Is Search Engine Positioning Really Worthwhile?
Here are some very serious questions that I've been asked about
search engine positioning. How much traffic can search engine
positioning generate? Is search engine optimization worth
my time to pursue? Is it cost-effective? These are legitimate
questions that our subscribers have asked about this popular
Back in 1996, I discovered how important top rankings were
in the major search engines. As a business owner who admittedly
started his company from his home and on a "shoe string" budget,
I didn't have the luxury of a big advertising budget. Fortunately,
by marketing our site through the search engines, we generated
thousands of dollars in sales while spending zero in advertising
dollars. This helped a great deal to get the business off
Many of you who have used WebPosition Gold for search engine
optimization know what a tremendous return on investment it
yields. However, recently I've read an article or two suggesting
that search engine positioning may no longer be a wise use
of online marketing dollars. As a marketing veteran, this
really shouldn't surprise me.
Everyone knows that controversy sells magazines and newspapers.
However, for someone to suggest that search engine positioning
is not an important use of an online marketing budget when
I know so many people who had proven otherwise was just too
much to stomach.
Therefore, I contacted Fredrick Marckini, the CEO of iProspect.com,
one of the most successful search engine positioning agencies
in the country and the company that wrote the book on search
engine positioning called "Secrets to Achieving Top 10 Rankings."
Knowing he was a recognized expert in this field, I asked him
if he would discuss some client case studies and share some
of his firm's insider research. I also asked him to reveal
some search engine positioning tips that our readers would
find valuable. I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of
information he produced.
I asked iProspect.com to share some specific client success
stories that would demonstrate the real-world value of search
engine positioning. I have received testimonials from many
satisfied users of WebPosition Gold and they talk about specific
rankings and increases in traffic that their search engine
positioning efforts have generated -- but I could not have
anticipated the examples provided by iProspect.com. These
examples clearly demonstrated, on a much larger scale, the
true power of search engine positioning.
iProspect.com's contracts contain non-disclosures so we must
respect their clients' right to privacy. We will discuss
them and their online businesses by their business category,
what they sell, their industry and/or the nature of their
One of these clients operates an e-commerce site that sells
automobile parts. What makes this case study so interesting
is that this particular company has never used any other online
advertising; not banner ads, not e-mail marketing, nor print
or television advertising. Their entire online marketing
campaign consisted of search engine positioning, and they
engaged iProspect.com from launch through to today. This
Web site, through search engine positioning alone, is now
transacting $250,000 per month in sales. They are on-track
to hit $3 million dollars in sales this year. According to
iProspect.com, these visitors can only be coming from search
Another iProspect.com client operates a number of technical
content Web sites. According to Fredrick Marckini, iProspect.com
increased their rankings from 2,041 top-30 rankings to 13,338
total top-30 rankings in a five month period - and that counted
only those keywords and phrases that they were tracking, not
the many incidental and accidental rankings that such a large-scale
effort undoubtedly creates. Their site's traffic from search
engines topped 238,000 visitors per month.
The successes represented by these case studies are certainly
noteworthy. While solid outcomes can be expected when you
employ an expert services firm like iProspect.com, marketers
should look to wider industry validation before making decisions
about new marketing methods such as search engine positioning.
Therefore, I asked iProspect.com what studies and statistics
they had tracked about the value of search engine positioning
that validates this marketing method. Yet again, they had
done their homework. As you would guess, the analyst and
industry support for search engine positioning was solid.
Recent Search Engine Positioning Statistics
Fredrick Marckini pointed out that search engines are by far
the most important place for finding companies on the Internet.
Fully 57% of Internet users search the Web on the average
day (1999 study by Active Media), making search the second
most popular Internet activity behind email. If any doubt
about the value of search engines remains, consider the following
evidence that demonstrates how being found through the major
search engines is simply a necessity for maximum success on
"Online businesses should place the same importance on search
engine positioning as a brick and mortar businesses do on
its yellow pages directory listings, its post office address
and signage," said Marckini.
