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Can your customers find you online?

Search engine optimization is the key to local visibility    

By Charles Zittin    

Remember the “good old days” when all you needed was an ad in the Yellow Pages to make the phone ring inseosmaller your business? Now prospective customers rarely use the Yellow Pages. And they’re not reading local newspapers either. So how can you help them find you?

The best way to reach out and touch your prospects is through your Web site. According to a recent survey by, the Kelsey Group (www.kelseygroup.com), a marketing research company, more than 70% of U.S. adults let their fingers do their walking on the Internet when seeking a local source. 

In fact, more than 1 billion local searches take place every month online. Search engines are now the No. 1 resource used by consumers looking for products and services from local businesses. Comscore (www.comscore.com), a digital marketing intelligence company, reports that 82% of local searchers follow up offline via an in-store visit, phone call, or purchase.

Think about it. If you could get more visitors to your Web site, especially targeted visitors who are searching for your product or service, wouldn’t you generate more sales? 

SEO delivers new customers to your Web site

Comscore reports that Americans conducted 14.7 billion searches in December 2009 on the leading search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Ask.com. It’s a massive audience, one that offers a wealth of opportunity for businesses that know how to target it. 

Sure, you can buy ads on the search engines, but paid sponsorship (pay-per-click ads) isn’t nearly as effective as natural (organic) ranking. More than 85% of all clicks resulting from a search go to organic listings with only the remaining 15% going to pay-per-click ads.

Because 91% of people won’t go past page one of search engine results, your site must rank at the top for its main keywords. Web sites on that first page get the most traffic, and presumably the most sales.

It’s reminiscent of the old days when businesses with names starting with “A” received the most calls simply because they appeared first in the Yellow Pages.

On search engines, you can rank high regardless of what letter your business name begins with. What matters is the quality of your Web site and how well its optimized.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making your Web site appear at the top of the search engines to increase the quantity and relevance of traffic it receives.

How search engine ranking is determined

To understand ranking, you first have to consider the mission of search engines. Their objective is to return results that best answer the search query. If your Web site is the most relevant to the search request, it will rank high.

The Internet is primarily a word-based medium. Every Web page tells its own story and should be relevant to one or more search keywords or phrases. If you’ve optimized your pages correctly, your Web site should come up when someone types those keyword phrases into a search engine.

Clear and compelling content that incorporates keywords on your pages will appeal to the search engines. However, that content should also engage your visitors, as you never want to forget their needs. Consider outsourcing the content writing if that’s not your strong point.

Stay local for success

If your business depends on local customers, then your Web site should target your local area. Focus on your city, region, or state. When people use a search engine to find a product or service, they often type in their location with a search phrase. 

For example, ReachLocal (www.reachlocal.com) measured 2,800 searches for “Jacksonville dentist” in January 2010. If you are a dentist, wouldn’t you want your Web site to come up for all those searches? The company also reported 21,427 searches for “Jacksonville auto repair” in January 2010. If you are a local auto mechanic, your Web site needs to come up for those searches or you are losing business to competitors.

Furthermore, targeting a keyword phrase such as “Jacksonville dentist” or “Jacksonville auto repair” is likely to be much more successful than optimizing your pages for “dentist” or “auto repair.” Generic and popular keyword phrases have too much competition. So, focus on your geographical area when creating content for your Web site.

Link building is next

Link popularity refers to the number of links pointing to your site from other sites on the Web. Adding links is one of the most important factors in getting top placement on the major search engines. Generally, a site with more inbound links will be positioned higher than a similar site with fewer links.

Try to obtain links from various types of relevant Web sites, including social media sites, directories, and article Web sites. Those links should go to different pages, not just your home page, in order to promote your entire site. The best technique is to spread the links around and gradually build up the number of links over time.

Web sites are dynamic

Unlike the ad you once placed in the Yellow Pages or the 10,000 brochures you printed a few years back, your Web site should not stay the same. Once built, it should forever be growing and improving. The Web sites that rank best are continually adding new content and gaining more links.

If you don’t have the resources in-house to work on your Web site, consider hiring a search engine optimization (SEO) company to assist you.

A search engine optimization company will first analyze your Web site and generate reports that show how it is currently performing. It should identify any opportunities for improvement and suggest the keywords you should be targeting.

The results of search engine optimization are tangible and measureable. Once the SEO process gets underway, you’ll be able to see progress as your site moves up on the search engines. You’ll also be able to compare your site’s positioning with that of your competition.

The search engines are where your customers are. Very simply, if your Web site doesn’t rank high on the search engines, potential buyers won’t find you. But they may find your competition.

Less expensive than most print, broadcast, or Internet advertising campaigns, search engine optimization is extremely cost effective. Best of all, it can have a lasting effect, often producing results in the form of increased Web site traffic for months and often years.

Of course, the true return on your investment in optimizing your Web site will be the new customers and sales that result from your improved search engine position.

The long-standing dominance of the Yellow Pages may be over, but in its place is a more efficient and affordable alternative to promote your business – the Internet. The potential is truly unlimited.

If you are not taking advantage of every opportunity to increase your Web site’s visibility, you might as well be the unfortunate company in the Yellow Pages whose name starts with “Z.”

zittin smallCharles Zittin is the executive vice president of SearchXcel, (www.searchXcel.com) a Jacksonville SEO company that specializes in affordable local search marketing. To contact him or find out more about local search engine optimization, call 877-400-0252, ext. 302 or e-mail info@searchXcel.com.  


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