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RealTime IT News

The Power Of Search Engines

According to Jupiter Media Metrix & NPD (March 2001), users looking for products are far more likely to type the product name into a search engine's search box (28 percent) than browse shopping 'channels' (5 percent) or click on ads (4 percent).

Based on the findings by Nielsen//NetRatings (May 2001), nine out of 10 Web users visit a search engine, portal or community site each month. They also revisit frequently, nearly five times per month.

Forrester Research Media Field Study has stated that getting a loyal audience in the first place is best done by search engine placement.

All these reveal how useful search engines can be for directing traffic to a company's Web site. "And if you are not considering search engine marketing (SEM) in your marketing mix, it is as if you are ignoring a major medium such as TV, radio or newspapers in the offline world," said Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com.

But while SEM is a key marketing tool for companies in the US or UK, the same (with the exception of Australia) cannot be said about Asia.

In Nima Yassini's opinion, the general manager of BMCOptimise, companies in Asia tend to emphasize on aesthetically pleasing Web sites. They have somehow neglected the functionality and performance aspects of their sites, said Patrick Ko, managing director of I-Force.

And if they are aware of the effectiveness of SEM, they are rather clueless as to how they can go about implementing it, Ko added.

Why Pay When It's Free
One way of getting a prime spot (within the top 20 ranking in search results) on the Internet via search engines is by paying for it.

But this is costly and is only good for short-term campaigns because each time a user clicks on the result, the company would have to pay $X amount for it, said Yassini. And not all companies are blessed with a big, fat marketing budget these days.

A better way "is to make changes within your Web site so that it can help you do better in a search engine's free 'editorial' results. I call this search engine 'PR' as opposed to buying links, which is search engine advertising," said Sullivan. "If you conduct a good PR campaign, then you can get some good, qualified traffic from search engines for free. That money saved can then be put into other areas of advertising."

If the proper navigation/indexing tool is in place, it does not matter even if a company's name begins with the letter 'Z' as "having a name 'high' in alphabetical order is only important in some search engines such as Yahoo!," Sullivan explained.

A company can choose between a 'Do-it-Yourself' (D-I-Y) or outsourcing model when thinking of using SEM as a tool.

For a D-I-Y method, here is some advice from Yassini: "Ensure that you have your title in place and title each page accordingly. And remember, meta tagging is key as consistency in meta tags plays a key role. Site maps are also essential as it allows for a quick understanding of your site by crawlers such as Google."

The other important issues to look into are links and keywords. "Ensure that you have as many relevant links pointing back to the site as possible as search engines look at external factors in determining your sites rank. Keywords, on the other hand, play a critical role in the branding of a Web site on search engines," he added.

(For more tips in this area, refer to http://searchenginewatch.com/webmasters/, especially in the "Essentials" section).

Outsourcing
D-I-Y is only feasible if a company has the relevant skilled people in place - people who understand how search engines work and how users search for information among many other criteria. Otherwise, it makes better sense to outsource the function. Two companies, a hotel and a wine broker, have decided to outsource instead.

On November 1, 2000, a hotel chain in Hong Kong decided to optimize its Web site positioning with the help of I-Force who recommended that it start with a 50 keyword phrase placements with 15 major global English search engines and three directories: AltaVista, AOL Search, DirectHit, Excite, Fast/All The Web, Infoseek/Go.com, Google, Overture, Hotbot, Iwon, Lycos, MSN, Netscape, WebCrawler, Yahoo Web Pages, Open Directory, Snap (NBCI) and LookSmart.

I-Force then aimed for the best minimum result of 'at least 25 listings' within 2-3 months after the submission. The results were much better than expected.

By mid-January 2001, there were 60 listings across the search engines. By the end of January 2001, there were more than 70 listings across the search engines.

I-Force continued to enhance the site results for its client.

By mid-March 2001, there were around 100 listings across the search engines. By end of May 2001, there were around 150 listings across 16 search engines, with an increase in the number of phrases and search engine coverage.

By June 2001, traffic directed from the search engines to the client's site accounted for about 7-10 percent of the total traffic. More importantly, last minute hotel room bookings surged 157 percent as compared to January 2001 while Web-generated revenue increased 137 percent in the same period. All these took place when the client had no online promotional activities place.

Accumulated hit rate from March to September 2001 amounted to about two million while the accumulated page view for the same period was in the upper six-digit range.

As for Australian company, Heritage Fine Wines, its Web site was initially not built for search engines navigation. But it decided that it could do more with the Web and engaged BMCOptimise's help.

All it took was two weeks of implementation period, 15 major keywords related to its business and within eight days, the company were reaping the results - it managed to come up in the top-10 ranking search results and more than 1,500 leads were generated from the search engines it was listed on.

More To Be Done
Sullivan has observed that while Asia lags behind the US in terms of embracing the SEM concept, it will 'catch up' in due time. But meantime, search engine companies have to do more to help improve the situation.

He explained: "Take MSN Search for instance - where it is used by many in Asia. The listings for MSN usually come from LookSmart, as in the case of Singapore. While preparing for our Singapore Search Engine Strategies Forum, I discovered that there is no way for those in Singapore, with relevant Web sites about Singapore, to submit their material to the LookSmart Singapore Web site because LookSmart has not enabled a submit program in the Singapore market," said Sullivan.

"And those who want to have paid listings on Yahoo! Singapore will not be able to do so because a paid listings program is not available on the site yet," he added. Fortunately, for companies who plan on using paid listings to target the Singapore market, they can turn to Google instead.

However, based on the examples given, companies "may be locked out of an important venue" even if they are aware of the effectiveness of SEM. This is where search engine companies can bridge the gap.

Join Ko, Sullivan and Yassini for a more in-depth discussion on SEM on June 17 at the DBS Theatrette, Singapore.