May 3, 2006


Is Your Site A Rich Feast Or A Dogs Breakfast? Part 1 of 2



It had started out as a prank, a practical joke to play on some of her ostentatious yuppie friends. They had always had the last laugh at her expense and now it was to be her opportunity for revenge. Half an upturned can of Pal surrounded by biscuits and garnish. The trap had been set.

She had always intended to reveal the punch line at the appropriate moment just before the guest succumbed to the faux pate. Then she got side tracked. An unexpected phone call, a rush of guests and small talk. Oops!

The result was unexpected. No complaints or indignation. The plate had been virtually licked clean and she was confronted with an endless stream of compliments over her interesting array of appetisers. It had gone over remarkably well.

She didnt have the heart, or perhaps indeed the courage, to reveal the truth. The guests departed happily wagging metaphorical tails and unknowingly looking forward to the added bonus of a shiny coat and stronger teeth.

Accidentally she had successfully taken the product to a new market. Whilst this probably says more about her gullible friends than the long term potential for dog food as snack food, the key
Item from a marketing perspective was that she had managed to engage her customers into trying something new. This was achieved by positioning the new product within the familiar context of the dinner party where a degree of experimentation and tolerance is part and parcel of the experience. It was relevant and therefore it was tested and consumed.

Relevance and context encourage consumers to sample and nowhere is this more true than on the web. It is in essence the underlying principal of search engine marketing. People dont stumble upon web sites they search for them. Every time a consumer types a keyword string into a search engine they are asking a question. How well your site can answer that question will determine how likely a visitor will engage with your site. It is one thing to know the
questions that potential customers are interested in and to set up your site to answer them, it is another thing all together to get them to come to your dinner party in the first place.

This requires planning. A good search engine strategy is a feast of multiple courses and a blend of numerous ingredients. The following is a good start.

The Ingredients:

A good Carbonara sauce is more than scrambled eggs and ham. Like cooking, search engine marketing is all about using quality ingredients in the right proportions. The following is a short list of some of the best tools to kick start your site performance.

Search Engine Pay Per Click (Google AdWords, Overture etc)
Sometimes you have to tie a chop around your neck to get the dogs to play with you.

Directory Listings on/offline (Yellow Pages)
Although not as defining and as cost effective as they would have you believe it is a fool who ignores them altogether.

Direct ad delivery (eg. Google AdSense)
Get Google to place your ad on other relevant sites. Potentially useful as long as you have a strong call to action.

Third party campaign management and competitive analysis providers (eg. Hitwise)
Let someone else manage the headache of juggling your keyword mix, keep up to date with listing requirements, and target the increasing number of search engines out there. This is also great for competitive analysis and intelligence for other online marketing purposes.

Direct onsite search engine optimisation (Content optimization and copywriting, page structure, organisation, under the bonnet tweaks)
There are many ways to get your site listed but ultimately it is your sites structure, usability and content that will determine its long term success.

Link exchanges
Just like high school it pays to be popular. It is all about linking. Recently a Google listing competition was won by a single entry in a popular blog proving that no matter what else you do if you can get sufficient numbers of other sites linking to your site it will list well.
(see http://www.wired.com/news/infostructure/0,1377,64130,00.html ).
Get your site listed in as many relevant industry directories as you can.

Public relations
Blow your trumpet high and low and always mention your URL. Encourage subsidiaries, suppliers, customers and other friendly businesses to link to your site.

Domain name management
Domain names are relatively inexpensive to set up and there is really no limit on the number of domains that you can have pointing at your website. A good generic domain name as well as providing an easily remembered URL for you to use in advertising and other marketing materials will also help boost search engine results for that keyword.

Link farms
Towards the murky grey area of the SEO spectrum however properly implemented and managed they can help direct relevant targeted traffic to your site (ie. Useful information directories), however at their worst they are little more than spam (think menu hell). Link farms in many ways are the direct response to the current search engine listing process and increasingly they are polluting the free listings and forcing web marketers to either follow suit or rely on the paid listings to help. Care should be taken in their use as it can lead to your site or IP becoming blacklisted by search engines.

The Preparation:

Depending who you talk to in the web marketing industry the previous listing of ingredients will be given differing emphasis. Most of this advice is influenced by vested interests in one technique or product or the other. The truth is that there is no real hard and fast rule and the mix may vary depending upon your product, industry or budget. As a general rule of thumb all of the above can help achieve an improvement in your page listings and the best results come from combining as many channels as you can. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a science of small increments. It is the little one percenters that in isolation are insignificant but can total together to deliver tangible results.

