If you put information online, getting traffic is always a challenge. Web traffic may come from “organic” search results, from blogs, from Twitter & Facebook, from bookmark sites, etc. (And if you are a nonprofit, via free AdWords via a Google Grant.) There are many resources online about “search engine optimization.” But don’t confuse the approach for education with that needed for commerce. According to a search engine hacker Mark Stevens, interviewed recently by the New York Times:
“I think we need to make a distinction between two different kinds of searches — informational and commercial,” he said. “If you search ‘cancer,’ that’s an informational search and on those, Google is amazing. But in commercial searches, Google’s results are really polluted. My own personal experience says that the guy with the biggest S.E.O. budget always ranks the highest.”
That quote comes from yesterday’s article, “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search” which looks at how the American retailer JC Penney used sneaky methods to get high Google rankings. They used so-called “black hat” techniques, which are legal, but involve cheating to manipulate Google’s results. When discovered, which normally happens, Google penalizes sites by trashing their ranking in search results, making a site that uses black-hat techniques virtually invisible.
It’s rare that we hear from black hat operators. The article notes, “Interviewing a purveyor of black-hat services face-to-face was a considerable undertaking. They are a low-profile bunch. But a link-selling specialist named Mark Stevens — who says he had nothing to do with the Penney link effort — agreed to chat.”
The differentiation which Stevens points out is great for educational projects because it means that normal publicity, community building, and “white hat” approaches to boosting rankings in Google have a good chance of helping you reach your audience.