I enjoyed your article Web Marketing 101from the Sept. 29 newsletter, but I have a few questions. Your writer talks of “”pay-per-click, a natural search and paying for search terms”” and I’m aware of these

terms, but I’ve been busting my chops trying to find out how they are done or find someone who can give me step-by-step instructions.

Furthermore, what if one has no money, like myself? I’m selling my product in person but I know I can do well on the Web as well. Since I hardly have time to run my business, how do I find time to study the how-to?

Yve R. Rochon

Business development consultant,

Your Name Sells Niagara South

www.yournamesellsniagarasouth.com

Vladimir Godunok replies:

You can spend time or money or both, but spend you will if you want to market successfully on the Web, because a search is the way most people find products and services there — some 86 per cent, according to a recent survey from Enquiro Search Solutions Inc.

You also have to understand that Web marketing requires discipline. It can take many tweaks and trials to get a campaign just right. Just as you would with direct mail, you need to measure responses so you can adjust your targeting and positioning.

The good news is that it isn’t rocket science and you don’t have to take out a second mortgage to put your Web site in front of prospects. Just use the two most popular online advertising methods you mentioned: pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO, or search engine marketing).

Think of PPC like leasing a car — it’s yours as long as you keep making the payments. Optimizing pages on your site is like buying the car — more cost up front, but you now own it. As soon as you stop paying for PPC, the referrals end. organic or natural search optimization keeps on sending you people until the keywords cease to be relevant or a competitor takes your top ranking.

When you bid on keywords auctioned by search engines such as Google and Overture, you pay only for clicks that bring people to your Web site. You make money if your maximum bid price is below the dollar value of one visitor to your site. (A Web analytics tool like WebTrends or ClickTrack can help you get an estimate of this number.) The reason PPC advertising is so popular with SMBs is that it allows you to control advertising costs by accurately targeting prospects in your niche and putting a limit on how much you pay per click, as well as a total over a given period of time.

Say you manufacture composite windows and doors. Instead of paying for keyword “”windows”” and getting thousands of unqualified prospects from window coverings shoppers to IT professionals looking for Microsoft Windows products, you may want to go for “”fibreglass windows.”” You will pay less and you’ll get visitors who are more likely to buy your latest innovation. If you want to be more creative and your service area, God forbid, just went through a natural disaster, you can expand your keyword list to include “”hailstorm”” or “”hurricane”” to attract buyers looking for stronger products.

Unlike PPC’s sponsored or featured results in a search report, where higher positions go to the companies paying the most per visitor, natural or organic search results are determined by each search engine’s algorithms, which rank pages on your site on each keyword or phrase according to a number of criteria. The most notable criteria for Google are the frequency of the occurrence of keywords, the presence of keywords in a page title and headings and the popularity of the page, as evidenced by the number of pages on the Web that link to it and their rank. In short, it’s about content and its relevance and value to your target market.

While PPC offers instant gratification, SEO requires much more effort, and it may take a few months before see your site’s ratings rise. The consolation is that the long-term results are significantly better.

In both cases, you need to know your customers and learn their online search habits for the products and services you sell. This lets you effectively position your online offerings and make the buying experience as user-friendly as possible for those most likely to buy.

A key factor in deciding between the two approaches or a combination of them is the fact that a significant minority of people don’t look at the PPC “”sponsored”” or “”featured”” results in a search report, according to recent surveys. People know PPC listings are a form of advertising rather than a page of relevant content.

There are many SEO and PPC specialists out there, but it is buyer beware. Be sure to check out a service provider’s reputation and track record. Those offering guaranteed results or pay-for-performance services must be carefully evaluated as this is a new Web speciality and performance can be tricky to measure and evaluate.

But let’s not miss the forest in the trees. You can get all kinds of traffic from pay-per-click and/or high search rankings and still not turn a profit if your Web site fails to convert traffic into sales. Adopting Web usability best practices can definitely help because it’s one of the most cost effective ways to improve not only conversion rates but also the user experience and user return rates. After all, the search results page — the list of your competitors — is only a few clicks away.

Vladimir Godunok is senior consultant at BonaSource Inc., a Web consulting and development company based in Toronto that builds Web sites and produces extranets and other specialized Web portals with a focus on usability. He can be contacted at vg@bonasource.ca.

Got a question for our experts? E-mail us at smbexpert@itbusiness.ca.

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