- Search engines create more awareness about Web sites than
all advertising combined including banners, newspapers, TV
and radio (IMT Strategies, a division of the Meta Group, February
For an average day, Web users report searching the Internet
(57%) and looking for product information (46%) more often
than any other activity except email. (Statistical Research,
Inc. Feb 17th, 2000)
- Internet users ranked search as their most important activity,
awarding it a 9.1 on a 10-point scale. The next most important
activity ranked only 6.3. (Jupiter Research, 1999).
- 42% of those who bought from online retail sites arrived
via search engines (NFO Online Retail Monitor, October 1999).
- The real proof: The single most highly rated Web site promotional
method as voted by Webmasters is search engine positioning.
(September 1999, ActiveMedia Research)
"Given the two billion available documents on the Web and an
average of 179 million Web pages listed in each search engine,
the problem is much larger for the Internet than for a brick
and mortar business with a fixed geographic location."
"Since all visitors do not return to a site faithfully, a steady
stream of new traffic is essential for the health of the e-business.
Every business must add new customers on a regular basis;
however, in cyberspace business relationships are even more
transitory than in real communities."
"Some web marketers still cling to the notion that they will
build a site and visitors will come. But if a Web site is
built, without concern or action taken to ensure visibility
in the major search engines, no one will find the Web site,
no one will come - that Web site might as well be a billboard
in the woods."
"No company could expect to stay in business if no one knew
where to find it. And, a poor selection of keywords that do
not reflect how prospects will search for your business will
cause your search engine positioning to falter," according
Keyword Selection - The Most Overlooked Element of Success
I asked Fredrick Marckini if he could reveal the greatest contributor
to his client's success in the search engines. He responded,
"that's easy, most Web sites are targeting the wrong keywords
and phrases. In my opinion, this is the Holy Grail of search
engine positioning success. If you're not targeting the right
keywords and phrases, even the best rankings are of little
value. We spend more time on selecting the proper keyword
and keyword phrases than perhaps anyone would imagine."
Fredrick went on to offer these guidelines on keyword selection:
"Most people target the wrong keywords. No client has ever
presented us with a thorough keyword universe upon initiating
their engagement. Invariably, the keyword list supplied by
the client includes keywords that are too broad, or not specifically
relevant to the content of their site."
Marckini recounted an interesting anecdote surrounding the
keyword selection process:
"The most senior executive at a major business publisher complained
to me in a meeting before they engaged our firm that their
site could not be found on searches for the keyword phrase,
'small business.' "
"He asked our help in getting their site found on this all
important keyword. You could have heard a pin drop in the
room when I retorted, 'Good! I'm glad that your site is not
found on searches for 'small business...' I explained that
I was once the quintessential small business owner and I've
never, ever, performed a search for the keyword phrase 'small
business' that describes the demographic category that he
felt I fell into."
I continued, "I may, however, search for 'small business advice'
or 'small business software,' but I do not think of myself
in terms of the demographic group that others think I represent."
"Really, when you think about it, people search the Internet
to solve a problem." Marckini suggested that as you evaluate
a particular keyword phrase you should ask yourself these
What is the intent of this query?
If you cannot determine what problem the searcher is trying
to solve in performing that query, you should not be targeting
that keyword or phrase.
Next, if your Web site does not "satisfy the intent of that
query," unequivocally, you should not target that phrase.
Your job in optimizing your Web site is to help the searcher
complete his or her search mission and thereby add value to
the search engine's index. If you do not add value in this
way, the searcher will click one maybe two pages deep in your
Web site and then click the back button and find a Web site
that does solve their search problem.
The answer to this next question should be intuitive: 'Why
invest your time and energy targeting a keyword phrase that
will not attract someone interested in what you have to offer?
The beauty of visitors coming from the search engines are
that they are all well-qualified prospects being far more
likely to make a purchase than someone clicking on a banner
ad out of curiosity.
