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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 marketing practice.

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 the ground.

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 sites' only.

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 engine referrals.

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 the Web:
  • 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 2000).

    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). http://info.go.com/press/search.html

  • 42% of those who bought from online retail sites arrived via search engines (NFO Online Retail Monitor, October 1999). http://info.go.com/press/search.html

  • The real proof: The single most highly rated Web site promotional method as voted by Webmasters is search engine positioning. (September 1999, ActiveMedia Research)
"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.

"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 to Marckini.


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 questions:

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 efforts:
  1. Identify the core problems and concepts that your Web site addresses.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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:
    http://www.marketposition.com/keywordgenerator.htm

    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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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 else matters.

  8. 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.
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.

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 from:



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 each separately.

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:

From: Chipndough@aol.com
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.

Mike Snyder
chipndough.com
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 (info@classichits.com)
Subject: Re: MarketPosition Newsletter - July 2000

Brent,

I really like your input about what YAHOO! is looking for when they review a site for inclusion into their directory.

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 content.)
- 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:

Carla Ackley
http://www.classichits.com
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
http://www.fordsuperchip.com
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:

12. cars.com
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.
5/27/2000 http://www.cars.com/
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 matches.

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.

Hello Adam-
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 Ranking Position!

[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!

Rich Patterson
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 run.

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!

    METHOD         PROPORTION
    Multiple keywords     44.8%
    One keyword           28.6%
    Pre-defined options   17.9%
    Question               8.7%
    Source: Q1, 2000. NPD New Media Services.
      33,000 respondents.



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 title tag.

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 results.

Credit for this tip goes to:
Colin PC
http://www.insight-eye.com/
(Check them out for some cool Webmaster products, anti-spam tips, etc.)

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 subscribers!


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.

OTHER RESOURCES:
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 those positions.

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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