Does Your Website Make the Cut?

Earlier this year, Google rolled out Panda, a big update to their search algorithm. The goal of Panda, and all of Google's algorithm updates, was to improve the quality of Google search results. Google waved its massive wand one day, and poof, tons of businesses instantly lost substantial brand visibility. Others, however, reaped the benefits.

Why do I bring this up? Because when it comes to your website, regardless of whether you optimize it for the search engines, your mission should be the same as Google's: to present your users with a quality website.

Site quality is more than just looks. It's more than just content. And it's more than just navigation and usability. Site quality is a combination of all of the above. Within a matter of seconds, your website should leave a positive impression on a prospective customer. Because if it doesn't, you can be sure they'll simply go elsewhere; clicking away is easy to do and there are no shortage of options.

In short, if your website doesn't convert traffic into sales, investing in online marketing will be a big waste of money. So how do you measure site performance? Read on.

Two Options for Search Engine Exposure:

Google gets three billion searches a day around the globe. My math skills (er … calculator) tells me that's nearly 35,000 searches per second. Per second! And that's just Google!

So what that means is, whether you're a Mom 'n' Pop shop targeting a local market, or a Fortune 1000 company with a global audience, strong and relevant search engine visibility can substantially grow your customer base. The question is, how do you reach them?

There are two sides to the search engines. There's the "organic" side, and there's the "paid" side. The difference? Simple: You pay for paid listings.

Establishing a brand presence in paid listings is commonly referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) marketing. As the name suggests, you pay each time someone clicks on your ad, and the amount you pay depends on what you and your competitors are willing to bid for that keyword.

With organic listings, you can't pay to be there. Establishing visibility comes down to how well you optimize your website, as well as off-site factors, such as link building. Nowadays, social media also play a big role when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). The search engines are personalizing search results whenever they can, even going as far as putting recommendations from your Facebook friends right within search results. (That's right: the search engines likely know more about your friends than you do.)

The search engines also personalize results based on your location. To see it in action, go to Google and type in "restaurants." Even though you didn't tell Google where you are, it knows, and will spit back restaurants in your area.

Where to Begin?

SEO vs. PPC. Social media influence. Personalized search results. Where do you begin?

Focus on the low-hanging fruit. For example, if you're a local merchant that sells shoes online and in your brick and mortar, first make sure you have solid local visibility. Do a search for "shoe stores" and see what comes up. Identify local directories like Google Places, Bing Maps, and Superpages, and make sure you have an optimized business listing in each.

Geo-target your PPC ads to more cost-effectively generate traffic, and see what works. You may also consider AdWords Express, which is an option Google provides to local merchants who don't have a ton of time to manage their PPC campaign.

Once you have a strong local presence, branch out. But continue to focus on your strengths. Don't target the keyword "shoes." You'll be up against over a billion Web pages on the organic side, and you'll break the bank on the paid side. Instead, ask yourself, what are my strong suits?

Maybe Crocs are your No. 1 seller. More specifically, slingback Crocs. Orange ones. In this case, the keyword "orange sling-back Crocs" makes a lot of sense. While search volume is lower than "shoes," you'll get more qualified traffic to your site with less investment in time and money.

Measure, Test, Refine…Then Measure Again:

You know the best part about online marketing? It's measurable. In most cases down to a very granular level. You don't have to question if something is working or not, because the data is right in front of you in black and white.

Here are some basic tips for measuring performance of your online marketing efforts:

1. You Need Analytics

There are a variety of web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics, which allow you to measure traffic to your site, and the impact of that traffic. If you haven't already, do some research to figure out what type of analytics tool meets your needs, then install it on your website.

2. Set Goals

Before developing any online marketing campaign, ask yourself what success will look like, and by what date you want to see that success. Also figure out which metrics will allow you to determine if goals have been met, such as ROI or cost per conversion, and track those metrics with your analytics tool. For a lead generation campaign, if possible, track the progress and source of those leads all the way through the sales process.

3. Establish Benchmarks

In some cases, you may not have apples-to-apples benchmark data, such as when you're trying out a new marketing initiative. In other cases, you may be retooling a legacy campaign, in which case you'll want to establish benchmarks to determine progress moving forward. For example, what was the ROI on this PPC campaign over the last 12 months? It's always a good idea to compare year-over-year data given seasonal highs and lows that many businesses experience.

4. Test and Refine

Once you've set goals and established benchmarks, you're ready to launch, monitor, test, and refine. It's important, however, to make sure you give any campaign some time before making changes. If you launch a PPC campaign and don't make a sale in the first 10 minutes, it's okay. Give it a few weeks so that you can accumulate sufficient data to make informed decisions.

What you measure may be a little different for each marketing channel. But the nice thing is, you have that ability. And it extends offline too. Think creatively about how you can integrate your online and offline presence, and how you can measure impact of that integration. For example, put a quick response, or QR code in your brick-and-mortar storefront window that links to a dedicated landing page, allowing you to confirm the source of that traffic.

In today's digital world, there's no reason to question the value of your marketing efforts in one form or another. Simply measure it.

Bulger is the marketing manager at Traverse City-based eFulfillment Service, Inc., a leading national fulfillment provider specializing in inventory storage and product fulfillment for e-Commerce merchants. www.eFulfillmentService.com, 231.276.5057.

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