If someone is actively searching for what you have, they are
much more likely to be a serious buyer. Therefore, even if
you generated fewer overall visitors from search engines than
from your other advertising sources, you'll find a much greater
percentage of those visitors will convert to actual sales.
Here are some keyword selection tips offered by iProspect.com
that should benefit everyone in their search engine positioning
In closing, while iProspect.com has provided their services
to many select smaller companies, they focus almost entirely
on Fortune 1000 accounts and the more successful dot-com companies.
I have personally visited their corporate offices in Boston
and can tell you that they have one of the most sophisticated
processes for search engine marketing of any consulting services
company I've encountered.
- Identify the core problems and concepts that your Web site
- List each core problem separately and then think of all
of the ways that someone might compose a keyword or phrase
search to get at each concept or problem, e.g., if you sell
golf shoes, the words 'golf shoes' should not be your only
nor most important keyword phrase. Consider also, 'buying
golf shoes' and 'brand golf shoes' (the word 'brand' to represent
any number of brands that your Web site might sell), 'shoes
for golf' and 'online golf shoe stores.' Any keyword or phrase
that you miss will be traffic and prospective customers that
visit your competitor. Don't miss any. There are usually
50 to 100 ways that different people will compose a query
hoping to find the same thing - identify them all.
- Visit your competitors' Web sites and view their keyword
meta tags for any that you hadn't considered - you'd be amazed
at the good and bad keywords they're targeting.
- Review the copy on the pages of your Web site for keyword
phrases that you use in describing your offerings. You will
be surprised at how many keywords are overlooked that are
right there in front of you on your own Web pages.
- Consider using one of the many keyword databases such as
GoTo.com's keyword suggestion tool. A nice interface to their
service can be found at:
You'll find valuable glimpses into actual keyword query frequency
and search phrase combinations that you might have overlooked.
You can also confirm that your phrase is in fact searched
on by a reasonable number of visitors.
- Do not fall in love with keywords because they are queried
with higher frequency than others. Always discriminate first
on relevance to your site, not potential traffic. Less traffic
that buys more product is often better than more traffic that
buys far less product. Get it?
- Once you've amassed your final keyword and phrase list,
start pairing it down. Remove words, lots of words. Remove
any word or phrase that doesn't EXACTLY describe what someone
will find when they come to your Web site. Again, less traffic
that buys more is better than more traffic that buys far less.
Always think about satisfying the intent of the query, nothing
- Remember, that beginners will always have better luck with
longer keyword phrases. Even seasoned veterans have difficulty
with single word phrases and very popular phrases - but don't
worry, with experience and with the help of WebPosition Gold
you can attain rankings on many if not most of the keywords
you decide to target.
For example, I found their office walls covered with charts
and graphs representing how many rankings and visitors they'd
achieved for each of their clients, progress reports, etc.
In one office, I saw an impressive thirty-page analysis of
a Web site they had generated in large part by importing data
from WebPosition Gold and then formatting it in Excel.
If you work for a fortune 1000 company or other large business
looking for the cadillac of search engine positioning companies,
check them out at http://www.iprospect.com.
For smaller companies with more modest budgets, I continue
to recommend people take a look at http://www.coastalsites.com.
They have a lower minimum fee while still providing excellent
performance guarantees. There are certainly many other great
positioning companies out there that also deserve a serious
look. Most use WebPosition Gold and should do a good job
if you're careful to check their references and work contract.
Some people ask me why we don't recommend a wider range of
companies. Frankly, I've recommended other companies in the
past and have been burned by their poor service or performance
over time. Therefore, although I'm sure there's many good
services out there, I shy away from specifically recommending
companies when I don't have a long track record with them.
