Paul Brent, The Toronto Star
Published: May 10, 2007
The Internet is proving to be the great leveler of enterprises big and small in the Web 2.0 business world of today.
A professionally designed, well thought out website can make a business look larger and more capable than it really is, while a neglected Web presence can have the opposite effect.
"People look at our company and think we are a multi-million-dollar company, when in fact we are just three years old and just hit $1 million in revenue last year," says Scott Wilson, a partner in eMotion Picture Studios of Mississauga. "But our Internet presence suggests we are a much larger and more successful company."
The family-owned firm, which specializes in search engine optimization and industrial videos, has learned appearances can be deceiving when it comes to the Internet.
"A client came in who was interested in hiring us to make a video," Wilson recalls. "I looked at his website just before the meeting and I talked with him about one of our cheaper productions," and an option to pay in instalments.
"Looking at their website, I thought the company was going to struggle to afford it," he says. "It turns out they are in 12 states and have a corporate jet."
Most companies still spend big bucks on their real-world corporate image in an effort to impress potential clients, but often neglect their virtual, online appearance.
"We're now into the age where virtual companies are not nearly as suspect as they used to be," says Richard Burke, president of Brochure Place Inc., a three-person, Internet-based printing company that does about about 85 per cent of its sales in the U.S. and uses an American-friendly 1-800 number and U.S. dollar pricing.
The low-cost brochure company, which uses third-party printers and a specialized cross-border courier, also uses the Internet to keep prices down and profit margins up.
"We operate as a virtual organization. We all operate from home," Burke says. "One of my staff is in Barrie, (the other) is in Cambridge. The people who answer my phones are in Collingwood. I'm in Mississauga. We use a sophisticated call system so you never know where that call is being answered from."
Appearances can be deceiving in the virtual world, but they are no less important than in the past.
"There was a time that on certain streets in Toronto or New York, you had a plush office with walnut desks and that was the face of your company," Wilson says. "But now it's the Internet."
His company is a good example of the transformational power of the Net. EMotion began as a provider of corporate videos, but today finds the majority of its revenue comes from search engine optimization, or SEO.
An SEO provider will customize a firm's Web presence to boost its search engine rankings for various search terms.
Executed properly, the SEO function can artificially boost a company's status on the Internet
EMotion customizes sites only for the Google search application, which accounts for the majority of searches conducted in North America today. Its goal is to get customers on the first three screens of searches, or in the top 30 of non-paid Google rankings.
While it says many of its search optimization techniques are proprietary, eMotion does offer some free advice.
First, don't build a Flash-based site. It may be pretty, but it can take a long time to load and thereby annoy potential customers. Worse, Google has trouble reading and ranking Flash, Wilson says. As well, eMotion recommends companies create specific pages of content for desired search terms, all linked back to the main Web page.
Does it work? The company says it doesn't do a lot of work on itself because the 11-person team is going flat out for clients such as Home Depot's contractor unit HD Supply.
But Wilson says Google search terms such as "trade show video" (seventh out of 63.3 million sites) and "pharmaceutical video" (first out of nearly 8.3 million sites) show the worth of the SEO service.
"The look and functionality of your website is important, but it can be a billboard in the forest," Wilson says. "That's when you build a really good billboard, but nobody gets to see it except those who are specifically looking for it or have been directed there.
"If you come up No. 1 in the world but your website is a poor experience, that doesn't do you much good. On the other hand, you may have an amazing-looking website that is not showing up on any of the searches. Not enough people are getting exposed to the website."