Search Engine Optimization: Bringing Customers to Your Site
A rundown for the marketing professional.
People increasingly rely on the Internet for a host of needs, and they look to search engines to find what they are looking for on the Web. Studies of consumer habits has shown that people use search engines to research products and services before they buy, and use the Internet to find vendors. These research and buying habits apply to both individual and business purchases.
As a marketer, you have a site describing your product or service. The purpose of your site may be to inform consumers about your offerring, or to sell the product directly, or to sign the consumer up for further marketing efforts. In any case, you need to get people to your site. And a substantial portion of Internet users will rely on search engines to direct their web surfing.
What are potential customers typing into the search engines? And is your site coming up high in the results, or are your competitors placing higher? To answer these questions and help website owners, the discipline of Search Engine Optimization arose, and there are people today who call themselves SEO consultants.
Depending on the target market, the benefits of SEO can be very great. A marketing professional should know what SEO is, what it attempts to do, and what kind of results can be expected.
Paid vs. Unpaid Clicks
Marketers should recognize the type of advertising used by Internet search engines today. When returning results, engines include “natural” or “organic” results along with paid placements. The natural results are produced by a computer algorithm that ranks websites according to what is deemed most relevant to the user’s search query.
The paid results, often designated “sponsored” listings, are determined by auctions among advertisers. Advertisers buy the right to have their listing show up for a given search term. Although many Internet users know, at least subconsciously, that the sponsored results are paid for, they are not necessarily reluctant to choose sponsored listings, especially if looking for a product for sale.
For the website owner, paid listings (called Pay Per Click or PPC listings) can be a great way to direct traffic to your site. Further, your listing shows up only on the search terms you designate, giving you some control over the types of visitors likely to be reading your website. The cost per click for these sponsored listings varies from $0.05 to over $10/click for expensive terms. Because of the auction system, the cost is determined by the competition.
The search term “widget” may be expensive because there are many competitors or because the competitors have found that the sales conversion rate is high and the profit margin is high. The term “brown widget” or “blue widget” may be at different prices and the prices could change from day to day.
Is it worth paying for visitors to your site? It depends on how valuable each visitor is. How likely will each result in a sale, and how much profit will that sale bring in? Marketers with some experience running their websites may have a feel for these numbers, but hard data is always preferable, and for a new website or offerring, the marketer is often flying blind.
Knowing how much each click is really worth can give you a great advantage in the PPC game. You can use commercially available tracking systems to monitor your site’s traffic and determine how effective paid clicks are.
Building your site to make it search friendly.
SEO professionals like to be in on the planning of a website from the beginning. The structure of the site goes a long way to making it accessible to search spiders as well as human users, and there are ways to make your site more likely to place high in search engines’ natural (non-paid) results for your target keywords.
Remember: search engines look for words. They don’t do well on photos or graphs or music or PDF files. You might want to place these elements on your website, but don’t expect search engines to be able to find them. Multimedia might make a site better looking for a human visitor, but search engines are concerned only with words. Graphically oriented designers may wish to do everything with pictures and sounds, but this can be detrimental to search engine placement.
A wordy site does well on search engines. As communicators, many marketers blanch at the idea of wordiness. But search engines look for “content” and by content they mean text. Good design can include a lot of words without overwhelming the reader. Sometimes the words can be put on out-of-the way pages, but they should be there. And the keywords you want to place highly for should be used liberally and in ways that help the search engine determine that the site is about those keywords.
These will help your site place higher in the engine results, and there are other techniques that can make your site friendly to both engines and human users.
One of the simplest is load time. Many designers get carried away with technologies that allow them to make a website that looks almost cinematic. It is important to remember that users on dial-up connections will not wait for large webpages to come into their computer. Photographs and other graphic elements should be suitable in resolution for a website.
Other code that adventurous and over-ambitious designers add to websites can have detrimental effects on search engine positioning for a site. The code that produces many of these effects, while not visible to humans, looks just like regular text to search engines. The problem is that many designers place this code on the page in a way that makes it unfriendly to search engines.
SEO professionals can help you avoid these pitfalls and can adjust your site so it is more likely to place highly in the search results. And the difference between placing on the first page of search results and the third page can be considerable impact in the number of customers visiting your site.
Fitting SEO into your marketing mix
SEO fits in your overall plan with other Internet marketing techniques, including paid advertising, e-mail marketing, print ads, and affiliate relationships.
Budgetary outlays for SEO are usually front-loaded. The initial site design or tuning requires substantial effort as does the set up of the PPC programs. Optimization typically takes several months before it yields results, and data gathered during this period can be valuable in determining future actions. The longer you run a site, the more information you can get on profitable keywords, valuable affiliate referrals, and how effective different pages are in converting visitors to customers.
At least every four months, the website performance should be evaluated, and paid programs and SEO adjusted.
For large businesses, networks of websites are often preferred. There are many benefits to having many small sites rather than one big site. Targeted websites do better on organic search engine results, and linking a number of websites together enhances the credibility of each one in the search engines.
Your website will also benefit if other sites link to it. Customers, suppliers, and dealer websites are all sources of links, as are providers of complementary products and services.
We recommend that every commercial website include a tracking program to gather meaningful marketing information. There are many
For new sites or campaigns, we recommend an initial Pay Per Click campaign. For a very low cost, you can obtain good marketing data - data that you can use to make decisions.
The results of your initial PPC campaign drive your further actions. You can then decide how the site should be optimized for natural search engine results, and whether PPC should continue.