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“Build it and they will come” may be an effective strategy for a Kevin Costner movie, but it won’t work in the jungle of today’s web. Mining the rich opportunities available to companies requires the right tools and techniques. Without those tools, you risk being eaten alive by your better-equipped competitors.
Like an intrepid explorer in the wild, the person searching for something in the jungle of the Internet needs a map and good directions. A properly built website and a well-designed search-engine strategy are the map and directions that will lead new customers to your website.
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the practice of directing the right people to your website, at the moment when they are looking for what you’re selling. By optimizing your site’s visibility to search engines, you’re putting your business on the Internet map, and outlining quick, easy routes to your site.
Americans increasingly rely on the Internet to help them make buying decisions. According to a consumer study by media advisory firm BIA/Kelsey, 97 percent of consumers use the Internet to research local products and services.
SEO is not one thing, it’s many things
Optimizing your site for search engines starts by learning how the engines determine whether a specific web page is relevant to someone’s search.
A search engine looks for different cues on a web page to determine what it’s about. These cues must be designed into the page layout, and written into the page’s code and text.
The core concepts of SEO can be boiled down to the three Cs: content, code and credibility.
- Content must be unique, valuable to readers and filled with the words that your prospective customers are most likely to use when they search for your offerings.
- Code must be clean so it doesn’t impede search engines as they scan your site’s content. At a very high level, this includes the type, placement and amount of code.
- Credibility is conveyed by a number of factors, including:
- How long your site has been on the web
- How many relevant, credible sites link to your site
- Your site’s PageRank, a value that Google assigns to convey how authoritative a site is
Ideally, you should optimize your site for search engines from the very first planning stages. But even if your site is already up and running, you can still optimize by using best SEO practices.
Top Search Engines
Google dominates the search market. In the first half of 2010, Google was used for more than 71 percent of Internet searches in the United States, and more than 80 percent of global searches.
Though other search engines are well known – Yahoo and Bing together account for almost 25 percent of U.S. searches – it’s Google’s guidelines and recommendations that are taken most seriously within the search industry. Best practices for Google are typically the best practices for all search engines.
SEO: Cost effective marketing
Properly done, search engine optimization can cost less – and deliver better results – than any other form of online marketing. Although the initial costs of hiring an SEO agency or purchasing a content management system may seem high, the long-term payoff can be significantly higher. That’s because unlike ads, which are often perceived as an interruption of someone’s activity, search engine results are delivered to people exactly when they are actively looking for something they need or want.
SEO offers another important benefit: accountability. Using the right tools, it’s easy to track how well a given keyword performs in attracting searchers to your website and getting them to buy or opt in to a desired activity. That makes it much easier to determine return on investment and make decisions about how to spend precious marketing dollars.
You can dramatically lower your cost per lead when you employ good SEO practices. By researching and targeting the most effective keywords and keyword phrases for your audience, you can reach precisely the people you want to reach, at the moment when they are preparing to make a buying decision. That’s a much more efficient strategy than broadcast advertising, whether on the web or by traditional means.