"Build it and they will come" is catchy phrase in the movies, but it doesn't work on the Internet, as any e-commerce or small business with a Web site can attest to. Traditionally, businesses have been left to paying their way to the top of the category list in local Yellow Pages or 30-second radio ads, never knowing if customers arrived at their door because of the expensive ads or plain old positive word-of-mouth advertising.
While Internet marketing can provide a higher conversion rate, knowing how to use search engine technology isn't a matter of intuition. Just having a Web site today is not enough. Small e-commerce-based businesses need to consider investing in optimizing their Web site for organic (i.e., free) search engine rankings, as well as backing it with a successful search engine marketing plan (i.e.,paid listings).
SEM is Not Just SEO
Adding to the confusion for small businesses unfamiliar with search engine technology, is that search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are not the same thing even though some tend to use the acronyms interchangeably. Just like your traditional print ad is going to target a specific category listing using the yellow pages, SEO is what you need to bring your Web site nearer the top of organic Web searches, for keywords related to your business. By ranking high in these searches, you are going to increase exposure to your Web site.
Many people start with a good Web site and invest in SEO, but don't necessarily follow through with another very important component: SEM. Where SEO aims to provide better organic search results, SEM uses the search engines to advertise your Web site and send you more targeted traffic. For example, when people use a search engine to query "laminate flooring," the organic search engine results is where SEO technologies can assist your Web site in being more visible. The paid advertising, or sponsored links, are the ones prominently displayed above or beside the organic search results is a product of SEM.
Fortunately, there is a wide range of products and services available to help you make the most of using search engine technologies to get your listings where you need them ahead of your competition.
Optimize Your Web site for Search Engines
Anyone with a Web site knows, it's important to have your listing rank high in organic search results. The problem is, exactly how to achieve this is not imminently clear for many small businesses. The good news, however, is that if you budget this cost in, you can find a reliable company to optimize your Web site for you, or find products to help you do it yourself.
One such SEO product is a new offering from 1&1 Internet Inc., a Web hosting provider. The company just launched two new tools to assist businesses to achieve higher search engine rankings. 1&1 SimpleSubmission is a free service for their customers, and 1&1 SimpleSEO, costs $4.99 per month and allows any user (regardless of experience level) to explore SEO.
1&1 Internet says the tools are ideal for developing an SEO campaign and can deliver a competitive edge that would be of particular value to small and medium businesses. As an added bonus SimpleSEO is being offered as a 90-day free trial.
Top That SEO with Some Good SEM
Marketing your physical business is, of course, very important, and marketing is just as important when dealing with your Web site. Unlike traditional marketing where you might advertise in print or through radio spots to promote your business, SEM is what businesses need to advertise to the growing number of worldwide Internet consumers.
Traditional advertising has you paying based on the general number of readers or listeners a specific newspaper or radio station has, where SEM offers you the opportunity to pay based on clicks meaning you pay only for each click through from the advertisement to your Web site. Ads in a successful SEM campaign will be shown to those consumers specifically looking for your products or services, resulting in a higher conversion rate.
Homestead Technologies Inc. recently expanded its Web site creation tools with SearchLight, a service designed to deliver affordable advertising to small business Web sites.
SearchLight hopes to provide small businesses with an affordable and efficient way to deliver advertising to their Web site from more than 20 different search engines, including Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask. The service is available to both Homestead subscribers and small business owners who host their Web sites with other service providers.
In discussing key factors that indicate small businesses should consider SEM and products such as SearchLight, Justin Kitch, Homestead founder and CEO, says the first milestone should be when you realize your competitors are marketing online and you are not.
"Also, if you think your business is not growing or you have saturated your current marketing strategy, such as word-of-mouth or the yellow Pages, yet you know you need more customers, that is another good indicator that you should be looking at marketing your business online. It is a great marketing tool that allows you to measure results. SEM provides detailed and specific analytical data that you can't obtain through traditional means of marketing."
According to Kitch, small businesses are losing valuable sales because potential customers simply cannot find them online. "Their business Web site is not visible within search engine results, or they're buried in the results by the national chains, making them virtually non-existent to qualified and motivated customers."
The Best of Both Can Help You Succeed
There is no denying that the Internet has and still is changing the way we do business. It does require you to look at different options in terms of getting customers to your online business space.
If you want to conduct business on the Internet you need to be visible in both the organic and advertised links (preferably listed above your competition), which means you need to consider investing in both optimization and marketing to bring the right traffic to your Web site.
Success can really be as simple as finding the right company offering SEM and SEO services to demystify search engine technology for you.
Vangie Beal is a regular contributor to ECommerce-Guide.com.
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