More than 100 million searches are done every day on the Internet as people surf the World Wide Web trying to find something. A Georgia Institute of Technology study found that 87% of surfers use search engines to locate web sites.

That should send a clear and urgent message to automotive dealers: prospects and customers are using search engines on the Internet to make purchases, and they're buying from your competitors if a search doesn't lead to your site.

Auto dealers need to get into the search engines so customers can find them. But how do you do that? There are three things you need to understand. They're not complicated: search engines, key words/key phrases, top 30 listing from a search.

Once you connect to the Internet, you give your topic or key word/key phrase to the Internet's librarians — search engines.

You may have heard of some of them — Yahoo!, NBCi, Lycos, HotBot, AltaVista and Web Crawler. More than 90% of all search engine traffic is generated by the top12 search engines and these users who are searching for your products or services are actively looking to buy. Visitors from search engines often become customers at 10 to 100 times the rate of banner advertising visitors.

There are two types of search engines. Some are directories that catalog information submitted to them. Others are robots. Robots automatically wander around the Internet, going from hyperlink to hyperlink, cataloging the words and addresses they find.

When you give your topic (key word) to the search engine, it retrieves this information and returns the results to you in the form of a list. The list is made up of web pages containing the word you searched.

Each of the listings is made up of at least two parts:

Title — The title serves the same purpose as a book's title. It gets your attention.

Description — The description is the same as the information on the jacket of a book. It helps you make the decision about whether the Web site contains the information you want.

Like books in the library, all web pages are assigned a number. When you look up a book by title or subject, the card catalog number tells you where in the library the book is located. On the Internet, the location of each page is assigned a URL (Uniform Resource Locator). Every web page has a URL (address). This way, every piece of information can be cataloged by key word and address.

To find information on the Internet, you enter a key word or combination of key words into a search engine. The search engine returns all of the URLs in its database that match the key word. Very common words such as a, the, they, an, and, he, him are not indexed.

Now you know why it's important to get your web site into the search engines and you have a better understanding of key words/key phrases. Here's something else equally crucial — 70% of all users will not look beyond the top 30 listings!

Your site must be ranked in the top 30 results of a search to get significant traffic. Because there are so many web pages on the Internet, you have to know how to use key words to get your site included in the TOP 30 results of each search.

Target your market by determining what key words people will use to search for you. Using as many key words/key phrases as you can in the construction of your Web page is crucial if you want to rise to the top of the search engine pile. If you were looking for you, what word or words would you use?

If your site uses Flash, frames, image maps or even Java buttons, chances are the search engines cannot read the page because they can only recognize words. Your site may be invisible.

Some search engines allow for the use of meta tags. Without getting too technical, meta tags allow key words to be hidden from a visitor's eyes, “behind” the web page, allowing you to expand the number of key words in the search engine's database.

In all cases, key words and combinations of key words control how people find you!

You would think that 100 million searches a day on the Internet would guarantee some sales at your site. Not necessarily. It doesn't matter what you are selling. If no one can find you, no one can buy from you!

Terry Mickelson is owner of PageViews, a Scottsdale, AZ., company that specializes in helping clients achieve prominent search engine placements. He's at (480) 556-9752 and