by Kevin Bailey, president, Slingshot SEO
Pause for a moment and ask yourself the following questions: If I was seeking a technical service but wasn’t sure which companies were best at providing that service (for example, hazardous waste removal), where would I start my search? If I were seeking a better service provider than my current one, where would I find this company? If your answer was the Internet, or more specifically Google, you’re far from alone. A 2007 study revealed that 83 percent of businesses use the Internet to research and find potential vendors.1 This article will discuss new forms of Internet marketing that can be used by any company to expand its market share, minimize expenses for prospecting, help build brand equity, and achieve a very high return on investment.
Many businesses today find the Internet the most useful and least intimidating place to research everything from niche business-to-business services to common products. Two free Internet programs can be used to estimate the amount of people searching for your company’s services or products. These tools, Google AdWord’s Keyword Tool and Traffic Estimator, can both be found with Google searches for their respective names. The following is a conservative estimate of the number of people each month using search engines to find services that may be provided by your company.
One might assume that Internet marketing could be very costly because it reaches the majority of companies seeking new services and products. This is not the case; a type of Internet marketing called search engine optimization is currently one of the most cost-effective forms of advertising available. U.S. Bancorp’s Piper Jaffray performed an analysis of the average cost to acquire a new customer using different forms of popular marketing. Search engine optimization proved the most cost-effective at $8.50 per new customer acquired, while the yellow pages, e-mail marketing, and direct mail campaigns ranged from $20 to $70.
Because Internet marketing reaches such a large audience at a relatively inexpensive cost, it has become an incredibly powerful sales stimulant. Businesses utilizing search engine optimization and other forms of Internet marketing are quickly eroding the market shares of companies that use only traditional forms of advertising. Search engine optimization, commonly referred to as SEO, is the science of increasing a company’s organic rankings on search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN. Organic rankings are the main listings on a search engine, which are free from bias and cannot be bought for any price. Hence, they are more trusted and utilized by searchers than paid search listings often displayed on the right side of search engine results. Research has shown that approximately 70 percent of users click on organic listings rather than paid listings.2 The bottom line is that search engine optimization gives your company the most online exposure.
To understand search engine optimization, one must understand how a search engine determines organic rankings. Google and other popular search engines use complicated algorithms to rank web sites based upon their relevance to a given search query, often called a keyword phrase. Therefore, if one of your competitors ranks above you for a service you provide, the search engine believes that their company has a better web site and possibly provides a better service. If this is the case, the search engine may be right. Factors such as the amount of information on your web site, the quality of your web design, the time customers spend on your web site, and the amount of online press about your company all may be used to determine your ranking. Over 100 different metrics have been identified that Google uses to rank web sites.
Thoroughly understanding these metrics can help an entity build a better web site that will rank higher, and thus generate more business. Professional Internet marketing companies have become quite effective at using search engine optimization to consistently raise their clients to the coveted first page of Google. These first page positions are highly sought after because research has shown that only 28 percent of searchers go past the first page of search results.3 In fact, most users do not go past the first three organic listings. The heat map above demonstrates where users click most often on a Google search results page. The red line running horizontally across the page is the fold or the typical spot where one would need to start scrolling down to see more results.
Once a company has invested the time and resources that it takes to rank above its competitors on search engines, it must focus on turning new web site visitors into new customers. The process of turning web site visitors into new leads or sales is called conversion rate analysis, and often yields a greater return on investment than SEO. Conversion rate analysis can be likened to squeezing every last bit of juice out of an orange. The principal idea is that every last web site visitor can be a customer as long as their questions are answered and their needs can be met. A study has shown that 75 percent of web users admit to making judgments about the credibility of an organization based on the design of its web site. If your web site is poorly designed, in turn reducing your company’s credibility, your web site visitors are far less likely to become revenue-generating customers.
Even on web sites that are pleasing to the eye, minute details may cause visitors to leave the web site and look for a competitor’s. For example, some companies selling a product online ask for a coupon code during the automated purchasing process. This often drives potential customers back to the search engine to find the appropriate coupon code, where they can be enticed to visit a competitor’s site instead. Well-designed web sites pull visitors in with captivating literature and keep them at ease with calming colors and intuitive navigation. Typical conversion rates range from half a percent to six percent. Increasing your web site’s conversion rate from one percent to five percent means a 400 percent increase in web site-generated leads. That sizable of an increase in conversion rates is in reach for many poorly-designed web sites and can quickly pay for the cost of a web site redesign.
Marketers find it extremely difficult to monitor the success of traditional advertising vehicles like newspapers, yellow pages, radio, and television. Frustrated marketers often call these types of advertising “faith-based initiates.” This lack of solid tracking information can be a problem because marketing campaigns often are very costly and at the heart of a company’s growth strategy. Fortunately, Internet marketing is very different from traditional marketing vehicles in that every detail is tracked and can be analyzed and tweaked. Take roadside billboards, for instance. Could you imagine how useful it would be if you could track how many drivers viewed it, where they were from, the cost of the car they drove, and if they became a lead or sale? This type of information, along with much more, can be gathered with Internet marketing tracking programs like Google Analytics, which is free.
If your company’s current marketing strategies are stagnant and not delivering the results you need, take a close look at your web site and consider the benefits of search engine optimization and conversion rate analysis. These forms of Internet marketing are highly cost effective, are easy to track and monitor, and targeted; minimize expenses for prospecting; provide round-the-clock sales information; and help build national and international brand equity. Finding a skilled Internet marketing firm is often a confusing process so always seek professional firms with consistent track records. Be sure to ask those you are considering doing business with for not just one shining client case study, but twenty-five to fifty examples of companies that they have organically ranked highly for competitive keyword phrases. Search engine optimization, combined with web site conversion rate analysis, has resurrected companies bound for bankruptcy and lifted them higher than their most fierce competitors. If it can work for them, it can work for most.
1. Enquiro: “Business to Business Survey 2007.”
Kevin Bailey is the president of Slingshot SEO, an Internet marketing corporation that offers cutting-edge search engine optimization and conversion rate-focused web design to companies in and around the Midwest. For questions or comments, Bailey can be reached at [email protected] or through the company’s web site at www.SlingshotSEO.com.