Got Traffic?

Many of you read Greg and Emily’s column last week, “Optimize THIS.” I enjoyed it myself and agree wholeheartedly that you don’t want to put all your effort in search engine optimization. You need a well-balanced marketing plan to meet your objectives, one that fits your niche and your industry.

That said, listen up when they suggest marketing the old-fashioned way by building relationships with key audiences, creating brand awareness, and maintaining a site that attracts visitors. Excellent advice for anyone operating a web business.

But I also think it’s smart to make search engine optimization a part of your marketing strategy for a number of important reasons. First, you can’t deny the stats; they’re impressive and have remained consistent over the years. Secondly, you can’t beat the search engines for qualified, targeted traffic.

Actually, there’s a third reason. Search engine traffic is trackable, and now we can even track conversion/ROI. But that’s a topic for another column that I promise to write later.

Search Engine Stats Prevail

It’s a well-documented fact that more people find sites through search engines than any other method. A number of other methods for finding sites have been investigated. Users find sites through banners, books, email, friends, magazines, newspapers, other web pages, print collaterals, radio, sig files, TV, trade shows, word-of-mouth, Usenet and other methods.

GVU studies since 1994 have shown that 70 to 80 percent of traffic comes from search engines. The stats in favor of search engine traffic have been as high as 88 percent in 1996 (see GVU Seventh User Survey) and have become lower since then due to the development of new web promotion strategies. Below are the relevant stats showing that search engine traffic is valuable.

  • The GVU Tenth Study (October 1998) says the likelihood of searching with intent to buy is 75 percent. (This is the last GVU study conducted, the Eleventh study has been delayed.)
  • In 1999, ActivMedia rated web site promotional methods and ranked search engine positioning at 66 percent. That’s higher than email (54%), print brochures (42%), print catalogs (40%) and trade shows (37%). (Note: This link is not available, but the ActivMedia study has been quoted many times.)
  • In a May 1999 Jupiter Communications study, 70 percent of consumers surveyed said they relied upon search engines to find out about new web sites. Other findings suggest that search engines account for 50 to 85 percent of ALL web site traffic.
  • A 2000 IMC Strategies phone survey revealed that 45.8 percent of users discover new sites through search engines.
  • Search engines get over 150 million unique visitors, and Internet users conduct several billion searches on search engines month after month.
  • NEC Research says there are around 1.5 billion web pages, an 88 percent increase from 1998. This suggests 1.9 million web pages are created each day. IDC expects the number to hit 8 billion in 2002, exceeding the world’s population (from The Industry Standard). The search engines attempt to index them all.

Search Engine Traffic Is Qualified and Targeted

The traffic you get from search engines and directories is highly qualified. There are people looking for your products and services 24/7 from around the world. If you’re not there, they’ll go to your competitor.

Compare this kind of traffic-with-a-purpose to the looky-loos who click on interesting banner ads. They may not be in the market for the product, but curiosity is a powerful lure. The argument for banners is that they brand. And they do. I put branding at the top of my list. Banners can also be designed for direct response with good results, especially with rich media. But don’t leave out search engines for cost-effective, qualified traffic.

How qualified? Well, the Tenth GVU study referenced above included questions on the likelihood of searching with intent to buy. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they searched to buy, and this makes sense intuitively as a part of shopping behavior.

Did you know you could target with search engine listings? All other forms of advertising center around targeting an audience. You can do that with search engines, too. Just use your keywords to target the audience you want.

Greg and Emily made one last point about search engine optimization that deserves comment: “Over the last few years, marketing mavens and IT propeller-heads alike have tried to trick the search engines by burying false key words (read: sex and all its sordid permutations) into the HTML code, using competitors’ names as meta-tags and other sophomoric pranks.

This has become very rare in today’s environment because the search engines have devised methods to detect and prevent spoofing, cloaking, spamming and other illegal techniques. But it’s a good idea to emphasize what you DON’T want to do:

  • Do not use submission software to automatically submit several of your page/s to several engines randomly, without first verifying the page/s are not in the engine databases.
  • Do not use your competitors’ trademark name as a keyword or phrase to attract your audience.
  • Do not use inappropriate popular and/or misleading keywords and phrases to attract an audience to your site.

So, does your marketing plan need search engine traffic? I’d say yes, if you need to generate quantity and quality if you want a web site promotional method that’s preferred over all others and if you want a cost-effective strategy that fits into your integrated marketing plan. But you be the judge.

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