Fill in all the optional information requested. It only helps your site get listed.

2. Only submit your home page and only do that once per site. Drowning a search engine or directory with multiple registrations will not improve your ranking one bit and will make them mad. They will blackball your site. Bad idea.

3. Check back each month. If your camp’s site is not coming up or stops coming up in a search engine or directory’s search results, resubmit your web site. (Tip: Don’t search on summer camp to test a search engine or directory -– try searching for your camp’s full name. If it doesn’t come up for that, it’s not in their database).”

DRIVING THE ENGINES

Once listed it’s a good idea, time permitting, to stay in regular contact with the search engines you register with. Develop a relationship. After all, that’s their job, and they have entire departments devoted to website registration.

“It took our Web master quite a bit of time, calling these guys and staying on top of them to get us out there,” says Vince Jordan, a founder of NovaZen/Solant, an interactive Internet-based customer care and electronic bill presentment company based in Boulder, Colo. “Initially when Novazen and Solant went live we never came up in the search engines, then we came up way down the page, then we came up way up front. That was our Web master continually talking with the search engines and working with them. Squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

The squeaky wheel may well get the grease, but if you don’t have a well-designed, easily navigated and dynamic site, you could hurt your rating — which is how quickly you come up on a search engine.

Also, the number of links back to other pages, particularly those you deem important for people to view, helps content-oriented search engines like Metacrawler, Google and AltaVista. These search engines crawl the Web, collecting data from website content. You normally don’t register for these search engines, as much as they search for you.

“Typically, these sites go through and look for domain names they haven’t seen before; they’ll follow all the links through the site and index the site based on what they find,” says David Hahn, owner of TechAngle, a computer hardware, software, consulting and Internet company based in Aurora, Colo. “As the person requesting the website you are the expert in your own content. The best thing to do is when you’re looking at the layout of the website, make sure it’s cross-referenced so that this piece of information points to this piece of information.

If you have some pages that are hardly ever referenced the crawlers won’t give it as much weight, even if the information is important to you. Some of it’s careful content and design — tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them again and then tell them that you told them.”

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