Task 1 Define your keywords.

This is the most important part of the process and a could justify an entire article to fully detail many of the techniques and strategies that can be used, however if you address the following checklist you shouldnt go far wrong.

Conduct an in house brainstorming session to compile a list of all possible keywords that potential customers might use to find your site. (or those that you would like to be found under). Include all company names, major products and brands. Try not to edit the list too much at this stage and explore relevant tangents.

Review your competition to see what they are using. Specifically look at the best performing sites in the search engine keyword categories that you would most like to target. You can get a good idea of the keywords being used by looking at the page titles in the browser or looking at the meta keywords contained in the HTML code of the site (Contained within the tags generally towards the top of the code). This can be seen by selecting view and then source from the browser menu or by right clicking on the page and selecting view source. Ethically it is considered extremely dirty pool to use your competitors names or brands directly in your SEO however legally this issue is a bit cloudy. My advice would be to not do it or risk becoming the test case that defines the law.

Use the Overture keyword selector tool to test the popularity of listed keywords. This will reveal the number of searches done throughout the Overture network for the last month and enable you to rank your list of terms and phrases accordingly. It may also suggest some additional terms that you had not previously considered.
http://www.content.overture.com/d/USm/ac/index.jhtml

Google Ad Words ( http://adwords.google.com.au ) also contains a keyword suggestion tool that can be useful in this process. Unfortunately you actually have to commence the sign up (and move through several screens) to actually get to use it, however you can always abort the sign up once you have found the information that you need before you are asked to commit.

Using the above information shortlist a top 10 of primary target keywords. If possible list a further 10 as secondary keywords that can be used to a lesser degree throughout the site. Try to be specific to your target market as some keywords are highly competitive and can have multiple meanings that are not necessarily directly connected to your business. Also try to include a geographical locator. For example if you deal in car seat covers it would be better to target Car Accessories Melbourne rather than simply the generic keyword Cars.

Task 2 Define your goals and ensure they are shared and have internal support. Make sure they are realistic.

As with any marketing endeavour it is dangerous to enter into any campaign unless you have a realistic target to work towards. It is also important that this target also has the broad support of the company as a whole. It is no good setting in place a program to boost online enquiries if the company doesnt have the procedures in place to cope with them. Poorly managed a successful campaign to bring more customers to your site could have detrimental branding effects if they encounter poor customer service upon contacting the company.

Key questions:

What would you consider a successful outcome? (Traffic numbers, leads/enquiries delivered, downloads made, pages read etc.. If possible define this quantitatively)

Who is taking ownership to make sure that leads/enquiries are actioned promptly? All enquiries should end up with a live person capable of responding quickly (ie. The sales team not the network administrator). 24 hours later is not prompt service.

Be prepared to experiment a little and to give it sufficient time to work or fail. Note that it can take up to three months for a search engine to fully catalogue and index your site. This should be the absolute minimum appraisal time.

Task 3 – Look at your current site. Be honest.

Attracting people to your site is the easy part. Getting them engaged enough to contact your sales team will depend upon their experience upon arriving at your site. The beauty of the web is that it theoretically allows everyone an equal footing, however a poorly thought out site is unlikely to convert those window shoppers that arrive on site into sales leads. Remember if they arrived via a search engine then a full listing of your competitors is only a back click away.
Key questions:

Are there any artificial barriers to entry on site? (eg. Long loading times for non broadband users, annoying splash pages and unnecessary transitional animations, confusing navigation etc..)

Is there at least one call to action prominently displayed upon arrival at your site or must a visitor hunt around to find your contact form, email address, store location or phone number?

Do you have at least 200 words of searchable text on the home page of your site? (If you can highlight the text with your mouse then it is searchable)

Place yourself in the position of a potential customer. Would you be engaged enough by this site to make contact?

If your product/service offering is of sufficient quality then the online campaign has a chance of success. If not then at least you are failing on your merits.

Next installment:
The cooking and the eating, the proof of the pudding after all.

About the Author

Tim Giles is a Pre Marketing Consultant for Enedia ( http://www.enedia.com ). Enedia’s client’s include Ansearch ( http://www.ansearch.com.au ), an Australian search engine and directory.

Tim Giles

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