How did E-SPECTATIONS get involved in Search engine optimization?
Webmasters only started Search engine optimization in the mid-1990’s. In the early days, we just submitted the URL’s to the search engines in order for the spiders or robots to crawl the site. The term Search engine optimization was only used the first time in 1997, according to Danny Sulivan (search engine analyst).
Search engine optimization resulted from the Sponsorships and websites we designed to combine our online-offline campaigns in 1998. We had a small team which worked at the Station Africa Telecoms offices. The team established a standard operating procedure for each sponsorship website, which included the following:
- Conceptualize and draft architecture of the website, which we called a site map.
- Consult the graphic designer to establish design and graphics.
- Add content including the selection of keywords, description, and title which formed the meta tags on the page.
- Update the site dynamically with content and press releases.
- Monitor the statistics.
- Provide feedback to management based on the statistics and build the marketing plan based on the statistics to increase traffic.
The IT team were not experts in search engine optimization. We just used this specific procedure as we knew it worked and the pages ranked high in the search engines, confirmed by the web statistics. Remember that Google did not exist as we know it today (Google Inc. est. 4 September 1998). As a team, we focused the marketing efforts on Yahoo and Bing, major search engines back then. So let’s look at what we did right according to the current standards for White hat SEO:
Search engine optimization and Sitemaps:
Our first step was to compile flow and click charts of the pages which we built for each website (Sitemaps). We tried to use the 3-click rule (call-to-action within 3 clicks from the visitor viewing the home page.) In designing a flow chart, each page inevitably gave us a focus keyword for that page. Once we had a name for each page (keyword), we compiled the content for that page and updated the sites. Sitemaps are now XML documents which you add to the root directory which ease the crawling of your site by robots. It is also recommended to have an HTML sitemap for users to find pages and information they are looking for.
Organic search engine rankings:
Paid-for advertising and sponsored links did not exist. We could rely only on organic rankings for each project/ sponsorship/ website. The daily updates in retrospect served as fresh content, which increased our rankings in the search engines.
Algorithms that affect rankings also did not exist the way it does today, as the internet was in infancy, especially in South Africa. I would dare to say that the New Frontiers expedition is one of the first interactive expeditions backed by a website in South Africa. Radio interviews and video streaming was not at the order of the day in 1998, the way Youtube and social media handles it in 2015. As a matter of fact, in South Africa at that point in time, dial-up modems with a lack in bandwidth were in use and it complicated streaming video and audio. Nevertheless, the radio interviews on Radio 702 prompted the adventurous to follow the group online and that resulted in sponsor exposure and traffic to the website.
Quality fresh content:
New Frontiers expedition sent us daily updates and photographs using a Mini-M satellite phone. An online audience with like-minded people started to follow the daily updates after listening to the weekly radio interviews via satellite phone on Radio 702. Today internet users know it as social media. In 1998, it was just a way for us to interact with the public and provide support to the weekly radio interviews. It never dawned on us that the websites with the interactive material would result in a new industry. The schools competition was just a way to educate children a bit more about Africa and reward the children that followed the group with a prize to the school. Without knowing it, we were actually providing fresh quality content which is now the most important factor that Google require since the Panda update. Google would have loved our websites in 1998 – 2000.
Our content updates consisted of:
- Background information and history of each place the New Frontiers visited.
- Photos we received from the group via satellite phone.
- Weekly radio interviews which we streamed online.
- Press releases distributed to media sites.
All the above resulted in high traffic to these websites with relevant sites linking to it. We learned a lot from the experience and moved on to do more of these websites.