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Nearly every company has a Web site, right? From your local stationers to the major corporation, the Internet is home to billions of Web sites.

If you look at the bottom of Google's homepage, it states, "Searching 8,058,044,651 Web pages." Not long ago, MSN touted five billion Web pages. You're from Mars if you don't have a Web site, because the Internet has become an accepted means of business communication, networking, advertising and marketing.

Your average business Web site has come a long way since its "brochure days." Savvy businesspeople have learned a lot about Web site design and usability, especially the importance of designing and testing landing pages to increase conversions.

But has corporate America discovered the importance and effectiveness of organic search engine optimization (SEO)?

Are corporate Web sites well optimized?

Not yet, according to recent research and media reports. In a study of top retailers, OneupWeb found that only 12 out of 100 sites were well optimized. This made a marked difference in their respective search engine rankings.

Well-optimized sites got top listings that yielded extraordinary increases in traffic and conversions. However, the non-optimized sites were nowhere to be found in the first three search-results pages.

Another OneupWeb study of Fortune 100 corporations yielded similar results. Well-optimized sites got the top rankings that dramatically improved their bottom line. However, less than 10% of America's top corporate Web sites were optimized to reap these rewards. Good news for the few companies in the know.

This research was based on 2003 and 2004 data. Will 2005 be the year that corporate America wakes up to discover the importance of organic SEO?

Search marketing comes of age

Lately, search engine marketing (SEM) is on everyone's mind. SEMPO research shows that advertisers intend to spend about 39% more on search engine marketing programs in 2005 than in 2004.

That sounds promising, but the bulk of the money spent on SEM programs went for paid placement (sponsored listings), not organic SEO. In 2004, 83% of SEM expenditures were allocated for paid placement ads, versus only 9% for organic SEO. Similar patterns are predicted for 2005. On the bright side, half of the advertisers surveyed said senior management was very interested in SEM programs and considered them a high priority. Another 36% said their senior executives were moderately aware and interested.

What's necessary is to educate senior executives on the effectiveness and long-term durability of organic SEO, in addition to its excellent ROI for the marketing dollar.

What defines organic SEO?

Organic SEO consists of technical and editorial Web site optimization services to improve your Web site's communication with search engines. Major tasks include a site review of back-end items, search-appropriate HTML coding, and SEO copywriting of major pages. Also recommended are Web analytics and competitor analysis. The goal is to provide the necessary elements to attract search engine spiders and acquire high-ranking listings in the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo and MSN. Once a site is optimized correctly, its organic results are long lasting with periodic maintenance.

Not only are organic listings longer lasting than paid listings they're also more valuable. Research shows that 70% of search engine users click on organic listings, whereas only 30% click on paid listings. Organic listings are preferred because most Internet users respect an unbiased search result over a paid or sponsored result.

Another good feature of organic listings is that it's easy to track your return on investment, unique visitors and increased conversions. With a good Web analytics program in place (e.g., Web Trends, ClickTracks), you can take baseline measures before the optimization campaign and then again three months later to see the initial gains.

Here's what you need to know before conducting a search engine optimization campaign, starting with your budget allocation.

1. Funding your SEO program

SEMPO research shows that only 43% of advertisers created new budgets for organic SEO, and these were mostly large companies. Most advertisers shifted money from existing marketing programs to fund SEO or used a combination of new funding and shifted funds.

If you need help in building up a budget for SEO, there is an excellent article on SEMPO that gives suggestions on how to lobby for an SEO budget.

2. Setting your site goals

It's very important to establish and prioritize your site goals—whether branding, increasing sales or generating leads. SEMPO research shows that most companies want to increase brand awareness. Next in line were selling products/services online, generating leads, increasing traffic, generating leads for distributors, and providing information/education. So you can establish primary and secondary goals of this nature.

It's also important to know and understand your customers so you can optimize for the key terms they use to find you. You can get feedback from customers a number of ways, including requests for feedback when customers take action on your site. Another great resource is to have a site search function. You will find out what your customers are looking for, and this will supplement the info from your server logs and other keyword analysis tools when identifying your relevant key terms.

3. Selecting an SEO agency

A reputable SEO agency can help optimize your site for better rankings. Most agencies will offer a cafe-menu of SEO service options. Reputable firms will also provide reports on traffic and conversions, per your specifications. When selecting an agency, you should clearly define the services that will comprise your SEO campaign. Such services can include these:

  • Technical site review
  • Complete keyword phrase research
  • Body text edit/copywriting
  • Title tag optimization
  • Description tag optimization
  • Manual submission
  • Paid inclusion
  • Linking strategies
  • Creation of new pages
  • Paid search options
  • Reporting and tracking

What spells success?

It used to be that high rankings and increased traffic were the major goals of search engine optimization. Currently, return on investment and increased conversions are of more interest. ROI is important because of tight marketing budgets.

It's important to know how far your marketing dollar goes. As for conversions, it's not unusual to see case studies reporting a 40-50% increase in sales (or desired action) in six months to a year. One case study broke it down to spending 15 cents on advertising out of every dollar in sales. Whatever your measure of success, it's easy to document with organic SEO.

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Paul J. Bruemmer is founder of trademarkSEO ( Reach him at