A Beginner’s Question… Submitting to Search Engines?

I just got an email from one of my clients who does web development and fulfillment for a number of websites in the communications industry. The question to me was:

Jon, can you take a look at the email below and see if you can assist me with understanding his concerns?

And the “email below” essentially stated (paraphrasing and taking my liberty to edit):

…With (my website) in reference to SEO, what are the benefits of bringing traffic by submitting to search engines? In addition what is the difference from submitting to sites and paying for clicks? I have done both with my domain and understand pay per click a litte (I know there are many little tricks which I do not know) but I do not understand the benefit of submitting to the search engines. Does this get you free traffic eventually when accepted or does it allow you to get in specific programs when accepted.

Where to begin? Well, as this post is essentially my recycling this (IMO noteworthy and useful) email conversation, here was my response:

I suggest he read some beginners guides to SEO. This is a great one – http://www.seomoz.org/beginners.php. Frankly it would take me several days to begin to answer his questions… I’d have to essentially teach him all about SEO…

In short, there are two ways to get traffic from search engines – “organic” which is the “regular” results… and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) which are the ads you typically see at the very top and on the right when searching. The two function very differently.

With PPC, you literally pay a small amount (anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars) every time someone clicks the ad and goes to your site. You can specify which keywords you want your ad to be shown for. There are entire companies that do nothing but manage large PPC campaigns all day long, so naturally it gets alot more in-depth than this.

The other method – referred to as organic SEO is the process of getting your site to rank high in the regular results. It does not cost “per click” as the other method does, but that’s not to say its without cost. Instead it basically a bunch of methods that do one of two links – 1) add more relevant content to your site about your site’s topic and 2) get links from other relevant sites to your site. Those two things are the two main criteria the search engines look at to determine which site is the “best” for a particular search. Again, it gets MUCH more involved than this… but that’s the general concept.

Of the two, the PPC is generally more costly but yields more immediate results. Organic SEO is more of a long-term venture and not as certain, yet generally has more volume potential and higher upside.

(The person with the original question) mentioned “submitting to search engines”. That phrase lets me know someone is new to SEO. First, only 3 search engines really matter much (Google, Yahoo, MSN) as they account for 97% (don’t quote me) of all search traffic. Second, you don’t need to submit to them. They will find your site so long as somewhere on the internet there is another site that they know about that links to your site. They proactively find sites this way.

Lastly, common advice as a first step for organic SEO is to “submit to directories”. Many people confuse this with “submit to search engines”. Directories are different – you tell them the name of your site, the URL and give a description and they list you, much in the same way a phone book might list companies. They don’t actually “search” the contents of your website.

So why submit to them? Three reasons: 1) they can bring you some traffic. 2) they will get a few links to your website such that now the search engines can find your website. 3) the links you get help one of those factors we discussed (getting other sites to link to yours). The general premise is that the more good sites that link to your site, the more credible your site is. Again, its much more complex than this, but that’s the general premise. Examples of a few good directories that produce some traffic are http://dmoz.org, http://www.joeant.com and also http://www.abilogic.com.

Hope this helps!

I did not go into any more detail than that, as if I did I might never stop typing… Its important to note that many people overdo the whole “submit to directories” idea and use that as a main method for link building. Submitting to directories is okay – Google even says so:

Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!, as well as to other industry-specific expert sites.

I advise to submit to directories that exhibit a certain level of quality in the sites they choose to list, and also preferably directories that have enough traffic and exposure to bring you some of that.  The general stance there is don’t build links for SEO, build links for traffic.  Even if your goal is really just search rankings, that stance would probably lead you in the right direction anyway.  Don’t overlook linking for traffic though, that would be a definite mistake.  Some people go and submit to any directory they can find.  IMO that is a waste of time.  Again, go for directories that are relevant (either topical or regional for example), exhibit quality in listings and hopefully have enough real traffic to matter.  A good link even if SEO did not exist… what a novel idea!