Branded content is still king in online search optimization

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It's no secret search is big business. In May 2005, Forrester Research's "U.S. Online Marketing Forecast: 2005-2010" projected paid and natural search would comprise 41.8 percent of total online advertising in 2007. That same study projected that online ad spending will reach $19.8 billion this year, up 14.1 percent from 2006.

Forrester also reports in "Five Predictions for the Future of Direct Marketing," February 2006, that search marketing takes the traditional direct marketing concept of hand-raiser to a new level. In many cases, marketers can safely assume that people who take the initiative to search for information on a subject, product or service are often ready to move quickly down the funnel to purchase.

For marketers to compete online today it is necessary not only to maintain an online presence but also to offer relevant content that goes far beyond offering products and services.

Retailers, in particular, should establish their Web sites as online destinations - places people want and need to visit - and often that means offering content that is relevant to their products. Content drives search and search drives content.

Online giants such as eBay and Amazon have long been models for productive natural search. Major retailers have started to make strides in optimizing their sites to meet the competition head-on.

Whereas a retailer might have traditionally relied on the popularity of the site and the brand itself to generate traffic, it has become necessary for marketers to build up their sites with search-friendly content in order to be positioned on the search engines for terms their customers use. This is a wake-up call that needs to be shouted: content is (still) king.

I recently did a search using the keywords "Type 2 Diabetes" and found retailer Target among the rankings. This is an example of a retailer that has learned the importance of search combined with the creation of a relevant online destination. The site at

http://www.target.com/ offers health information that is relevant to consumers, such as articles on weight management and exercise and activity.

Another example is Wal-Mart's online "Wellness Center" at www.walmart.com. It contains sponsored articles including "Heartburn Prevention Tips" (brought to you by Pepcid), "Am I overweight?" (brought to you by Yoplait) and "Cholesterol Primer" (brought to you by Honey Nut Cheerios).

Retailers and other marketers have the opportunity to create destinations, not only by adding content, but also by partnering with other brands looking to increase their exposure online. Brands should take this partnership opportunity to use other channels to get their message to consumers.

The concept of adding content to a site to drive search engine optimization is not new. However, new content that drives a user-centric experience is being put on display and used as a focal point. Today's search is about providing real value to consumers. And that's just good business.

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