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Hear That Knocking, That's SEO With Business At Your Door

Aug 17, 2007
"What have you Googled lately?" Ask anyone that question 10 years ago, and you would have gotten a strange look. But now, Googling is a part of life. When we need something, increasingly, we search for it on the Internet.

From a branding perspective, Google has much in common with the Kleenex's, Xerox's and Rollerblades of the world. It's a brand name that has become the name for a category-a far cry from the time, not that long ago, when only the urban hipsters with Tony the Tiger shirts knew what Google was.

The Yellow Pages may not be gone, but their star is fading quickly as more and more people turn to Google (or other search engines) when they need to find a product or service. Why? Better, more complete and up-to-date information. No contest. When someone looks up a company in the phonebook, they get their address, phone number and maybe some flashy ad graphics; depending on how much money they spent on the ad. On a Google search, they get a link to the company's website, where you can find as much information on a company and its offerings as you need.

For things like books, tickets and music, Googling will often lead to an instant purchase if the price is right. But even for more "considered purchases," where one competes on more than just price; Googling is often the first research step buyers take to arrive at a decision. They search keywords and combinations of keywords, comparing each set of results to the next, looking for the most relevant information.

In a perfect world, people would systematically study three to five competitors in a selection set, write down the pros and cons of each and come to a calculated decision. But a perfect world isn't the real world. Here's what happens: if a search result looks promising, the buyer will click through to the company's website and investigate the possibilities of a match further. If it looks like a fit, case closed. Customer won. No
further research required-even if someone's out there with a better deal waiting.

This is why being on this "short list" of high-ranking search results is imperative in this day and age-the higher the better. Top rankings give you the chance of having prospective customers knock on your virtual door, knowledgeable about your offerings and eager to buy before you ever say a single word to them.

Don't be ashamed of self-Googling

Come on, you know you've done it: typed your name into an Internet search engine such as Yahoo or MSN. Don't feel embarrassed. We all do it. It is, after all, interesting to see what others are saying about you.

In a business context, it's not narcissistic at all. It's smart, especially when you're trying to build your brand online. But besides looking for your specific name, try looking for your category. For instance, if you're a Denver widget maker, look up "Denver widget" or any other combination of keywords or phrases relevant to your business. Where do you rank? Top two? Top 10? Top 1000? It doesn't take a genius to figure out the top five results will get a lot more clicks than Numbers 75-80. Are you where you want to be?

How top-ranked websites get their positions

Especially for the most competitive keyword searches, companies must engage in a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, which encompasses strategic smarts, hard work and clean code.

How search engines rank your websites

Computer programs called "spiders" are responsible for visiting, indexing and ranking web sites. Each search engine has its own spiders with somewhat differing methods for ranking the websites it finds, and there are strategies you can use to make yours more appealing-and also mistakes that can negatively affect your rankings.

4 SEO Urban Legends

Legend #1: You can muscle your way into top rankings. Maybe in 1999, but not anymore. Simply repeating a bunch of hidden keywords on your page or in your META tags no longer fools the search engine spiders into giving you high rankings. Algorithms that power the software behind these spiders have become much more advanced, and employing tactics like this will more likely hurt your rankings than help them.

Legend #2: It starts and ends with traffic. Many people will click themselves repeatedly in the hopes of boosting their search rankings. However, this is a futile effort because spiders don't care one bit about traffic.

Legend #3: I can get rankings cheap from those nice folks sending me all those emails. If you fall for one of those spammer schemes, you deserve to be ripped off! Seriously though, you'd be paying good money for a clerical job you could easily do yourself. But even if you did do it yourself, you would run the risk of getting even worse rankings. It's like membership at Augusta National-if you say you want it, you won't get it. Search engines regard repetitive submissions as desperation, which they reject wholeheartedly.

Legend #4: A Search Engine Optimization service guaranteed a Top 10 position on Google. In short, nobody can legitimately do that. Such guarantees are a telltale sign of snake-oil salesmanship. Here's how the scam works: technically, they live up to their end by getting you top billing on a search term of their choosing, which is so specific to you that only your mom would likely search on it.

Smarty-pants spiders

Search engine optimization is far more complex than it's ever been. The obvious shortcuts to great search engine rankings have long since been identified and shut down by the search engine companies. These days, high rankings have much more to do with the structure of your HTML code, your acumen at avoiding "trip wires" that send spiders away, where certain keywords appear on a page, how you use JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheets and where your formatting instructions appear in relation to your website copy. If you used a WYSIWYG code-writing program-such as Front Page, GoLive or Dreamweaver-you almost certainly will get a much lower score from the
spiders.

It really does take a team of people, like the kind we have at Brand Identity Guru, dedicated to monitoring the everyday changes on the battlefield to maintain a high-ranking web presence. And it does change frequently-search engines are notorious for changing their search algorithms often.

What about pay-per-click?

Organic ("free" or "natural") rankings are completely different from sponsored ("pay-per-click" or PPC) links. PPC can be an effective part of a brand's overall online marketing strategy, and a lot professional SEO companies work with clients to design PPC campaigns that are both cost-effective and eye-catching. But PPC won't substitute for SEO. High positioning on a relevant keyword search on Google, with its reputation for returning highly relevant results, bodes well for your brand in a way that sponsored links just can't. However, neither is it wise to engage in an all-SEO, no-PPC strategy. Serious online brand marketers get the best results with a comprehensive strategy run by professionals with both the branding and technical know-how to determine the right mix of the two.

Yes, it's complicated.

But you get back a lot in return for your investment of time and money. A more "Googleable" online branding strategy will quickly yield improved sales and a more visible brand on the web, which, in turn, will also positively affect your bottom line.
About the Author
Scott White is President of Brand Identity Guru a leading Corporate Branding and Branding Research firm located in Boston, Massachusetts.
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