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The answer to the headline question is both important" and "unimportant."
Search engines are important to your Internet marketing plan because according to a recent study by Georgia Institute of Technology, 85% of all Web site traffic originates from a search engine or directory. Juniper Research confirms this study with a finding that shows 70% of all online buys originate from a search engine or directory.
Web site owners should spend as much time on optimizing their sites for search engines and directories, if not more, as they spent on the initial design and copy for the site. Otherwise, no matter how great your Web site is, most Internet searchers will never find your site. When teaching a seminar, I provide the following analogy for an unoptimized Web site.
An unoptimized Web site is like a car without fuel in the gas tank or air in the tires. It is dependent on traffic that you drive to it by means other than search engines and directories.
Recently, many previous disciples of search engine optimization have lost confidence in search engines. This change of heart was brought about because in fall 2003, Google reindexed its listing with the now infamous "Florida Updates," and many Web sites with high page ranking lost positioning. For those sites affected, traffic and commerce plunged.
This and similar happenings are why I can also argue that search engines should not be important to your marketing plan. Reindexing is a constant part of the search engine and directory listing process. No matter how well your site is optimized today, search engines regularly change their indexing algorithms. Your Web site cannot afford to be dependent on a search engine robots programming. You must aggressively push traffic to your Web site with other means.
Assuming you have a fully optimized Web site, what should your approach be to search engines and directories?
Alter your expectations of search engines and directories
First, remember that it is not the search engine's responsibility to deliver visitors to your Web site. Instead, a search engine tries to provide searchers with the best possible response to their query.
When you build and update your Web site, think about the content from the perspective of your visitor. What information are your visitors seeking? Do you provide this information on your Web site? Are you also providing the search engines and directories with the information they need to index your information properly?
What else should you do to succeed with Internet marketing?
Adopt an aggressive paid Web site promotion plan
Every Web site owners favorite new business lead is the one that comes directly from search engines and directories at no cost. However, people over whom you have no control manage search engines and the computer programs that run them. Besides, your tech savvy competitors are making the same smart moves as you to keep their Web sites optimized. No matter what you do, there will be certain keywords and terms, especially broad keywords and terms, that will not hold first page ranking on the major search engines. When this occurs, you need to set up a pay-per-click strategy for those keywords and terms.
In addition, you need to push traffic to your site with other Web promotion systems by doing the following:
Internet search engines and directories remind me of the telephone book yellow pages. Like the yellow pages, when your prospects go there to find you, they also find your competitors.
When your new business prospects find you in a search engine or directory listing, they will also find your competitors. How will your site fare in comparison? Will those visitors find more of the information they are seeking on your site or one of the others? When prospects contact you by telephone or e-mail, what is your response time compared with your competitors? How do you compare with competitors on guarantees, delivery schedules, service agreements, and other elements that your prospects will consider before buying?
Understand your competitors, their Web sites, and their offers so you can view your marketplace and Web site in the same way as your prospects do. Make strategic changes to competitively position yourself against those whom your prospects will find online when they find you.
Know your Web site metrics
Internet success is a game of numbers. The more hits you receive, the more people will inquire about the products or services you sell. The more inquiries you receive, the more sales you will close. The more sales you close, the higher your return on investment will be on your Web site.
Do you know your metrics? Do you have a tracking program on your Web site that shows you how many visitors your site receives, where they are coming from, and the pages they view? Do you know how many hits you need to receive for a prospect to contact you? Do you know your closing rate on those contacts? Do you know your average Web site sale? You should know the answers to all of these questions to understand your Web site metrics.
Once you know this, you can profitably venture into other Internet marketing systems like pay-per-click ads, banner ad buying, and e-mail marketing campaigns. If you do not know this information, you are ill-informed to make sound marketing decisions.
Adopt improved tactics to close more sales from your site visitors
Once you do everything correctly to lead your Web site visitors to contact you, one final hurdle remains: closing the sale. What systems do you have in place to follow up with your Web site leads? How quickly do you follow up on those leads? Can you improve your response time?
Expect continued marketing changes and challenges in the future
One of the factors that make the Internet so great is the continuous challenge it presents to make it work and work successfully. Successful Internet marketing is both an art and a science. The speed of change in the Internet world is almost incomprehensible to traditional marketers. We don't know for sure what lies ahead, but we do know that it will be different and will happen quickly. Adjust your marketing mind-set to these realities, not only to keep your sanity, but also to prosper from the enormous commercial opportunities the Internet offers.
Randall P. Whatley, is a 26-year media veteran with diverse business experience. Whatley is president of Cypress Media Group, Inc. ( www.cypressmedia.net ), an Atlanta-based advertising, public relations, and training firm. He has extensive experience advising government officials, political candidates, public officials, and corporate executives on media relations and presentation skills. He has also written two syndicated newspaper columns and numerous magazine articles. Whatley has hosted his own television and radio program and appeared often as a TV and radio program guest, including a CNN appearance. He has produced hundreds of TV and radio ads and taught a myriad of seminars ranging from Public Relations Writing to Media Relations. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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