"We probably have about 30,000 or 40,000 images on our site," Gerbino said, "and when we began tracking downloads, we realized we were getting a lot of .jpg downloads aside from the stories."
Although the company had always tried to make its images more searchable?images have always included alt tags that contain a short description?Gerbino said he wanted to improve his natural search rankings even further.
So he added metadata to each file that included the product image's name, its manufacturer's name, information about how the product is used and its vertical category or type. The extra step didn't require a lot of work because the company was already using a content management system. Writers, Gerbino said, only had to add another few data fields to their initial work.
"It's all really just filling in the blanks," he said.
Gerbino is on the cutting edge, said Dana Todd, president of nonprofit industry group Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), as few marketers are optimizing nontext content such as images, audio or video files. Even blogs, which are simply personal Web pages, don't get the optimization that they deserve, she said.
"The number of people who optimize any of their nontext content on any kind of regular basis is as close to zero percent as you can get," she said. "You need to have the unique combination of someone who knows how to change their files' setups and someone who knows about SEO in general. In most companies, video and audio files belong to the AV guy down the hall and, nine times out of 10, he doesn't do SEO."
What Lies Beneath
No matter what type of file you optimize, you're dealing with the same limitation: Search engines use a text-based framework. They can't open an audio or video file, or crawl an image. They see only text associated with those files, and unless you attach the text manually or via a content management system, engines will register the file name and that's it.
Amanda Watlington, owner of search and marketing consultancy Searching for Profit, said there are several steps for optimizing nontext content. The first is obviously optimizing the file: adding descriptive text and giving it a logical name.
Then comes optimizing the Web page on which the file appears, including making sure the page's metadata states what's on it?the type of file, for example?and what that file contains. Be as specific and detailed as possible, she said.
The final step is what Watlington called submitting and socializing?sending it out to search engines that specialize in linking to your particular file type because unfortunately, your video file probably won't end up as a high natural rating on a general term search, she said.
Indeed, when you're trying to publicize nontext content or even nontraditional text-based content such as blogs, submitting your files and site to the usual search engine suspects just isn't enough. Instead, said Melissa Gluck, managing partner at Radar Research, you've got to go where people are looking.
"The way people perceive their media consumption has changed," she said. "Their sense of the world is coming from a variety of different search sources."
Those sources include sites such as podcast repository iTunes, Yahoo! Image Search and Blinkx.com video file search. There are currently more than 75 podcast directories, Watlington said.
The problem is just as significant for text-based content such as blogs and Myspace pages, all of which marketers and content creators are using to drive traffic back to their main site, Watlington said.
"These sites don't let you go in and tailor and optimize, so you have to make the most of the opportunity you do have," she said.
This means text on the page must include your company's or product's corresponding keywords. Some businesses that use MySpace.com do this by creating pages that personify their product.
"You have to be very direct because on MySpace, searches are going to drive off the title of your page," she said.
SEMPO's Todd said bloggers should consider using a tool such as Newsforce, an automated press release optimization system that can also be used for blogs.
ThomasNet's Gerbino said that although his company hasn't ventured into video or audio files yet, he's already thinking about all of these optimization possibilities for when he does roll them out.
"In 2007 you're going to start seeing us deliver rich media content that's going to let us reach all the devices that people use to get content today," he said. "The biggest pitfall anyone can fall into is not making their content available everywhere they can."