Rick Spence, Financial Post
Published: Monday, December 03, 2007
Quick question: At your business, is the Internet an opportunity or a liability?
There has never been a more cost-efficient communications tool. But the Net is also a trackless jungle where millions of Web sites compete for attention. Yet, you can turn this wasteland into a paved driveway that delivers qualified prospects to your door.
The solution is search-engine optimization (SEO), an art that combines science, math and literature to make your site a Web magnet. "SEO is the single most important marketing and communications medium available today," says Scott Wilson, an SEO consultant entrepreneur in Burlington, Ont. "It can take your business to entirely new levels."
Wilson isn't saying that just because he sells SEO services, rather he sells SEO because it works for him.
Scott and his brother Cameron founded eMotion Picture Studios in 1999 to produce low-priced corporate videos. Their father, Bill, an industrial engineer, created a "lean-manufacturing" approach using two-person production teams and on-site editing. The result: The company produces high-quality training and trade show videos for $10,000 -- compared with $40,000 or more at the competition.
Naturally, the brothers built a Web site, but they weren't happy with the response. (Look up "trade show video" on Google and you get 74 million results.) To make their site search-friendly, they agreed to pay $16,000 to an SEO company, but cancelled the contract when nothing was working. "It was a terrible experience," Scott Wilson says.
Then a staffer suggested a new tack. "Google is just an algorithm," he said. "Let's take it apart and figure it out ourselves." Knowing they could recoup their research costs through federal and provincial R&D tax credits, the Wilsons started experimenting with Google. By setting up dummy Web sites and testing different keywords, the brothers learned enough to boost eMotion into the No. 1 spot in a Google search for "trade show videos." Today, eMotion has 20 employees and blue-chip clients in Canada and the United States.
One client, who saw how well eMotion ranked and who had been using an SEO consultant for two years and never saw a benefit, gave the brothers an ultimatum: If they wanted to produce more videos for him, they must do an SEO makeover on his site. Thirteen months later, eMotion has a full SEO consulting practice and has plans to hire 20 more staff by March. "Our SEO work now outsells our video production," Wilson says.
Wilson offers a three-part formula to reach the top of the Google charts:
Trust Before Google -- the leader in Internet search -- will rank your site, it must trust your site. You score points when other sites link to yours. Anyone can do this: "Talk to businesses you're dealing with and trade links," Wilson suggests. Seek listings in industry and community directories. Ask your staff and friends to link to your site.
Read Before Google can link to you, it has to be able to read your content. Avoid burying key content in graphics, Flash programming, or databases that the search engine can't read.
Key words Identify words and phrases people may use when seeking products and services such as yours. Find the most cost-effective terms. If you sell golf accessories, for instance, you will never own the word "golf " -- there's too much competition. Maybe you can dominate searches for "left-handed golf clubs." But you have to know how people search. Wilson found, for example, that more people search for "golf clubs lefthanded" than "left-handed golf clubs." (People will first search for "golf clubs." When they find too many results, they add a filtering term such as "lefthanded.")
For its $9,985 SEO package, eMotion asks you to submit potential search terms. Then its staff burrow into Web analytics at sites such as Word-tracker. com to find the most efficient combinations, based on how often the terms are sought for, and how common they are on the Web. eMotion tries to find 40 key phrases that are heavily searched-for, but relatively rare -- so you have less competition for seekers' attention.
Then the real work begins: making sure those keywords appear multiple times on the specific "landing pages" to which you hope to drive search traffic. The term "trade show video," for instance, appears 13 times on eMotion's landing page.
What kind of payoff can you expect? Houston-based TSM Inc. built a Web site four years ago to promote its sheet-metal fabrication services. But weeks would pass without a visitor. "We couldn't find it ourselves," says marketing management Steve Tatum.
Last summer, TSM hired eMotion to work its magic. When TSM made the first page of Google for several search terms, traffic jumped to 30, 40, then 80 visitors a week. "We get as many hits in a day as we used to get in a month," Tatum says. "And based on the traffic we've seen in the past few weeks, we're destined for more." Tatum can't say how many of these visitors are qualified buyers. But last week, one prospect placed an order worth US$140,000. The profit on that deal will more than pay for TSM's investment in search.
Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship. His column appears Mondays in the Financial Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org