The Road To Better Conversions
© Paul J. Bruemmer, Bruce Clay, Inc.
Small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) can gain an advantage on the web with a marketing plan that includes organic search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) paid search campaigns. Many small businesses can also profit from organic and paid search listings in local search databases.
We have about 15 million SMEs in the U.S. Many of these are service-based businesses such as attorneys, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, restaurants, beauty shops, tax accountants, plumbers and other independent entrepreneurs. Did you know that 25 percent of all commercial searches are for local businesses? (Kelsey Group and BizRte 2004) So it’s no wonder that Yahoo!, Google and MSN continue to improve their local search databases and functionality.
Web Advertising Revenue on the Rise
SMEs and local businesses spent $22B on marketing in 2003. Most of the money went to newspapers and yellow pages, but web advertising was also included in the spend. JupiterResearch estimated local search revenues will reach $824M by 2008; whereas the Kelsey Group estimated a figure over $2B by 2008. These revenues will continue to rise as more SMEs realize that a website is an excellent way to promote and grow their businesses.
The Internet has become the fastest growing advertising medium. Worldwide ad revenue on the web grew by 21 percent in 2004, and it is expected to continue at that pace for the next few years, according to research firm ZenithOptimedia. The search engine marketing business is expected to reach between $4B and $5B this year.
Getting Found Online With Organic SEO
One strategy that works well for SMEs is organic search engine optimization (SEO). Although optimizing your website does represent an investment, it is cost effective, accountable, long lasting and provides significant branding for the money invested. Most importantly, it enables you to compete with other companies online.
If your site is not optimized to rank favorably in search results, you may never be found. Research shows that most Internet users abandon their searches after viewing the first, second or third search engine results page (SERP). After a search query, most users scan search results on the first page. If results are relevant, they prefer organic listings to sponsored listings 5 to 1. If results are not relevant, they often perform another query by adding additional words to the search phrase, or by using an entirely different keyword phrase. But the fact is, you must be listed prominently within the top 5 results in the SERPs to be found.
Organic listings have added value because they provide a high level of credibility, as well as global coverage in multiple search engines. When you optimize and achieve prominent organic listings, your website can be found for many combinations of keyword phrases related to your core terms. This results in increased visibility in the SERPs, enabling your site to be found for almost any valuable term in your industry. A properly optimized website found in the SERPs for a wide range of related keywords receives the benefit of free daily traffic relevant to the website’s business objectives.
Paying to Get Listed
You can get instant listings with paid search advertising. This SEM strategy requires auction-type bidding on keywords, and you pay only when users click to your site. Your paid listings (pay-per-click or PPC) can appear or disappear immediately, depending on your budget. The average cost-per-click on paid search ads is up almost 20 percent over last year, not to mention the cost of click fraud, a hidden cost that can be substantial depending on the industry.
It is estimated that PPC click fraud is responsible for 15 to 40 percent of search engine revenues. Manual click fraud is initiated by direct competitors or by human-driven operations set up to generate affiliate revenue from PPC ads. Automated click fraud is much more insidious and sophisticated as it is accomplished through software initiated by both competitors and affiliates 365 days a year. This is a huge underground business, the “bad boy” no one wants to talk about.
PPC listings in sponsored search results can build credibility if you’re willing to closely track your expenses and results. The fact that users click less often on paid listings, or not at all, does not mean they haven't seen your sponsored listing. As with organic listings, there is a branding effect from prominent listings, especially on page one. Your paid listings can also provide visibility and credibility for highly competitive keywords that may not be obtainable so quickly through organic SEO.
More Bang for the Buck
Research shows that websites using both organic SEO and paid search campaigns will triple their click-through rate. Three times more people will come to your website if it is listed in both organic and sponsored listings because of the reinforcement effect. When searchers view both listings it gives more authority and credibility to your website.
Your SEO listings take time to achieve, but they are long lasting and can be sustained year after year with monthly editing. On the other hand, sponsored listings appear immediately, but won’t last as long if your budget runs out. An advantage of using both organic and paid listings is the ability to test, refine and combine your keyword list, focusing on the keyword phrases that bring the best ROI.
Launching Your Organic SEO Campaign
Organic search engine listings can generate a significant number of targeted, high-quality visitors along with subsequent conversions. But a lot of marketers don't know how to run a good SEO campaign.
What is more alarming is that there are too many illegitimate SEO vendors out there to rip you off. If click fraud is the bad boy of PPC, the marketing-hype of organic SEO vendors is the bad boy of organic SEO.
Organic SEO takes time, experience, knowledge and patience. Organic listings have a high conversion rate and provide excellent ROI; therefore, SEO is well worth the effort.
Small businesses can leverage their advertising dollars with the best bang for the buck using organic SEO. Larger corporate dot-coms have dominated their product lines by including organic SEO as a high priority line item in their marketing budgets. Many have realized it's a three-way win to be found for specific keyword searches in the Top Four (Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AskJeeves). It's a win for the search engine, the user, and the website owner.
Most companies do not realize the extent of time, knowledge and expertise that it takes to properly optimize a website for high rankings.
Let’s assume for a moment that you query Google for your keyword and it responds with 50,000 search results. To get your site in the top 10, you must get your site in the top 0.02% of all the search results. That sounds challenging. Now consider a keyword with 1.5 million competing pages. To merely get into the top 10 search results, your site must be in the top 0.0007% [=(10/1,500,000)x100] of all the search results. Talk about splitting hairs.
Now consider the growth of just one search engine in four years. In May of 2001, Google had 1.3 billion pages in its index. In May 2005, Google had over 8 billion pages in its index. Google, as well as the other search engines, is indexing more and more pages, thereby increasing the competition for top rankings.
