Nearly every business has a Web site these days. From the local paint store to the major corporation, the Internet is home to millions of Web sites with billions of pages. But are most of the corporate Web sites being found in the first three pages of major search engines? Not yet, according to recent research.

  • In a study of national retailers, Oneupweb found only 12 out of 100 sites were well optimized. This made a marked difference in their respective search engine rankings. Well-optimized sites got top listings that yielded extraordinary increases in traffic and conversions. However, the non-optimized sites were not found in the first three search engine results pages (SERPs).
  • Another Oneupweb study of Fortune 100 corporations yielded similar results. Well-optimized sites got the top rankings that dramatically improved their bottom line. However, less than 10 percent of Americaís top corporate Web sites were optimized to reap these rewards.

While the above research was based on 2003 and 2004 data, the same trend was reported in a 2005 study conducted by Fathom SEO on manufacturing sites.

  • Content on the majority of the Web pages was not properly optimized with strategic keywords.
  • Only 25 percent of the manufacturerís homepages had effective Title Tags that used strategic keywords. The internal pages fared worse -- 20 percent had Title Tags. (A Title Tag is an important element in search engine ranking algorithms because the text is generally used as the link users view and click in the SERPs.)

Only 10 to12 percent of corporate Web sites are optimized and well positioned in the organic search results. What happens to the rest of the sites buried beyond page 3 in the SERPs? They bear a heavy lost-opportunity cost that dwindles the bottom line.

Search Marketing Comes of Age

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) revenues are growing at a faster rate than any other marketing strategy. In May, Forrester reported that SEM would grow by 33 percent in 2005, reaching $11.6 billion by 2010.

SEMPO research shows that advertisers intend to spend about 39 percent more on SEM programs in 2005 over 2004.

While that sounds promising, the bulk of the SEM revenues went to paid placement (sponsored listings), not organic SEO. In 2004, 82 percent of SEM expenditures were allocated for paid placement ads, versus only 12 percent for organic SEO. Similar patterns are predicted for 2005.

Half of the marketers surveyed said senior management was very interested in SEM programs and considered them a high priority. Another 36 percent said their senior executives were moderately aware and interested. Whatís necessary is to educate senior executives on the effectiveness and long-term durability of organic SEO, in addition to its branding capability and excellent return on investment (ROI).

What Defines Organic SEO?

Organic SEO consists of technical and editorial Web site optimization services to improve your siteís communication with search engines. Major tasks include a site review of back-end items, search-appropriate HTML coding, linking strategies and SEO copywriting of major pages. Also recommended are competitor analysis and Web analytics. The goal is to provide the necessary elements to attract search engine spiders and acquire high-ranking listings in the major search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN. Once a site is optimized correctly, its organic results are long lasting with periodic maintenance.

Not only are organic listings longer lasting than paid listings, theyíre more valuable. Research shows that 70 percent of search engine users will click on organic listings, while the remaining 30 percent click on paid listings. Another study found that 6 out of 7 sales resulting from search engines originated in the organic search listings.

An excellent virtue of organic listings is their marketing accountability. Itís easy to track unique visitors, increased conversions and ROI. With a good Web analytics program such as WebTrends, ClickTracks or WebSideStory, you can take baseline measures before the optimization campaign and then again a few months later to see the initial gains. Continual monitoring and adjustment at the beginning of a campaign is also recommended.

Hereís what you need to know before conducting a search engine optimization campaign, starting with your budget allocation.

Funding Your SEO Program

SEMPO research shows that only 43 percent of advertisers created new budgets for organic SEO, and these were mostly large companies. Most advertisers shifted money from existing marketing programs to fund SEO or used a combination of new funding and shifted funds. Below are a few ideas to help your funding efforts.

Influence Your Decision-Makers: Convince your high-level decision makers that organic SEO is an essential marketing strategy for improving the bottom line. Get a senior-level manager on your side by providing them with the data and research to convince their peers.

There is ample research showing that SEO generates more leads and conversions when compared to other marketing strategies. Organic SEO is cost-effective compared to TV advertising, radio ads and print (give me an email or phone call if you want me to send you the data). Itís just a matter of finding the right person to influence your decision makers.

Identify Your Competitors: Find someone qualified to provide you with a competitor analysis, identifying the competitors that outperform your companyís Web site rankings. This is usually very motivating in itself and often leads to opportunities for improving your companyís Web site and conversions. Calculate Your Lost Opportunity Cost: Another persuasive tactic is to estimate the lost-opportunity cost. You can use WordTracker or the Yahoo Search Marketing Keyword Selector Tool to learn the number of searches for your companyís strategic key terms, and then estimate the number of likely unique visitors and conversions that are being missed because your Web site is not listed prominently in the major SERPs.

Setting Your Site Goals

Itís very important to establish and prioritize your site goals, be they branding, increasing sales or generating leads. SEMPO research shows that most companies want to increase brand awareness. Other goals specified were: selling products/services online, generating leads, increasing traffic, generating leads for distributors, and providing information/education. You can establish primary and secondary goals of this nature.

It is also important to know and understand your customers so you can optimize for the key terms used to find your site. There are a number of ways you can get feedback from customers, like requests for feedback when they take action on your site. Another great resource is to have a site search function. You will find out what your customers are looking for, and this will supplement the info from your server logs and other keyword analysis tools when identifying your relevant key terms.

Selecting an SEO Agency

A reputable SEO agency can help optimize your site for better rankings. Most agencies will offer a cafť-menu of SEO service options. Reputable firms will also provide reports on traffic and conversions, per your specifications. When selecting an agency, you should clearly define the services that will comprise your SEO campaign. Such services can include:

  • Competitor analysis
  • Technical site review,
  • Complete keyword phrase research
  • Body text edit/copywriting
  • Title tag optimization
  • Description tag optimization
  • Manual submission to search engines and directories
  • Paid inclusion
  • Linking strategies
  • Creation of new pages
  • Paid search options
  • Reporting and tracking

What Spells Success?

It used to be that high rankings and increased traffic were the major goals of search engine optimization. Currently, ROI and increased conversions are of more interest to marketers. Whatever your measure of success, itís easy to document with organic SEO.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
August 10, 2005

Paul J. Bruemmer has provided search engine marketing expertise and consulting services to prominent American businesses since 1995. As Director of Search Marketing at Red Door Interactive, he is responsible for strategizing and implementing search engine marketing activities within Red Door's Internet Presence Management (IPM) services.

Search Engine Guide > Paul Bruemmer > Are Corporate Web Sites Optimized for SEO?