October 5, 2007 Jacksonville Business Journal
Businesses large and small can improve their bottom line by improving their Web searchability
There are an estimated 1.17 billion people regularly using the Internet nowadays, according to the research Web site, InternetWorldStats.com. That means small businesses really can sell their wares locally and globally — if potential customers find their Web sites.
If you build it and they don’t come, your Web site just isn’t doing its job.
“There are millions and millions of little Web sites that are very nice looking, but compare it to a beautiful billboard,” said Chris Patterson, CEO of information technology/Web site development firm InterChanges.com. “If it’s in the middle of the woods, it’s not doing any good. You need to take that billboard out of the woods.”
An effective Web site, with good content, will only attract and retain customers if it ranks high on search engines such as Google, Yahoo or MSN, thus making search engine optimization a key part of any Internet marketing strategy.
One strategy is to pay for a higher ranking. However, a good IT company or in-house staff guru also can use organic search engine optimization methods.
“Internet marketing has evolved quite a bit from just 2003, particularly search engines,” said Shaleen Shah, president of Seventhman, an Orange Park-based software and Web site development company.
“There used to be a time when businesses would add metadata, key words and things like that, that helped them get ranked on search engines,” Shah said. “Whereas now, search engines have evolved so much, it’s almost an art to [know what it takes to] be ranked well. This is especially true when you want to get ranking for high-frequency key words.”
That was the case with The Waterhouse Group and its high-frequency key words, such as the words “sales” and “training.”
“I have been involved with the Internet since it was a top-secret military tool,” said Steve Waterhouse, president of the sales and training consulting firm. Waterhouse isn’t kidding — he’s a former Raytheon Co. design engineer who worked on the Patriot missile. “We started early using the Internet as a business tool back in 1991 or 1992.”
Waterhouse’s company, also based in Orange Park, enjoyed high search-engine rankings all that time until about three years ago when it slipped. That’s when he contacted Seventhman.
“They got us from, I think it was [being ranked] in the 20s, and in a matter of weeks, we were at No. 1,” Waterhouse said. “We have sat at No. 1 since then.” That means when the keywords “sales” and “training” are queried on Google, The Waterhouse Group pops up at or near the top.
The Waterhouse Group was getting about 15 to 20 unique visitors a day, but is now getting more than 100 each day. “I get all the leads I need just by being No. 1,” Waterhouse said. “My business does just fine simply from the Internet [-generated] business.”
Useful content that is updated regularly is key to attracting customers, Internet marketers said. “You want to have the right information for people doing their due diligence on products or services,” Patterson said.
Useful content also improves a site’s ranking on the search engines. “Google really values content. So, you can please Google and position the products or services at the same time,” Patterson said.
“I would put that around 20 percent to 25 percent,” Shah said. “How fresh the content is also makes an impact, 5 percent to 10 percent. A tremendous amount is created with link-building with other Web sites.”
The criteria for Web site rankings are complicated and in constant flux. So when hiring a company to give a site a boost, it’s important to look for current experience and good results. The big search engines have spent years refining algorithms to prevent artificially inflated rankings. Officials with those companies frown on attempts to game the system.
“Google has penalties if they do some ‘black-hat’ approach to search engine optimization,” Shah said. “These search engines, when they find these tactics, [Web sites are] penalized.” Those penalties might even include being banned from ever being highly ranked.
InterChanges.com helped egg-incubation equipment manufacturer NatureForm Hatchery Systems strengthen its Internet presence not only by updating the look of the company’s site, but also raising its rank among the search engines. Steve Warren, vice president of NatureForm, said traffic on its old Web site was “spotty.”
“We definitely weren’t pulling internationally from it and it just wasn’t a very impressive site from an image standpoint,” Warren said. Now, “We’re getting a couple thousand hits every month.”
New business opportunities generated from NatureForm’s Web site increased 44 percent within the first 180 days after InterChanges.com’s work. The number of unique visitors grew 57.56 percent in the first 12 months.
Warren said NatureForm nearly doubled its sales volume in 2006 over 2005 and that sales will be up 40 percent in 2007.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re selling real estate or auto insurance or chicken incubators. If you sell nationally or internationally, you definitely need to make sure you have a strong Internet strategy,” Patterson said. “It’s not just big national companies. It’s also for local small businesses looking to increase leads and improve customer service or credibility.”
This is particularly true as more people jump online to look for local information. According to a survey by Searchenginewatch.com, 74 percent said they conduct local searches, with 45 percent of those local searches being conducted with the intent to buy.
Businesses “are finding the old way of marketing is just not working as well as it used to because the Internet is dominant,” Patterson said. “People are much more comfortable going on the Internet and looking for their product than looking at billboards or listening to radio ads or flipping through the Yellow Pages.”
– Dolly Penland
Jacksonville Business Journal