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Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

It's A Virtual World - Play Big

By Kathy Vass, Marketing Editor

I n my 25 years of marketing and communications work, the wisdom of advertising guru David Ogilvy has often been a source of inspiration and, sometimes, ammunition. My favorite Ogilvy pearl is “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” — a shot I’ve fired at a few graphic designers and marketing operatives over the years.

Most companies understand that advertising can’t just look good, it must issue a call to action and motivate customers to buy. But recently, it has become apparent that in the world of e-commerce, you don’t even have to look all that good to play big and sell big.

As Jose Ferrer of Practical Business Systems says, “E-commerce is about code, not cute. And, no, your nephew can’t do it — unless your nephew is a programmer.”

Since the Internet began seeping into the world’s consciousness in the 1990s, more than 100 million sites have taken up residence on the World Wide Web. There are 1.1 billion people worldwide with access to the Internet, and 229 million of those are in the United States.

E-Commerce: A Growing Sector

Internet sales are growing at a rate of 28 percent every year, with e-commerce sales in the United States alone expected to have exceeded $100 billion in 2006. That’s the good news. The even better news is that $100 billion represents only 3 percent of the US retail economy, so it’s not too late to get into a game where small companies can sell as effectively as mass marketers.

Some of you are thinking: “The Internet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’ve had a website for years, and we’ve seen very little impact on our business.” Trouble is, many companies created a website, struck it from the marketing checklist, and declared, “OK, that’s done.” If that’s the case, all you have is an electronic brochure, not a viable e-commerce site that can significantly increase sales.

There are more than 200 million Internet searches performed every day in the United States, with 85 percent of Internet traffic getting to websites via search engines such as Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL. What that tells us is that our websites first should talk to the search engines, then to the consumer.

Traditional marketing methods will steer traffic to your website, but it can be a slow and costly process. Banner ads, online directories and pay-per-clicks have their place. But, when you stop spending, sales generally drop.

Search Engine Optimization

Companies that are experiencing marked growth in Internet sales are effectively using search engine optimization (SEO) rather than search engine marketing (SEM). By definition, SEM is the process whereby you pay the search engine an agreed-upon amount for each click delivered to your site from a listing keyed to a specific search term. SEM is easy to do, and you can join at anytime without having to sign a long-term contract. However, it can be expensive to achieve the desired level of traffic, it can be extremely competitive, and competitors can sabotage your efforts. For example, let’s say you’ve agreed to pay 25 cents per click and you’ve allocated $250 per month for your search engine ad. A competitor can click on your ad 1,000 times — your $250 is spent and your ad disappears from the search engine.

SEO, on the other hand, is the process of choosing targeted keyword phrases related to a site and ensuring the site places well when those keyword phrases are part of a Web search. Optimization involves making pages readable to search engines and emphasizing key topics related to your content. You don’t pay for placement or clicks; rather, your site is programmed in such a way as to enable the search engine robots to match search criteria to the content of your Web pages.

As Ferrer explains it, you want every page of your website — not just the homepage — to be indexed by search engines, and you want as many Web pages as you have products. If your company has 250 products and each product has a separate page on your website, you have 250 opportunities to be indexed by search engines.

SEO is the rifle approach to marketing, rather than the shotgun method. With SEO, you define your target market to understand exactly what customers are looking for. Then, you develop the content of your website with specific words and phrases that you know will get their attention.

Internet users have become sophisticated, refining their searches to describe exactly what they want to purchase. For example, say you want to buy a tabletop exhibit online. You know exactly what you want — a 6-foot tabletop exhibit, charcoal in color, with a light package. Googling ‘ tabletop exhibit’ nets 410,000 results for websites that offer tabletop exhibits. Typing ‘6-foot charcoal tabletop exhibit with light package’ narrows the results to 23,800 websites. The further the search is refined, the fewer sites there are to research.

If a seller of tabletop exhibits has described in detail all of the models offered and displays them on separate Web pages — allowing each to be indexed by the search engines — the chances of receiving top placement are significantly increased. It costs nothing other than the upfront costs for programming, and the time and energy to keep the site updated.

Perhaps the best benefit of SEO is the ability to include programming architecture to track and measure results. By reviewing queries made by those who have visited your site, you can see precisely what they typed into the search engine and the path they took to get to your site. This allows you to continually update your site with key words and phrases consistent with customer searches.

Increasing market size, market share and sales is the reason to have a website for your business. Bringing traffic to your site is far more important than award-winning design, rotating graphics and flash. No matter how good your site looks, there will be very little traffic if the search engines can’t find it.

January/February 2007