I realize that to some, this is a dumb question. I mean, if you have a Web site, why would you NOT optimize it for search? Organic search is the cheapest way to bring people to your site and paid search is the easiest, so it's a no-brainer for you to recommend that every blessed Web site on the Internet dive right into search marketing, right? Wrong.

So, as you stare into the distance, wondering how to figure out if you are ready for search, what you really want to know is if your site is ready for customers.

Suppose you are opening a small shop on a busy street in town. What's the first thing that you'd do? You'd order the best merchandise you could find. You'd make sure it was attractively laid out. You'd be positive that you had helpful employees to answer questions and to run the cash registers. In fact, you'd do absolutely every one of those things before taking out a big ad in the local paper, right? You'd never take the ad out if your store wasn't ready.

I'm afraid time comes to eat me.

Image by LaPetiteTwinkie via Flickr

But too often, that is what I see on the Web. Folks approach me every day asking for help with search marketing when the simple truth is that their Web sites aren't ready for customers. The sites might be hard to use. Or have little information. Or have no way for customers to actually buy anything--no online buying and no easy way to move offline.

But still, they want search marketing. They are convinced that the problem isn't that their Web site stinks on ice, but rather that not enough people are visiting. Trust me folks, if your Web site is awful, you want as few people to see it as possible. Not only won't they buy from you, but they won't come back. They might even tell other people how bad it is. That's not the kind of word of mouth you are looking for.

No, don't let this advice paralyze you. Some of us are our toughest critics. We see all the blemishes on our sites without noticing what's positive. Your site doesn't need to be perfect, but it does need to be good. If your Web site is no good, then sending more people to it won't be the answer.

So, take a hard look at your Web site. If you can honestly say to yourself that folks arriving at your site can find what they need and figure out how to buy what you are selling (online or offline), and you have the sales to prove it, then you are ready. For you, search marketing really is a no-brainer.

But if your Web site causes customers to faint dead away, or call you on the phone to complain how they can never find anything, you have a bigger problem than search marketing that you need to solve first. Once you do solve it, then search marketing will bring you far more impact than you'd ever dreamed.

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December 15, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Mike, you're absolutely correct! I find that these are usually business owners that have lost focus on what they are trying to achieve (or have lost the love for their business - this is a harder one to resolve!).

I try to guide my clients through a simple 4-step process that starts by identifying their business goals. Once they better understand their goals I then ask them if their site is helping them to achieve their goals (we discuss traffic, conversions etc) and in most cases they come round to the fact that their site is not yet ready for their customers.

I'm sure you're right SEO Simplicity, but I also find that many business owners just have trouble thinking about their Web site from their customers' point of view.

Mike, Bingo! Cant agree with you more. Checking whether the site is ready for search marketing is like checking whether a consumer internet product is ready for product marketing and lot of business owners go out and splurge their money on advertising even when their product is in prototype stage. You should actually look at strengtheining you externals only after you make the internals and experience strong whether it is SEO or products

"Is your site ready for search marketing?" It is NOT a dumb question

No, not at all because it just happend to me. I set up a new blog 10 days ago but it only appered on google page 7.

I am not sure whether it is still too early to tell, but certaily, your post reminded me it is essential to have a good website

Dr. L M Foong

Sometimes I wonder how many web sites there are where the conversion rate is so low that any profitable marketing campaign is just impossible.

Great observations. So many business owners that believe they know what they want and place an order based on that belief only to find out that customers and readers behave differently.

So what they wanted was not what they ordered and what they ordered what not what they needed.

There is a very real need for testing the application or website to ensure that customers can interact with it in a way that the owner intends. At that point it makes sense to fully optimize it for visibility but only after it has been validated for functionality.

I'm sure you're right SEO Simplicity, but I also find that many business owners just have trouble thinking about their Web site from their customers' point of view.

I think a lot of business people are sucked in to the idea of generating more traffic without thinking what the people will do once they get there, or about whether your company has the backend in place to handle it, or whether the traffic you get is the traffic you want.

It's an ongoing battle for me at the moment with a senior manager who wants to "increase traffic", and my standard answer is "to do what?".

Thanks for this post!

At last some great points and honest opinions for business owners! Many businesses -- especially smaller businesses -- who are trying to get into the market get completely fixated on idea to attract more traffic, while the main point of attraction has not been created yet. I would def send some clients to read your post and honestly assess their situation before moving into SEM phase.

Very interesting article and such relevant information. Search Engine Marketing is become a huge thing now, and I'm stepping my way in the search marketing local area of the arena. You have really helped me with putting some things I was boggled on into perspective. Thanks!

Do the same SEO techniques apply to a directory or search engine?

I have been trying to outrank austin local search for my site and have been reading up quite a bit on various techniques to promote a website and also get the SERPs up.

I have been able to find some good info so far, including this post. Social networking, I now understand is a key ingredient to make seo work.

Thanks for a nice share.

A lot of web developers are trying to SEO products that are not ready for the consumer. This article is spot on.

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