Search Opportunities Abound for DMers

Do the biggest Internet retailers fully use search engine optimization and marketing to maximize Web site visitors, traffic and profits? That was the focus of Oneupweb’s new study, “There’s Still Money on the Table: Internet Retailer Study 2005.”

As you can guess from the study’s title, the short answer is no. However, the research is promising, as it shows that e-retailers are making slow but steady progress. But it’s clear that they still miss profitable opportunities.

What can direct marketers learn from this new data? Similar to Oneupweb’s May study on the optimization levels of Fortune 100 companies, the new study, which analyzed the top 100 Web sites of Internet Retailer magazine’s Top 400 Guide, found that the vast majority of leading e-commerce companies do not completely buy into search engine optimization and marketing or aren’t aware of all the possibilities.

Here are the optimization levels of Internet Retailer’s Top 100, as found by Oneupweb (compared to 2004’s findings in parentheses):

• Well optimized: 17 percent (12 percent).

• Moderately optimized: 25 percent (23 percent).

• Nominally optimized: 35 percent (29 percent).

• Not optimized: 23 percent (36 percent).

Other important findings:

Paid search. Of well-optimized sites, 53 percent used paid search. That figure rose to 68 percent for moderately optimized sites, fell to 40 percent for nominally optimized sites and plunged to 26 percent for those sites not optimized at all.

Analytics. Forty-seven percent of well-optimized sites used some form of analytics, down to 44 percent for moderately optimized, 28 percent for nominally optimized and 21 percent for the not-optimized sites.

It’s clear that search engine optimization and marketing are still not conventional wisdom for the majority of online retailers. But that’s changing daily. DMers increasingly see the benefits of SEO/SEM, and they’re preparing to strike very soon.

If that describes your situation, here’s a search marketing plan crucial to the immediate and long-term health of your online enterprise. Though these initiatives all should be implemented as soon as possible to maximize performance, they don’t have to be tackled all at once. Put out the fires closest to you first, then think about maximizing results.

Step 1. Share this article and the Internet Retailer study with key members of your marketing team. Ask them: Where are we on this? What’s been done? What’s planned?

Step 2. Schedule a brainstorming session. The questions posed at the end of the study are useful in spurring out-of-the-box ideas and results-oriented conversation:

• How are you positioned in the marketplace? This is akin to checking your vital signs. How’s your online health? What, if any, emergency procedures need to be performed? The prescription often is a quick paid search strategy to get fast results this season, followed by planning a natural optimization effort for next year.

• Have you tested your paid search campaign? Many elements go into it: search behavior research and analysis, keyword research, creative testing, landing page design and testing. There are lots of questions: Does your headline work? Did you offer a clear benefit in your ad, like free shipping? The goal is to run at full capacity as soon as possible to maximize results over the long term.

• Are landing pages converting visitors into buyers? Are you using landing pages, or are you just sending prospects to your home page, hoping they stumble in the right direction? Landing pages are the salespeople of the Web. When your prospect clicks on a paid search ad, a landing page greets them with a clear offer and a clear pathway. Image, color, promotional offer and content all influence the efficacy of your landing pages. That’s why testing them is key.

• How big is the search market for you? The study makes this point: “Learn how many people search for information on your industry, products/services and even your company name. The difference between those searching for your industry, products and services and those searching by your company name is your company’s search marketing opportunity. To understand the sales impact, take your typical conversion rate of that huge population and multiply it by your average sale.”

• Does your Web site get the attention it deserves from search engines? Getting listed on Google’s first page increases both traffic and conversion rates – a double bonus. The first month, traffic triples. The second month it doubles again to more than six times the traffic it had before achieving a first-page position. And a greater percentage of that traffic will convert to sales – an incremental 42 percent more the first month and nearly double the second month – not to mention the brand impact.

• Do you have a long-term plan to integrate traditional advertising with search marketing strategies? Marketing needs many branches today: DM advertising, public relations, SEO and sales promotion. But to maximize results, all these approaches must be integrated and streamlined. That’s the biggest challenge for marketers, but it’s also the one with the most potential.

Step 3. Act! You need actions, timelines, deadlines and a budget. SEO done well isn’t a hobby – it’s a profession, and you should take a professional approach to it. Assign a champion to take charge, take responsibility and get people excited. Get in the search marketing game before your competition does.

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