Or for the "do-it-yourself" folks, WebPosition Gold remains
the lowest cost and easiest way to tap into the power of the
search engines. To help ensure your success, we'll include
iProspect.com's 110 page guide, "Secrets To Achieving Top
10 Rankings," sold separately for $79, for FREE when you order
As an added incentive, we'll also include a free copy of Meta
Magician ($49 value) which can automatically insert, update,
and delete meta tags on one or more of your pages. The offer
for Meta Magician and the Secret's report are only good for
the month of August. After that, you'll have to purchase
How One Person Was Listed in Yahoo in 36 Hours
If you've begun marketing your Web site, you probably know
that Yahoo offers two ways to submit your site. You can shell
out the $199 for the Business Express option that guarantees
they will review your site within 7 days (although this does
not guarantee they will accept your site). Or, you can use
the free submission option where a review can take six to
eight weeks or may never happen.
If you're one of those frustrated people who have been waiting
eight weeks or more for Yahoo to review your site, check out
this e-mail from Mike Snyder:
Date: Mon, 17 Jul 2000 14:26:46 EDT
Subject: yahoo listing
Brent, I just thought I would let you know that I got
listed with yahoo after a recent phone call to them
at 408-731-3333. Now I don't know if it was a
coincidence or the fact that I called them and left a
message asking them why I hadn't been listed after 8
weeks. For whatever reason they emailed me the following
day after I left my message and said I would be listed
in the next 2-4 days. It actually only took about 36hrs
before I received my first order from someone who saw me
listed as a new site on yahoo. I don't know if this is
useful info or not but I felt I owed it to you as your
software is doing wonders for our rankings.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
More Yahoo Submission Tips
If you're having trouble with getting indexed by Yahoo, check
out these tips direct from the horse's mouth (Yahoo):
Date: Sat, 15 Jul 2000 19:00:17 -0700
From: Carla Ackley (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: Re: MarketPosition Newsletter - July 2000
I really like your input about what YAHOO! is looking
for when they review a site for inclusion into
You are completely correct. I have also received a
letter that was forwarded to me from one of my
clients from YAHOO!.
YAHOO! looks for complete business addressing
information. You would be surprised (or maybe not)
how many commercial sites will not list their
business address. That is always one of the marketing
tips I give. Add that address.
Please see below letter from YAHOO!:
The URL you submitted was not added to Yahoo!. We
do not list every site suggested to the directory.
Instead, we favor listing sites that provide Yahoo!
users with robust content and information.
In the spirit of constructive feedback, here is a
list of reasons why we usually decline certain sites:
- the site has broken graphics and images.
- the site provides no new information or content.
(For example, it is merely a set of links.)
- the site presents inadequate or vague information,
making it difficult for us to understand what it
represents, or what it is offering.
- the site is no more than a business card listing.
(For example, it contains nothing but a few sentences,
an address and a phone number.)
- the site only offers content readily available from
other sources. (In other words, it contains no unique
- The site uses applets and other features that slow
down functionality and ease of use.
In all likelihood, your site is described by at least
one of the above. Web users are quickly turned off by
underdeveloped sites. This reflects poorly not only on
the individual site, but on Yahoo! as well.
Keep in mind that we are not telling you to change your
site. However, if you do decide to redesign or
reorganize, please feel free to suggest the site again.
Finally, please note that any judgment we make about
your site is based solely on the individual site. We do
not compare Web listings, and instead review them on
their merits, on a case by case basis.
Thanks for your time,
The Yahoo! Editorial Team
Many thanks for forwarding this e-mail goes to:
Search Engine Registration, Positioning & Classified Ad Placement'
HotBot Mixes in Open Directory Listings
HotBot recently started mixing in some listings from Open Directory
(http://www.dmoz.org) for more popular searches. For example,
a search on "cars" as of August 5, 2000 shows this listing
at position eleven:
11. ford cars & trucks add 10-18% more hp add 10-18% more horsepower
by installing our fordsuperchip: faster, more pulling power
30 day money back guarentee
More like this: Travel & Recreation/ Autos/ Parts and Accessories/
Sport Utility, Trucks, Vans
Notice that the Open Directory listings will have a line starting
with "More like this:" followed by a category name from Open
Directory. Normal HotBot listings derived from Inktomi will
look like this:
Cars.com simplifies new and used car shopping. Cars.com features
quick access to automotive classifieds and dealers, price
info, news and reports, performance data, recall notices,
and auto reviews.
