What do you need to know about search engines so that your Web site is found by your potential customers?
From a big-picture perspective, marketing on the Web is no different from any marketing initiative; it begins with a solid strategy and vision. You must be very clear about whom you want to visit the site and what you want them to do when you get there.
First, you have to be found. Here is an overview of five key areas that business leaders and marketing professionals need to know about in order to get their Web site found in the major search engines.
- Most popular search engines. Just as the big three television networks dominated the airwaves for many years, there are currently three companies dominating the search engine world: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Savvy Web users looking for relevant information fast use Google. The second most popular engine is Yahoo, followed closely by Microsoft (MSN). This will change over time as the three competitors battle for market share.If you’re promoting niche products or services that have small markets, it’s best to promote your business on Google. If you’re selling branded consumer products, then you’ll likely have greater success on Yahoo or MSN, though there is crossover among all three. Google is great for driving traffic because of its huge reach, while MSN and Yahoo are great for selling products because they’re designed to promote Web sites, and because they’re used as portals, online newspapers or magazines. On the other hand, Google is mostly used for searching the Web and for research.Obviously, it’s best to be found on all three, and it’s important to understand how they differ.Action item: Determine which search engines your target market uses and how they buy online.
- Terms people use to search on the Web. Don’t make assumptions about what keywords people use to find a Web site. Go and research those terms and target the search phrases that best fit your business model. The Web site Overture.com has a tool that allows Web marketers to see the number of monthly searches for a substantial portion of the Web.Some search words are very competitive and other terms are less frequently used. The best strategy is to target many of the lesser-used terms because they’re less competitive. This means the site has a better chance of getting found because the amount of lesser-known terms all added together can get quite large and are easier to target in the search engines. Action item: Go to Overture.com and learn how to use the search-term suggestion tool to determine the key words used to find your site.
- How to get to the top of search engines. The only way to absolutely insure that a site will be found at the top of searches is to pay for it. The two leaders in this field are Google and Overture.com. MSN currently uses Overture for their paid listings program, but that will change next year when MSN launches a paid listing program. Your marketing team needs to truly understand how Internet advertising works. Thousands of companies miss great opportunities to market through this vast growing and highly targeted advertising. It also has incredible ROI as every click to a Web site is tracked in detail. Action item: Research paid listings programs on Google and Overture.com.
- Target found without paying. If a Web site is found in the natural or organic listings, then it must be optimized. Optimization is the science of designing Web pages so that search engines can find it and rank the site’s pages ahead of competitors (because the search engines see the site as more relevant). Optimization is a time-consuming task that requires skill and experience usually not found in most companies. This is best outsourced. Look for a company with a track record of results in this area. They don’t have to be a specialist in your market; in fact, a broad range of experiences and clients is better. Action item: Find a search-engine optimization firm that can help your site be found online.
- Plan out the ROI. Here’s the bottom line: A smart search engine program will return leads and direct sales that pay for the effort many times over. If this doesn’t happen, then there’s something wrong with your strategy or implementation. Use a combination of paid listings and optimization for best results. The Web is a hot marketplace where very particular customers can search and generally find what they want. A solid Web marketing strategy can position your Web site to be a player in this lucrative market.
Action item: Develop reports for tracking visitors, search engines, leads and online sales.
Vistage speaker Thomas Wood-Young is an Internet marketing consultant based in Colorado Springs, Colo.