n my 25 years of marketing and communications work, the wisdom of advertising guru David
Ogilvy has often been a source of inspiration and, sometimes, ammunition. My favorite Ogilvy pearl
is “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative” — a shot I’ve fired at a few graphic designers and
marketing operatives over the years.
Most companies understand that advertising can’t just look good, it must issue a call to
action and motivate customers to buy. But recently, it has become apparent that in the world of
e-commerce, you don’t even have to look all that good to play big and sell big.
As Jose Ferrer of Practical Business Systems says, “E-commerce is about code, not cute. And,
no, your nephew can’t do it — unless your nephew is a programmer.”
Since the Internet began seeping into the world’s consciousness in the 1990s, more than 100
million sites have taken up residence on the World Wide Web. There are 1.1 billion people worldwide
with access to the Internet, and 229 million of those are in the United States.
E-Commerce: A Growing Sector
Internet sales are growing at a rate of 28 percent every year, with e-commerce sales in the
United States alone expected to have exceeded $100 billion in 2006. That’s the good news. The even
better news is that $100 billion represents only 3 percent of the US retail economy, so it’s not
too late to get into a game where small companies can sell as effectively as mass marketers.
Some of you are thinking: “The Internet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. We’ve had a website
for years, and we’ve seen very little impact on our business.” Trouble is, many companies created a
website, struck it from the marketing checklist, and declared, “OK, that’s done.” If that’s the
case, all you have is an electronic brochure, not a viable e-commerce site that can significantly
There are more than 200 million Internet searches performed every day in the United States,
with 85 percent of Internet traffic getting to websites via search engines such as Google, Yahoo,
MSN and AOL. What that tells us is that our websites first should talk to the search engines, then
to the consumer.
Traditional marketing methods will steer traffic to your website, but it can be a slow and
costly process. Banner ads, online directories and pay-per-clicks have their place. But, when you
stop spending, sales generally drop.
Search Engine Optimization
Companies that are experiencing
marked growth in Internet sales are effectively using search engine optimization (SEO) rather than
search engine marketing (SEM). By definition, SEM is the process whereby you pay the search engine
an agreed-upon amount for each click delivered to your site from a listing keyed to a specific
search term. SEM is easy to do, and you can join at anytime without having to sign a long-term
contract. However, it can be expensive to achieve the desired level of traffic, it can be extremely
competitive, and competitors can sabotage your efforts. For example, let’s say you’ve agreed to pay
25 cents per click and you’ve allocated $250 per month for your search engine ad. A competitor can
click on your ad 1,000 times — your $250 is spent and your ad disappears from the search engine.
SEO, on the other hand, is the process of choosing targeted keyword phrases related to a
site and ensuring the site places well when those keyword phrases are part of a Web search.
Optimization involves making pages readable to search engines and emphasizing key topics related to
your content. You don’t pay for placement or clicks; rather, your site is programmed in such a way
as to enable the search engine robots to match search criteria to the content of your Web pages.
As Ferrer explains it, you want every page of your website — not just the homepage — to be
indexed by search engines, and you want as many Web pages as you have products. If your company has
250 products and each product has a separate page on your website, you have 250 opportunities to be
indexed by search engines.
SEO is the rifle approach to marketing, rather than the shotgun method. With SEO, you define
your target market to understand exactly what customers are looking for. Then, you develop the
content of your website with specific words and phrases that you know will get their attention.
Internet users have become sophisticated, refining their searches to describe exactly what
they want to purchase. For example, say you want to buy a tabletop exhibit online. You know exactly
what you want — a 6-foot tabletop exhibit, charcoal in color, with a light package. Googling ‘
tabletop exhibit’ nets 410,000 results for websites that offer tabletop exhibits. Typing ‘6-foot
charcoal tabletop exhibit with light package’ narrows the results to 23,800 websites. The further
the search is refined, the fewer sites there are to research.
If a seller of tabletop exhibits has described in detail all of the models offered and
displays them on separate Web pages — allowing each to be indexed by the search engines — the
chances of receiving top placement are significantly increased. It costs nothing other than the
upfront costs for programming, and the time and energy to keep the site updated.
Perhaps the best benefit of SEO is the ability to include programming architecture to track
and measure results. By reviewing queries made by those who have visited your site, you can see
precisely what they typed into the search engine and the path they took to get to your site. This
allows you to continually update your site with key words and phrases consistent with customer
Increasing market size, market share and sales is the reason to have a website for your
business. Bringing traffic to your site is far more important than award-winning design, rotating
graphics and flash. No matter how good your site looks, there will be very little traffic if the
search engines can’t find it.