Google now has more than 100 factors in its ranking algorithm. Over time, most algorithms will become more complex – not less.
In order to become successful and “split hairs,” companies need to have extensive knowledge and experience with SEO, and a lot of time.
SEO Tools and Training
Bringing your SEO in-house is an option, although it takes time, resources and training, requiring a significant learning curve. Smaller business owners can roll up their sleeves and get involved in SEO. There are a number of SEO Tools available online and a couple of legitimate places to begin your training.
For SEO Tools, go to Google.com and type in a search for [seo tools]. Of the tools you will find listed on page one, I endorse those that offer a live human being 9-5 M-F for technical support, a free-trial period of at least 30-days, and a published search engine optimization methodology. I would avoid any offers to purchase text link ads or any tools promising link popularity. I would certainly avoid any process or tool that involves spamming the engines.
For SEO Training, go to Google.com and type in a search for [seo training]. Of the offers for training you will find on page one, I endorse those with tools that meet the criteria listed above and comply with all search engine guidelines. I would suggest verifying, through the SEO training company of interest, several high-ranking examples and student testimonials before making your selection. I personally do not believe SEO can be taught from a book. You must attend courses in a classroom setting with the ability to ask questions and get answers.
Tools and Training are the least expensive investment a small business can make to acquire high-ranking organic listings online. The subsequent high rankings in the top 5 SERPs legitimately position your business as the subject-matter expert in your field. Depending on the traffic activity for your keywords, you should find yourself with ample and relevant daily traffic to support your business investment.
Organic SEO Best Practices
As mentioned before, time, knowledge and expertise are required. At all costs, you must avoid any offers that sound too good to be true -- those offers will be disingenuous.
No two websites are alike; therefore, the type of work and the amount of time required will vary from one website to another. There are very specific issues to be resolved with one website that can differ from those of another website.
A good strategy includes a formal website review, keyword research and competitive analysis performed by a trained, experienced SEO Analyst. Secondly, a published SEO methodology should be available to guide you and your SEO team to the high rankings you desire.
• Website Review: this should include a written analysis of site architecture, page construction, content, linking and server configuration.
• Keyword Research: this should include a cross-reference of several keywords using keyword analysis tools that predict traffic vectors (web-wide search activity for a keyword).
• Competitive Analysis: this should include a comparative analysis of your website characteristics versus those of the competitor websites currently ranking high for your keyword/s.
• SEO Methodology: this is a document published by an SEO vendor describing their methods, techniques, tools and strategies for acquiring top positions.
SEO Theory in a Nutshell
The best strategy is not to beat the search engines by using the latest tricks or short-term gimmicks. Instead, you must implement best practices so the search engines will value your website as a highly relevant, valuable source of information as it relates to your market.
In a nutshell, a good search engine optimization strategy is to continually improve your website to the point where it is the “least imperfect” compared to your peers. I say “least imperfect” because there really is no perfect website.
A perfect website is a website that is #1 ranked in every search engine for all its strategic keywords. Yes, there are a great number of websites that have #1 rankings in many search engines for a handful of keyword phrases. However, no website consistently has a #1 ranking in Google, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. for a great number of keywords in highly competitive markets.
When your site is improved to the point where it is “least imperfect,” it will rank better when compared to other sites focusing on the same keywords.
Regardless of the engine, ranking can be reasonably categorized into 5 major groups.
1. Site Architecture
2. Page Construction
3. Keyword Rich Text Content
4. Link Popularity
5. Web Server Configuration
Site Architecture, Page Construction and Content: Research and experience in search engine optimization leads us to believe that approximately 60 percent of a site’s overall ranking is attributed to site architecture, page construction and content. Historically, websites that can be easily indexed are well themed and have breadth and depth of content, resulting in high rankings.
Link Popularity: Link popularity is an important part of a ranking algorithm. Perhaps as much as 30 percent of a ranking algorithm can be attributed to inbound links. Link Popularity can be thought of as “relevancy” validation. In most situations, other sites will link to your site if they believe it is relevant and of value to their customers.
Although the quantity of inbound links is important, each link has its own value. This becomes somewhat technical but it must be stated. Link value has many attributes including:
• Theme Association – Is this link source site related by theme to the destination site?
• Construction – Is the link a text link or an image? Is there anchor text?
• Source Page – Is the site that is producing the inbound link a ranked site?
• Destination Page – Is the inbound link going to a page about a particular keyword? Is this a dominant page about that topic or does a better page exist?
• Relationship – Are they on the same c-block? Are these two sites owned by the same company? IP Address/Who Is.
• Quantity – Having one theme-associated link is good. However, having 100 theme-associated links is definitely better.
Web Server Configuration: The configuration of a web server can influence the overall rankings – particularly in highly competitive markets. Ranking algorithms typically attribute 10 percent to web server configuration. Search engines reference server-based issues in their recommendations.
Reaping the Rewards of Search Marketing
As more and more people look to the Internet for information to help them research purchase decisions or simply to buy online, the importance of being well ranked in the search engines has become a core marketing requirement for competitive companies.
Valuable information can be captured during the search engine marketing sales process, like contact information, level of interest and stage within the sales cycle. The resulting actions taken by prospects clicking an organic link often exceed expectations. For example, published studies indicate that some websites report 75 percent of prospects arriving from organic search listings convert after downloading case studies and white papers, or replaying webcasts.
To learn more, join us in future issues of Website Services Magazine when I uncover website anatomy, how search engines work, demystifying SEO, executing a search engine optimization project and analytics for tracking website visitors.