The Power of SEO

Optimizing your Web site to take advantage of the power of search engines to put you in front of customers gives you a huge competitive advantage. Even now, only 25 percent of Fortune 100 businesses have completely optimized their sites in this way. If you act now, you’ll have an edge over competitors who haven’t optimized their sites.

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

Wrong — unless of course your business has a Web site. Search engines like Google and Yahoo troll the Web constantly, categorizing and ranking sites so users can find what they’re looking for.

The Best Exposure Money Can’t Buy
Why should you care? Here are a few reasons:

It’s free.

You don’t have to pay Google, Yahoo and the other search engines to rank your Web site. It’s like a free listing in the yellow pages, except that you get listed in as many categories as apply to you — by product, inventory, service, geography or a dozen other classifications.

Also, it’s a global listing. Imagine paying for an ad in the phone book to cover all that territory.

That doesn’t mean every Web site gets equal treatment. Each search engine uses different methods to rank sites. Understanding how search engines work — and adapting your site accordingly — can move you up in the listings.

Everybody’s looking for something.

Online searching is the third most frequent activity for people who are online — only e-mail and general surfing rank higher. Search engines not only help users find you, they act as virtual tour guides by taking users directly to the page with the information they’re seeking.

People trust search engines.

Studies show that people trust user-based rankings (those based on searches people do on their own initiative) more than paid rankings (those based on clicks on paid ads) by a wide margin — as much as 70 percent. Visitors who come to your Web site through a free search engine listing are more likely to engage in the desired response (make a purchase, request information) than those who come through paid ads.

You can still get in early.

Optimizing your Web site to take advantage of the power of search engines to put you in front of customers gives you a huge competitive advantage. Even now, only 25 percent of Fortune 100 businesses have completely optimized their sites in this way. If you act now, you’ll have an edge over competitors who haven’t optimized their sites.

This advantage won’t be around forever, though. Businesses will get smarter about search engine optimization (or SEO — the art of making sure your Web site stands out in the crowd), so now’s the time to capitalize on it.

The Cat and the Mouse
So how do you go about optimizing your Web site? You probably can’t do it yourself. SEO is just one aspect of search engine marketing (SEM, which also includes such techniques as paying to be listed or to be ranked higher when certain keywords are used).

Search firms are constantly changing their methods to remain competitive among each other, so it takes the expertise of a professional firm specializing in Web services to keep up with them.

However, it’s an investment with a payoff you can’t afford to ignore. SEO is so effective that some companies gain a complete return on their investment in the first month.

Here are four important guidelines that will help ensure potential customers can find you on the Web.

Choose your keywords.

Search engines use keywords and phrases to rank Web sites. You need to define a set of keywords targeted to your audience and based on your business goals, competitive advantages and key messages. Try to think from a user’s perspective: What words and phrases will they use when trying to find you? You may sell hats, but your customers may call them “caps,” “lids” or “fedoras.” Choosing the right keywords is the crucial first step to search engine optimization.

Use those keywords.

Get your keywords into the URLs, page titles and content of your Web pages. There are lots of little tricks to this. For example, the most effective page titles are about 75 characters long and include the most important keywords at the beginning. On each page, keywords and phrases should represent 2 to 3 percent of the total content.

Make links and influence people.

The more links to your site from relevant and trusted sources, the higher you’ll rank with search engines. For example, always list your site with online business directories, even if you think no one will find you through them. Those links may not produce any direct leads, but they could bump you up in the search engine rankings, especially if they are popular or highly visited sources.


Know your audience.

People searching the Internet don’t all use the same search engines. Research shows that older audiences still like AOL, and professional audiences tend to like MSN and Google. Younger audiences often like Yahoo. Only about one third of users use one search engine consistently. Knowing your audience will help your Web services firm decide which search engine to optimize for.

Time, Effort and Money
Those are just a few tips to search engine optimization — there are many, many more. Once your site has been optimized, check to see how you’re doing in the search engine rankings. As time goes by, you’ll need to keep tweaking your Web site to stay on top of the heap. The average user won’t scroll past the first two or three pages of a search listing, so you should aim to be listed on the top one or two pages, typically the top 20 listings in your search category.

It takes time, effort, and money to optimize your Web site for search engines. However, what’s the cost to your company if you don’t optimize? Lost revenue? Decreasing brand awareness? Unlike other investments you might make, it’s easy to measure the results of search engine optimization — more clicks, more visitors and maybe more sales of that new, improved mousetrap