See results from this site only.
It's currently unclear how HotBot decides which Open Directory
listings to include, or how many. For example, a search on
"cars" reveals only ONE Open Directory match when obviously
there are more in that directory that they could have selected.
In contrast, a search on "jobs" brings back ten Open Directory
Keep in mind that the first ten matches in HotBot continue
to be powered exclusively by DirectHit.com as evident by the
DirectHit logo at the bottom of the page. For information
about improving rankings for DirectHit, refer to my December
1999 article at:
For tips on getting a good listing in Open Directory, see the
directory submission guide in the WebPosition Gold Submitter:
Why Customer Satisfaction Matters
After checking my "WebPosition Testimonials" cabinet in Eudora
Pro last month, I noticed I had over 500 e-mails from customers
singing praises about the effectiveness of WebPosition Gold
along with how happy they were with our service. I thought
it was time to update our testimonials page and expand it.
Since we have only a couple dozen testimonials on our Web site
right now, I asked Adam Norton, our sales director, to check
with all the customers listed on our site to make sure they
still wanted their comments, name, and e-mail address listed.
I know we get a lot of traffic to the page so I was afraid
that some may be tired of receiving endless inquiries from
visitors wanting to check our references.
Surprisingly, only two people asked to be removed but not because
they were unhappy with the product. In fact, we received
many new thank you's from these customers who even after two
or three years were still thrilled with the product's performance
and our customer service.
Here's just one of the many replies Adam received back to his
e-mail on whether they were still happy with the product and
whether they wanted to remain on the testimonials page.
Am I still happy with the program?
Don't rely just on my say so, I'll provide some proof! Check
out some of our Rankings at www.FcTps.com/ and you will see
exactly how very thrilled we are! You'll be glad you did!
We highly endorse your product, as it is solely responsible
for every ranking we maintain, and some of our #1 Rankings
have been maintained for over 4 months straight in the #1
[We have rankings in] Almost every main search engine, and
many non-main search engines! I still am in awe of the product,
and still check results, and hits, on a daily basis!
We are Averaging:
Over 40,000 hits a month!
Over 800 sales to date,
Over $30,000 (US) to date!
Am I happy?? I paid $149 for the WebPosition program I believe.
That means I am $29,851 up as far as I can add!
Am I happy?? We've taken as many as 20 to 30 orders PER DAY!!
Am I happy?? No, I'm tremendously happy! Sure post my comments.
I'd gladly give you a sixteen thumbs up! WebPosition has
been truly unbelievable! In fact, if it didn't happen to me,
I'd say the results are just too good to be true!
Take a look! www.FcTps.com
Thank you does not begin to cover it! Many times Thank You!
A Very Satisfied user of WebPosition
What's the lesson here? Do not underestimate the power of
customer satisfaction! Work hard to provide an exceptional
product and service. Treat your customers right, and do what
it takes to make them happy. I speak from experience. Although
it's difficult if not impossible to "please all people all
the time," making that your goal will pay off in the long
For example, I just ran a company sales report by "source"
for the last two months. The percentage of people saying
they purchased because they heard about us from a friend increased
eleven fold since our first two months of selling WebPosition.
In fact, our advertising expenditures as a percentage of our
sales have DECLINED over the years. However, our over-all
sales have SKYROCKETED. How can this be? In large part,
it's the power of word of mouth!
My advice: Work hard to provide an exceptional product and
service. The testimonials will start to pour in. When they
do, ask permission to post some of them to your Web site.
Nothing adds more credibility to your business than testimonials
from the ones who count the most: Your customers.
What Does the Average Search Look Like?
A common misperception in search engine marketing is that most
people search on a single keyword to find what they're looking
for. However, we've long recommended that customers spend
most of their time targeting multi-word phrases. This will
not only bring you more targeted visitors who are more likely
to buy what you have, but you'll find it much easier to achieve
those top rankings on phrases rather than single words.
