Increasing Your Online Presence With Digital PR
By Sarah Skerik
Launching a new product or service? Trying to generate traffic on a Web site? Customers ignoring your online buying offers? Concerned with the perception of your brand? Lacking media coverage? Competitors getting more recognition?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, read on to see how search engines can help.
The advent of Internet has unleashed an abundance of opportunities for businesses, big and small, to connect with audiences that would have otherwise been difficult to reach. Web sites, blogs, RSS feeds, message boards, online ads and even spam are available to help businesses enhance brand recognition, increase sales and beat the competition.
Yet, if there is one resource on the Internet that exceeds all others in terms of connectivity and reach, it is the search engine. Simple in structure, powerful in performance, the search engine provides the ability to link consumers, customers, stakeholders and influencers directly with the content they seek.
How wide reaching are search engines? More than 76 percent of the American Internet population uses a search engine to conduct research online, with 39 percent spending an average of 40 minutes per month visiting the Yahoos, Googles and Dogpiles of the world (January 2004 Nielsen survey). Simply stated, almost everyone online is using search in one form or another, making it the single most important online tool for connecting people to the information they need.
In direct proportion to this rise in search popularity, today’s users have become savvier and more sophisticated in their search methods. One and two word searches are giving way to more specific multi-word entries. That means that the information a user retrieves is significantly more targeted to their needs, and the user is even more likely to have an interest or complete a sale.
Sounds like a perfect set of circumstances, especially for a small business. In theory, customers are only a few words and clicks away from your company. But as with everything in life and business, there is a catch. The Internet’s enormity can be a small business’ undoing unless the company has employed some level of search engine marketing. The search engine may be good at separating the wheat from the chaff, but without effective search engine visibility, your company will still be but one in a mass of cyber grain.
There are a few ways a company can get into the “Search” game. Some are more expensive than others. For starters, you can buy advertising on search engines. This is often referred to as “Paid Search.” With paid search, links to information on your company are found within “sponsored” or “featured” results, in which higher positions are rewarded to the companies willing to pay the most per visitor.
Paid search works well, but it is certainly not a perfect solution. For one, today’s savvy Web user recognizes that search results in the “special box” are pay-for-play. To many, this is reason NOT to click. A recent study done by Penn State School of Information Sciences and Technology confirms this statement, having found that participants, during 80 percent of their searches, were more likely to click on “organic” links rather than sponsored ones.
Secondly, paid search can get quite expensive. Before a small business spends such large sums of money, the question must be asked, “Should we allocate our scarce resources on something that many people will actively ignore?” If not paid search, then what?
Search engine optimization
Search engine optimization is a process by which information from your company’s Web site and other online materials are “tagged” in order to ensure that the information is more readily found by “natural search” results. It’s a relatively simple equation. The higher online content ranks in a search, the greater the likelihood it will be accessed.
This simple equation has not gone unnoticed by the online community. As search engines have grown in popularity and influence, an increasing amount of companies are allocating marketing dollars to optimizing entire Web sites. The only problem, of course, is as the effectiveness of Web site optimization becomes more apparent, those companies that provide such services are asking that more and more dollars be allocated. So, how can a small business with limited resources reap the rewards of optimization without breaking the bank?
Leverage your news
The news release, an age-old tool that historically has been used as a resource for garnering media attention, can also be a less expensive, yet equally effective means to draw Web users to your company.
Optimizing a news release is similar to optimizing a Web site. The first step is to write a release with specific, relevant keywords. For example, a greeting card company with a new line of humorous cards would be wise to use phrases and words such as “humorous holiday cards,” “cards that make people laugh,” or simply “funny cards.” Employing commonly used terminology will serve to extend the release to the widest possible audience.
However, casting the widest net does little good without a strong line to bring in the fish. Step two in news release optimization is to include a URL in the release that either links to your company’s homepage – or even better – the page within your site that is designed for action. If possible, use a unique ‘landing page’ – a page that can only be accessed through the news release – doing so will allow you to track the traffic and sales generated from the release.
Once the release is written in a style and format conducive to search engines, the next step is choosing a commercial newswire that offers optimization technology. When selecting a newswire be sure that in addition to higher search engine placements, the optimization tool extends the life of your news release on search engines to at least six months and provides actionable feedback on such items as which keywords were used to find your news release. These are additional features that a well-engineered optimization service should offer.
The final step is issuing the release. Working with the newswire service, select a day and time that is most attractive to your audience. For most businesses, a time in the morning or a day earlier in the week is best for a news event. However, certain businesses may be more likely to generate attention later in the day or week. Once your release is distributed over the newswire, it will be placed in a search engine friendly environment where the search engine ‘spiders’ can easily ensnare it. Within a very short timeframe, your release should appear atop the search field, providing more opportunity for the Internet public to find the information…and for the sales to register.