There’s an old adage in sales and marketing: go where the customers are. As we discussed in a previous blog, traditional advertising isn’t where people are going anymore. So where are they going? According to Compete.com, the primary way people find products to buy is through search engines. Search is massive, with more than one billion searches a day conducted on Google alone.
Astute website managers use search engine optimization (SEO) to get a huge amount of free, targeted traffic from search engines. Done right, an effective search-optimized site will get the phone and cash registers to ring.
Why SEO is highly effective:
- It is where customers are already looking: A 2010 Compete.com survey shows that three out of five people use a search engine when making an online purchase.
- Identified need: Much of advertising hits people who have no need for a product, or at best, a latent need. People using search engines by definition have a tangible desire for a product or service. Throughout the entire history of enterprise, search engines are the most effective way to target people who are ready to buy.
- Automatic repetition and perfect timing: If you talk with seasoned sales people, they will tell you that despite all the training in the world, timing is the biggest factor in making a successful sale. You have to pitch the right product while the iron is hot. Traditional advertising attempts to solve this with repeat messages. For example, the odds of a direct mail piece working increase significantly if you send it at least three times. Search engine marketing solves this problem in a more effective way. Your offerings are there at all parts of the buying cycle - when the customer starts their research, every time they go back to comparison shop, and when they are ready to buy.
- Exact targeting: Search engines have replaced the yellow pages of old. In the yellow pages, you could search for organizations by category, such as looking for bike shops under the bike shops listing. However, most people want something more specific: a particular brand of bike, bike repair, a specific bike part, etc. Using the yellow pages, you had to look at listings under the general category and call around. With search engines, you can easily get as specific as you want. This is a much better way of matching the highly targeted needs of customers with companies that offer exactly what they want.
Simply put, for most organizations, search engines are the most effective way to market what they do. Hundreds of thousands of organizations have leveraged traditional search engine optimization to drive traffic and sales.
A Word of Caution
Traditional search engine optimization is focused on one thing: getting your site’s pages to the top of search engines for relevant phrases. The cheapest, fastest way to do this is to create volumes of web pages written specifically around what search engines are looking for. However, this singular focus on search engines often diminishes the human user experience on the site.
The irony is that hundreds of thousands of sites are successfully using traditional SEO to drive large volumes of potential customers, only to lead them to a poor user experience that does not convert to sales and that ultimately damages their brand. Have you ever clicked on a search result only to find out that it didn't have the information you were looking for? Are you likely to return to this unhelpful website?
Perhaps the bigger issue with traditional SEO is that it focuses on only one part of the buying cycle. Yes, it is true that the first step most people take on the way to a purchase is to use a search engine. But searchers are researchers, too. Search engines place you and all your competitors a click away from each other. Most people don’t visit just your site, they go out to other sites to see what their peers and experts are saying.
If you are driving people to a cheap experience optimized just for search engines, people won’t have great things to say about you. While your site might rank higher in the search engines, without the social proof that you are the best option (great content and buzz), the sale will go to the competition.
Photo courtesy of SEOPlanter.