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Internet Visibility Expert Shares Secrets with Belmont Entrepreneurs

Ross Jones shared with Belmont students how to grow their personal brands and the websites of their companies through search engine optimization during a lecture Wednesday morning in the Massey Boardroom.

Jones, a founder of 2theTop Web Design & Promotion and an Internet marketing professor at the Art Institute of Tennessee, told the story of how he has leveraged his 81 websites on Google and other search engines to earn what he calls “mailbox money,” including $160,000 through Google’s AdSense. His largest website has generated 2.2 million visitors in 2011. The “mailbox money” was instrumental in helping him make the leap from the security of a corporate job into the world of self-employed.

His journey to become an expert in website visibility began when he sold four tickets for University of Tennessee football games but continued receiving emails from interested buyers. In 1997, he began doing affiliate marketing for licensed ticket brokers who paid commissions on sales referred from his websites.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) includes using keywords and phrases correctly to increase the ranking of a website on directories and sites like Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and Citysearch that use algorithms and software to help users find data. Even Apple’s Siri is a type of Search Engine that savvy marketers can optimize.

As Jones describes it, “Search Engines are tools to find information on the Internet. Optimization means to take full advantage of. SEO is simply the process of maximizing our visibility on the tools where people find information.”
In 2006, Jones helped create StyleNet as a marketing tool for the spa and salon industry. Four years later, he returned to his first company, 2theTop Design, to “help clients show up better where ever there is a search engine.”

When creating websites and their content, people should focus on relevancy, including the website title, url structure, anchor text and especially the content. Page load speed is also very important. A website’s authority, such as being linked from other websites, also increases its search engine optimization. Popular mistakes that decrease optimization include changing domain names; changing the URL structure; using too much Flash, which search engines cannot read; and using introductory splash pages, Jones said.

“People think there are some magic meta tags that make you show up #1 on Google. That hasn’t worked since 1995. Search Engines have gotten a little more sophisticated in the 17 years I’ve been doing this,” he said.

He recommends people brainstorm, research competition, use Google’s predictor to learn popular phrases used to search, use an analytics package and watch some of the more than 500 free webmasters videos created by Google’s Matt Cutts.

Following his lecture, Jones spent an hour critiquing students’ individual websites and blogs and offering advice on how to improve their search engine optimization. He also invited them to join the Nashville SEO and Internet Marketing Group, which meets on the last Thursday of every month.

The lecture was co-sponsored by Belmont’s Collegiate DECA and the Center for Entrepreneurship.