Search engine optimization is the key to growing sales

The Google gold rush

By Jim Harris
October 16, 2011

The age-old wisdom in retailing is “location, location, location.” The maxim is still true, with one addition: it also refers to a company’s location in Google rankings for keyword searches. With the birth of the Web in 1993, e-commerce has exploded to a predicted US$197 billion in 2011 in the U.S., according to Forrester Research. This will rise to US$279 billion by 2015. Globally it will hit US$1.4 trillion by 2015, according to Cisco Systems.

The amount of those billions your company reaps is directly linked to your Google page rank. Having your keywords ranked number one by Google is a de facto seal of approval. Depending on which study you look at, the number one ranked item on a Google search receives 34 to 42 per cent of the click-throughs, while the top three items combined receive 58 per cent of all traffic. By contrast, the eleventh item receives only one to three per cent of the clicks.

With more than three billion Google searches a day, the spoils for the victor in any keyword query are disproportionately large, underscoring the critical importance of search engine optimization (SEO).

Most Web designers, ad agencies and graphic designers tell their clients they also do SEO, but it’s a highly specialized skill. SEO is like teenage sex: everyone talks about it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, everyone brags about it, but most of those actually doing it are doing it badly.

Renovation disasters

The Jack Astor’s restaurant chain had its Web site redesigned by an agency almost entirely in Flash. The site looked beautiful but Google has great difficulty reading Flash, so the company’s Web traffic fell off a cliff. The only way you could actually find Jack Astor’s site was by directly typing the company’s name into a search engine. Terms such as “pub” or “restaurant” didn’t work very well.

To fix this, the company hired Burlington-based SEO firm Rank Higher, which worked diligently to return Jack Astor’s to Google prominence, and it’s an ongoing project. The first 10 weeks of the campaign generated 1.1 million unique visits and views between Google Places and actual searches, a 1,000 per cent increase over the 10 weeks prior.

The trust you receive from Google is a function of the age of the page, the links that point to it (which are seen as a vote of trust) and the focus of the information on the page. Rank Higher CEO Scott Wilson points out a classic problem: your company Web site has been around for 15 years and has hundreds of inbound links pointing to pages throughout the site from customers, suppliers and bloggers. Along comes a graphic or Web designer who tells you that instead of HTML your site should be updated in a newer language, like ASP.NET. You agree, your site is re-coded and you’ve just wiped out 15 years of Google equity.

Even changing one character in a URL effectively creates a new page, one with no age and no links, and therefore no Google trust. There are solutions, but unless you’re working with a knowledgeable SEO firm, you’ve just lost years of equity, which you can never win back.

One major financial institution invested heavily in a marketing campaign promoting “discount brokerage.” Wilson was called in—after the campaign launched—to make SEO recommendations. At the time, there were 14,000 searches per month on the term “discount brokerage” but more than 500,000 searches were conducted each month for “online trading” and “online trades.” So the campaign focused on a keyword that resonated with bankers and brokers but not the public. This highlights the importance of integrating SEO strategy at the planning stage of your marketing campaign, rather than as an afterthought. Not doing so could forfeit your fair share of the billions consumers will spend online this year. 

Jim Harris
Jim Harris is the author of Blindsided, a #1 international bestseller published in 80 countries worldwide. He speaks at 40 conferences a year around the world. You can reach him through LinkedIn or through www.jimharris.com.

Also watch:
Jim Harris on Tech Innovations at Backbone's 10th Anniversary - April 2011

Also read:
Google's rise and rise

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