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« Back Post Date: Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Search Engine Optimization
Clubessential has completed a series of architectural changes, creating a remarkable improvement in Search Engine Optimization for its clients' websites

Search Engine Optimization
By Dr. William D. Ivers, CEO, Clubessential

Have you been frustrated because potential banquet clients, prospective new members and visitors to your club can’t find your website?  Do your members have trouble finding the website even searching for the exact name of the club and its city? If so, your website has not been “Search Engine Optimized” (also known as “SEO”).  This should not be a surprise, because until recently, available club website technology conflicted with search engine requirements, blocking good placement.

Competing To Be Found
Just three search engines account for 95% of all searches on the web: Google (50%), MSN (20%), and Yahoo! (25%), so if you could optimize your website to attract their attention, you would be satisfied.  Unfortunately, this is not so easy.  Millions of companies spend time and money to make sure they top the lists when searches related to golf and dining and clubs are submitted.  Naturally, if you want to compete with them, you (and your website vendor) need to expend some effort.
Search engines have developed elaborate methods to calculate the rank a web page attains in a search. These methods are complex, but the key factors for achieving a high ranking include:

  • Optimized code that doesn’t conflict with the search engines.
  • Carefully designed “metadata” (these are tags which describe the content of the site) that reflect your site’s body content.
  • The extent of inter-linking of the club website to other highly inter-linked sites that have subject matter similar to yours.
  • Careful placement of the desired search words within the content of the website, in such a way that the search engines rank the importance of the key words highly.  This part of Search Engine Optimization cannot be easily automated and requires the touch of a person skilled at both marketing and the strange rules that govern search engine ranking methods.

Clubessential’s Two Year SEO Project
In early 2004, Clubessential realized that its clients were becoming more interested in attaining high rankings in Internet searches.  As we began to research the problem, we discovered that “quick fixes” were not possible because the architecture of our systems (as well as those of our competitors) had major problems preventing good rankings:

  • We used an old style of graphics called “frames” that confused search engine “crawlers” (Crawlers are the programs that search engines use to travel all over the web, looking for new websites to index).  This caused our clients’ sites to be, for the most part, ignored.
  • The pages of our websites are created dynamically “on the fly” by assembling them from components stored in our database.  Search engines don’t like dynamic pages because they don’t like to index things that might change or disappear when the public looks them up.  This was a major problem, because the key strengths of Clubessential’s systems revolve around using “dynamic pages.”
  • Because our pages were dynamically created, they all used the same page titles.   Since the crawlers pay attention to the page titles, this prevented us from providing attractive page titles to improve placement.
  • Initially we didn’t have an easy way for clients to even set up the “metadata” for a page (the metadata is just a hidden description of what is on the page), so search engines did not find anything of value there.
  • Many of our clients made use of flash animations or JavaScript code – but the search engines don’t like pages with coding, so such pages would be skipped.
  • Most of our clients did not have many links to other websites, nor did they have many links back from other websites.  The link-backs they did have tended to be from golf or travel portals, so this just helped those commercial sites gain higher ranking ahead of the clubs.  This is why you might find your club listed fifteen times in the first few pages of a search response, but all those listings are for portals and not for your own website.
    Many businesses actually pay specialized firms (typically $5,000 or more) to go find the right kind of organizations to get links from, and then pay those sites to post a link to the target website.  We didn’t want to suggest to our clients that they should pay for such links, nor did we want them to waste time contacting other sites to beg for links. 

A Change in Architecture
So you can see that when our SEO project got started, we had lots of fundamental problems to overcome.  The first thing we did was change the architecture of our product to allow us to build virtually any kind of graphical design – without using “frames.”   You may have noticed how our newer  “Studio Design Group” websites look much more artistic since we implemented this technology (Samples can be found at: www.clubessential.com/demo).   Once we got rid of frames, we had more artistic websites,
and the crawlers did not reject our clients’ sites out of hand.

Our next project involved restructuring our dynamic database-served pages to make them crawler friendly.  How we did this is a proprietary technique I can’t reveal, but I can say that this problem is totally solved for all the pages in our websites, not just the landing page.
We also created easy ways to set up metadata, and figured out how to help the crawlers get by the JavaScript with yet another proprietary technique.  In short, we changed the entire architecture of our product to make it search engine friendly.

A Galaxy Of Club Clients

Next we tackled the interlinking problem.  Instead of paying the commercial sites to add another link, thereby helping them compete with our clients’ placement, we thought – why not make use of the 600 club websites we already host?  They have content that is similar (an important requirement for a powerful link).  So we built an interlinking technology that takes advantage of our large client base using a method which is proprietary.  The result of this technology is that every Clubessential hosted website is recognized by the crawlers as being an important site linked to many other important sites with similar content – which helps gain high placement in searches without benefiting the commercial portals.  The beauty of this approach is that our clients don’t have to do any work at all – the links are
there automatically.

One way to know whether your website has strong interlinking is to use the Google toolbar, which has a button called “PageRank.”  For a club website, a page rank of 3 (out of ten) is very good, 4 is excellent, and 5 can only be obtained through an extensive PR and outreach effort.  Once Clubessential introduced its new interlinking method, the PageRank of most Clubessential clients jumped to a 3 or 4 without any other effort required.  These PageRanks will improve with time because the search engines also factor in longevity as one of their criteria.

A good PageRank is important, but by itself will not result in high search placements.

The Final Step To Search Engine Optimization
When Clubessential’s development team had finished all the architectural changes necessary for SEO, all that remained was the manual restructuring of the content on each website to optimize the response of the search engines.  We developed a process that our Client Services staff can perform on any website to drastically enhance SEO.  First we work with the client to define the search words and phrases that would, ideally, result in high placement.  Then we go through the website modifying the content to make those words stand out for the search engines.

This process is laborious and requires a person who can create content but who also understands the quirks of the search engine ranking methods.  The amazing results are easy to measure, often causing the club’s website to show up on the first page of a search even though there might be half a million competing results.  Clubessential will perform this optimization for any of our clients for a modest fee.  We offer the service on a “Satisfaction Guaranteed” basis – if you are not happy with the improvement in your search engine placement when we are done, we will credit back the fee.

Conclusion

Search Engine Optimization cannot be “purchased” from some third party firm for most club websites, because the functionality of such websites requires an advanced database back-end that produces “dynamic” pages and hence is automatically blocked by the search engines.  The third party companies, even though they specialize in SEO, will not be able to overcome the structural roadblocks posed by the use of dynamic pages.  Instead, each website vendor must modify the architecture of their product to overcome these difficulties.  Once the vendor’s product is optimized, then it is worth the trouble to go through the website content, restructuring it to capture the attention of the search engine crawlers.

All Clubessential clients have experienced an improvement in search engine placement in recent months because of the changes in our systems.  For a full optimization, please give Adam Nessler (513-322-4190) a call for a quotation on optimizing the content on your website.

 
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