Are Search Engines Worth It Any More?

The "Number One" Question - the question that I (and probably every other Internet marketing expert on the planet) am most frequently asked:

"How do I get to be Number One in the search engines for widgets? After all, my company is the world's leading provider of widgets - it's ridiculous that these other nobody companies are coming up in search engines ahead of us . . . "

My response is almost always along the lines of:

"Forget that right now, and get a life!"

OK, so I am a little more tactful than that - and I do occasionally encourage an in-depth search engine optimization strategy, but usually I'll encourage clients to spend their website promotional budget in other ways.

Here are the main reasons why I'm not generally enthusiastic about free search engines:

1. You have to be really careful in choosing keywords

Many people make the mistake of focusing on very generic keywords. Not only are these even more difficult to get top placement in, but they also won't generate you targeted traffic.

A prospect approached me recently for help with a coaching site. This site promotes teleseminars to help clients implement life changes described in various motivational books. This prospect initially said that he wanted to be "Number One" on a search for "books".

I'd suggest this would be a virtually impossible challenge for any search engine optimizer. But in addition, someone searching for "books" is probably really looking for Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, and not my client's teleclasses. He could spend a lot of money for very few qualified leads.

2. You need to speak the language of your visitors

We all talk "geekspeak" - it's often second nature to us within our industry or area of expertise. And it's easy to forget that our prospects don't always use the same terminology. One of the most difficult areas in copywriting that I see is when technology sales people are trying to describe their products to a non-technical market - the result is usually incomprehensible!

But there's also the jargon that we use as a matter of pride, or because we've lost touch with how our markets think of us.

I worked recently with an association of plastic surgeons. They had their member database on their Web site, and wanted to attract visitors there to find a local practitioner.

Their "Number One" target keyword for the search engines was "rhinoplasty". Well, I can only spell this because I just looked it up for this article - but usually you and I in the general public would never think of that - of course, we'd be searching for . . . "nose jobs"!

The surgeons didn't like this at all from an academic standpoint. But they had to concede the point when I presented evidence on most common searches from Overture's very handy Search Term Suggestion Tool at http://inventory.overture.com/d/se archinventory/suggestion.

3. It's very passive marketing . . .

My most pressing argument for not spending too much time on free search engines is that it's a very passive form of marketing. You're relying on a prospective visitor waking up in the morning, and realizing that they need something that you might provide. Then, you're relying on them choosing the precise keywords that you've targeted for search engine optimization. It's a fairly hit or miss business.

When do I disagree with myself?

There are some exceptions to all this. I do believe that search engines are well worth it when you have a niche product or service with extremely unambiguous and well-defined keywords.

For example, an audience member in one of my recent programs was working on a Web site to sell some incredibly advanced yoyos. I did recommend a search engine strategy to him - after all, if someone puts in "yoyo" as a search term, they'd almost certainly be a qualified lead!

What do I do instead?

That's the subject of numerous other articles. To get you started, you can find twenty-three of my favourite techniques in my free tipsheet.

But in short, I much prefer aggressively seeking out sites where your target markets are likely to be reading, or searching for information. That way, you can proactively bring your ideas, products and services to them, in places where they are much more likely to be receptive and interested. And there are so many options for different budgets and campaign sizes, both online and offline.

So, are search engines worth it any more?

I'm not advocating ignoring search engines. And I do like the better paid models, such as Overture.

But I do suggest that you should be very clear about how much passive marketing you want to undertake, and whether the product or service that you're offering lends itself to this.

And if you do decide to optimize your site for search engines, pick the keywords that will be in the mindset of your customers . . . and be willing to settle for "Number Two" sometimes!

© 2003 Philippa Gamse. All rights reserved.

Philippa Gamse, CyberSpeaker, is a Web strategy consultant and professional speaker. Check out her free tipsheet for 23 ideas to promote your Website: http://www.CyberSpeaker.com/tipsheet.html Philippa can be reached at (831) 465-0317.

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