George Smith of Third Street Interactive, a full service interactive
agency (http://www.3rdst.com) sent this tip:
From: George Smith (GSmith@3rdst.com)
Subject: Search Engine Tip
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 14:03:27 -0400
Below is a tip I came across in The Industry Standard
that discusses the way consumers have been using search
engines. This would help anyone designing a page!
Multiple keywords 44.8%
One keyword 28.6%
Pre-defined options 17.9%
Source: Q1, 2000. NPD New Media Services.
Notice that although "Multiple Keywords" does not command a
majority in this survey, if you exclude pre-defined options
from the list and add in "Questions" which are of course multi-word
phrases too, then you find 65% still type in more than one
word when they do a Web search.
To further clarify the above study, "Pre-Defined options" (17.9%)
are those listings that are static on the search site or that
you navigate to through category listings. Therefore, getting
listed properly in the major directories like Yahoo, Open
Directory, LookSmart, and Snap remains an important element
to bringing traffic to your site. Do not submit to these
directories hastily since you often only get one shot at it!
(For more tips on submitting to directories, see the Submission
Guide on the Directories tab of WebPosition Gold Submitter).
"Question" (8.7%) is when someone does a search in the form
of a question. This category has been growing over the last
year. Therefore, it may be wise to include questions on some
of your doorway pages with the answers appearing underneath.
MSN Closes Paid Links Program
In July, MSN Search announced the closure of their paid links
program amid criticism that the ads were ineffective. The
service allowed Web site owners to bid on text ads that would
appear associated to a given search. However, these ads appeared
to the left-hand side of the actual search results and were
reported to receive low click-through rates. Apparently,
people conducting searches continued to focus almost entirely
on the primary search results, ignoring to a large extent
the text on the left-hand side.
Avoid the AltaVista "No Title" Trap!
If you're an HTML guru, you realize that anytime you want to
display two or more spaces on a Web page, any spaces after
the first one must be represented by the non-breaking space
tag. For example, a title like this:
< title >Everything Electronics: Computers, Software, and More!< /title >
would need to use the non-breaking space tag to force the browser
to display two spaces after the word "Electronics." For example,
it would look like this:
< title >Everything Electronics: Computers, Software, and
More!< /title >
If you use a visual editing tool like Microsoft Frontpage,
then you don't need to worry about this. The editor automatically
inserts the non-breaking space tags when needed.
A problem arises if you create or change HTML by hand and accidentally
include two or more spaces in a row in your title tag without
using the non-breaking space tag. Normally, this causes no
problem beyond the browser displaying it with just one space
rather than two. However, AltaVista appears to have a bug
(at least as of July 2000) where it will display "No Title"
in the search result listings if it runs into two or more
spaces in the title without the non-breaking space tags.
If you often search AltaVista, you may have noticed listings
when you do a search where some sites display "No Title."
This does not always occur simply because the site had no
Don't make this mistake! If this happens to you, potential
visitors will likely skip by your page in favor of your competitor
who happens to display a good, descriptive title in the search
Credit for this tip goes to:
(Check them out for some cool Webmaster products, anti-spam
If you want to share you own search engine marketing tips,
reply to this e-mail with "HOT TIP" in the subject line.
If we use it, I'll plug you and your site to over 350,000
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
MarketPosition is written by Brent Winters, President of FirstPlace
Software, with editing and contributions by Fredrick Marckini,
President of iProspect.com, Inc.
FirstPlace Software, Inc. produces several products, including
WebPosition, the first software program to report your search
positions on the major search engines and to help you improve
You may download a FREE trial of WebPosition from your WebPosition Reseller:
You may call Diversified Technologies at 1-888-243-1034
if you have questions about WebPosition.
You will also find an array of additional tips and techniques
for improving your search positions in both the WebPosition Help File
and the Reports it generates.
(c) copyright 2000 FirstPlace Software, Inc.
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