From my weekly newsletter. Subscribe using the sign-up box to the right.
I meet with corporate marketers and their agencies these days, I’m frequently surprised to learn how little they think about search engine optimization. This is despite the fact that Google alone processes an estimated 750 million queries daily, and that IT professionals are some of the most active and advanced users of search engines.
One reason for this, I suspect, is that marketers are trained to be good at “push” marketing. Their craft has traditionally involved intercepting customers with messages that grab their attention and inspire action. Customers, however, are becoming more resistant to these tactics. Increasingly, they engage with companies and products on their terms when they’re ready to make a buying decision. That’s a much better time to reach them. The trick is to show up on their radar when they’re in this “pull” mode.
Google is now the universal homepage. Look at your traffic logs and you’ll probably see that search engines vastly outperform any other referral source. Yet many marketers devote lots of time and money to creating beautiful homepage designs that are rich in animation and graphics. Not only are these pages rarely seen by today’s web site visitors, but images and Flash animations are almost useless at attracting search engine traffic.
Successful IT marketers are learning to reverse the push model. They know that buyers start the research process in a search query box and that the sites that make the first page of results get 10 times the click-throughs of anything else.
The Great Equalizer
You might think search engines favor the big brands, but that’s not the case. Try this: Type “router” into Google and look at the results. Note that only four of the top 25 results are vendor sites. Now type “PC.” Note that the only vendor in the top 10 results — Apple — doesn’t even market its products as PCs! In fact, neither of the top two PC makers in the US market even makes the top 100 results on Google.
Now look at what dominates search results for both terms: sites that provide definitions and helpful how-to advice. This should tell you something. Your search engine performance will be greatest when you deliver content that helps customers make good decisions through practical, impartial guidance from knowledgeable sources.
Search is the great equalizer. The leading engines’ proprietary algorithms are designed to screen out material that their developers consider uninteresting. Your challenge is to match your content to their preferences.
Start by choosing the search terms that really matter. Be specific. Get general agreement that these are the terms you want to dominate in search performance. Marshall all of your internal web site contributors to reinforce those terms every time they write.
Discard terms like “industry-leading” and “innovative.” No one searches for those words. Start a blog or discussion forum. Both are search engine magnets. Pick up a copy of Search Engine Marketing, Inc. by Mike Moran and Bill Hunt. It’ll tell you a lot of the ins and outs. Make SEO a basic consideration in every marketing campaign. Then let those buyers reel you in.
This article originally appeared in Network World’s ITiki newsletter.