Ten times as much money is spent on paid ads on search services like Google as is invested in search engine optimization, yet both methods convert browsers to buyers at approximately the same rate, according to Jason Billingsley, vice president of e-commerce technology vendor Elastic Path Software. What's more, he adds, free listings are clicked on up to 200 percent more often than paid ads.
How do you make your Web site "organically" pop up in the first five results of a potential customer's Web search? Billingsley offers three suggestions for improving a site's organic search results:
1. Search-engine-optimize your press releases. A few services offer help. PRWeb, for instance, conducts keyword research to find at least two relevant search terms that a company's target audiences are likely to use for a news search. It then edits the press release, optimizing it with the relevant search terms so it will rank well in Google News. PRWeb also builds links from a press release to relevant content on the company's Web site. PR Newswire offers Search Engine Visibility, reports that let customers see what keyword combinations Web visitors used to arrive at their news releases. PR Newswire also lets customers see how many times news release readers took the next step and clicked through to the customer Web site from a URL embedded in the news release.
2. Use Froogle. Free product inclusion into Google's comparison shopping engine often brings surprisingly high-ranking results.
3. Blog or otherwise contribute to community sites. "Writing rich content for syndication to sites pertaining to your field delivers traffic and increases search-engine optimization," Billingsley says. "In fact, MySpace outpaces MSN at delivering shoppers."
U.K.-based gift and gadget retailer I Want One of Those turned to search-engine optimization to get its site noticed. "Our previous Web site architecture had search-unfriendly URLs," explains Sagar Vadher, the company's head of IT. "The way that Google works, we would rank low." Although every page on the site contained product information and keywords, the page URLs contained no keywords or product names. Instead they were "really horrible" alphanumeric strings containing unrecognizable product ID numbers. After using Elastic Path software to help rewrite the URLs, each page URL contains a category name and product name. "Having those terms right in the URL makes it simple for Google to find," Vadher says.
Iwoot.com's results are hard to calculate at this writing, as the site's traffic is always high around the holidays, averaging 45,000 visitors per day. Also complicating measurement are brand awareness efforts that are driving visitors straight to the site, thus changing the usual ratio of search-driven results. "Most of the evidence is anecdotal, but I have seen an improvement in the way natural search works," Vadher says. "We're in the top four or five [results] for standard searches around gifts and gadgets. If you search for 'racing grannies,' [which appears under the category 'Kitsch and Daft'], we're usually No. 1 or No. 2." The most telling number has been the overall conversion rate of visitors into buyers. Where last year it averaged 2 percent, this year it's 2.9 percent, almost a 50-percent increase. That's a huge return on a small investment of time and effort. --Penny Crosman
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