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Who Knew There Is So Much to Know about Sailing?

04/23/2009

Not me. I tinkered around on a friend’s dinghy a few times, as a child, in Lake Malibu. I remember liking it, and then, I’ve only been on motorized boats and ships since. So, as usual, I was a little out of my element for this last job working for Whitecaps Foul Weather Gear, a sailing gear and waterproof clothing company. My learning curve turned out to be less of an issue than I had worried, when I discovered the site was rich in keywords and phrases (alas, too often in list mode seen as “stuffing” these days) but was weak in organization and clean code. So, I spent a lot of time making the organization work, cleaning up code, and trying to turn long noun-rich strings of keywords into sentences wherever it made sense, or at least paragraphs that start with a sentence and then digress into a list of the products available.

But at least the words were there to work with. I tried to make verb versions of various keywords (working in sail, sailing, sailor, sail boat, sails, and all the other noun and verb versions of sail). I completed sentences that were only fragments by putting a verb in, often a verb form of a keyword. The owner of this site, a marketing expert, was wary of changing too much copy, or of changing copy too much, as he was happy with the way it was written. So I had to tread lightly. For instance, on a page like Ocean Sailing Foul Weather Gear, I would touch up a few glaring errors here and there, but still leave some sentence fragments here and there. The writing has an authentic, written-by-actual-foul-weather-gear-retailers feel that I would never want to eliminate.

Just enhance. I found myself trying to plug in the key-phrases where they made sense, but always with a sensitive ear to the copy and its natural tug on the consumer to reach out and buy some of this wonderful stuff that is talked about in this kind of flowing sailor jargon that probably really appeals to those in the know when it comes to such things. After all, who am I–noted landlubber and mid-age-onset motion sickness sufferer–to attempt to distinguish between the gear needed for Coastal sailing and Inshore Foul Weather Gear vis-a-vis One Design Dinghy Sailing Apparel Clothes Gear? What am I? The Google Bot?

See, Google will make sense of it all. If you provide Google with a structure it can understand, it will remember all the distinctions, say between Wetsuits and Drysuits for Sailing and Thermal Clothes for Layering as Sailing Technical Clothes, although even I could probably take a shot at that compare and contrast.

And once Google starts to understand a site, there’s no stopping it. On the Whitecaps Foul Weather Gear Homepage, I told Google that this site is about sailing gear. That’s the top-level generic term for everything in the site. A big part of all that is foul weather gear. But I have submitted to Google that it is more than just foul weather gear. We’re talking about all kinds of sailing gear. Now that I’ve made that claim to Google, I damn well better be able to back it up. So, on every category page (for now, but eventually all the way down to the product pages), I remind Google that what it’s seeing here is, indeed, sailing gear. From sailing shoes to sailing gloves, from sailing accessories like watches and hats to junior-sized sailing gear, the Google Bot will be sure to understand that all these pages, and the items on the pages, are evidence that my claim that this site is about sailing gear is true.

I have, in the process, tried to make the site friendly to people who might want to use the gear for other activities. Mountain climbers, bicyclists, fishermen, motor boaters, and other outdoor activities enthusiasts could find that the foul weather sailing gear is perfect for their sport. So, while the owner didn’t want keywords in obvious places touting the wonders of waterproof thermal pants for anyone but sailors, the possibility of those searchers finding the site has not been hampered too much. Often the function of the clothing item in question will be exactly what someone searches for. So, if, say, my wife was a traffic cop, I could find a nice gift for her on the women’s foul weather gear page. And, heck, pretty much anyone who gets seriously mobile would love a portable hand-held GPS. They’re not just for sailors anymore!

So, it’s an interesting subject that I am interested in following. As the Google Bot finds answers to frequently asked questions about sailing gear, and learns more about this cool online sailing clothes and gear store, I’m looking forward to how many people get reached out and touched by Google’s new knowledge.

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