Growing Sales with Search Engine Technology

Oct. 10, 2008
Poor visibility could be costing your company money.

Has your business development tapered off? Are you losing potential sales to a competitor? Search engines have become more important in the B2B space, and poor visibility may be costing you a lot of money.

It doesn't take much for a company to erect a website, load it with content, and attract some traffic. Web-based communications, however, have evolved from simply projecting corporate strategy to actually driving it. Nowadays, what distinguishes a top-flight website from the rest is how consistently it generates qualified leads to help grow the business.

Google, and other search engines, are a catalyst in this process. As people look for products and services on the internet, a website's authority inevitably works its way into the research process. Imagine this scenario: a large food manufacturer, in light of recent changes to food labeling guidelines set forth by the Food & Drug Administration, needs to replace an artificial colorant with a natural alternative. The Purchasing Manager responsible for the procurement of new ingredients might begin a Google search with the query "natural red food colorant."

A wide variety of factors would dictate a given website's rank among the search results: the age of its domain, the freshness of the site's content, its legibility to search engines, and the authority of the links pointing to the site. This particular query primarily shows page after page of retail sites and educational resources. The Purchasing Manager, unlikely to find these sites useful in her pursuit of industrial quantities of raw material, might give up in frustration.

If she instead typed the query, "supplier of natural red food colorant," this would yield different results. She would find a results page populated with resources more closely related to the trade of these food colorants -- in other words, skewing more toward ingredient sourcing directories, industry journals and home pages of manufacturing and distribution companies.

Virtually every user of the Internet is a search engine user, and Google's own market share is estimated at 62% (comScore July 2008 estimate). Perhaps the biggest reason for Google's dominance is PageRank, a patented algorithm which estimates the relative authority of all the web pages in Google's index. In this view, when a website links to an external page, it has cast a vote of confidence for this page. Adapted to an index of over one trillion web pages, these relative judgments create a vast "hierarchy of trust" for all the content available on the Internet.

Why did the first query show the results it did? Based on the keywords present in the query, Google trusted those sites to give the searchers what they were looking for. Based on its own internal analysis of trends in search queries and their subsequent click-through patterns, Google was able to determine that for this type of query, the likeliest scenario is that the searcher is looking to buy some food colorant, use it in a recipe, or perhaps learn more about how they are produced. It simply trusts those sites, more than manufacturers, to meet the needs of the searcher. With the subtle addition of the word "supplier" to the query, Google in turn perceived that the searcher's intent was more industrial in nature, this being a term used more frequently in a business context.

The problem is, individuals such as the Purchasing Manager might give up after the first search went awry, telling themselves, "there are some things you just can't find on Google." On the other end of the failed transaction, a salesperson will miss out on a qualified lead, and be forced to resort to other vehicles of business development: cold calling, road trips, trade shows, and so on. These may be perfectly good ways of generating leads, but that Purchasing Manager was a slam dunk -- and there might be plenty of others out there just like her.

For the manufacturer, appearing in the first, broader query would represent a quantum leap. The company website would be positioned in front of qualified individuals such as the Purchasing Manager, and the website content could easily be tailored to deflect distracting sales or customer service inquiries. Moreover, a secondary opportunity presents itself. By increasing visibility of its natural food colorant in the eyes of consumers, the manufacturer indirectly supports its customer in the creation of demand for finished goods. As this consumer awareness makes its way through various feedback loops, manufacturers and distributors in the colorant business become more likely to take a phone call from an interested party.

How, then, could the manufacturer leverage Google to generate higher-quality business leads to its website? A cross-platform approach would work best:

  • IT weeds out duplicate content, dead links, and other server burdens which interfere with search engines looking to index the site's content.
  • Marketing creates a public relations campaign to build trusted inbound links from sources such as educational institutions, regulatory agencies, and reputable industry publications.
  • Sales and/or Customer Service constantly convey feedback from the market, for direct implementation in the website's content.
  • Finance implements analytics tracking software to calculate the Return on Investment (ROI) across channels and customer segments, and budget resources to the most profitable segments.

By researching and leveraging the most profitable keyword investments in both organic and paid search listings, the company would create a sustainable machine of new lead generation, well-tailored to its audience.

A variety of marketing agencies and software vendors offer Search Engine Optimization (SEO) products and services. A minimal investment in these competencies, implemented with an orientation toward building a trust profile in cyberspace, creates a virtuous cycle of business development which pays for itself over time.

Paul Burani is President of Clicksharp Marketing, a full-service agency specialized in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and other digital marketing functions.

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