Marketing Microsoft

Tips for Leading Prospects to Your Web Site

Follow these helpful tips to ensure your company's Web site sits at the top of prospective customers' search results.

The Internet is now one of the first places that prospective customers go to find companies like yours, and the way they are most likely to find you is by using a search engine. Indeed, 64 percent of businesspeople start their searches by using a search engine, according to a study recently conducted by Enquiro Search Solutions Inc. and MarketingSherpa Inc. titled, "The Role of Search in Business to Business Buying Decisions." Less than one-fifth of them start by going directly to a manufacturer's site, which in your case probably means Microsoft.

To reach these prospective customers, who are actively searching for the kinds of software, hardware and related services your company provides—and to have a chance of getting the sales they represent—your company's Web site has to be found near the top of the search engine results.

Why? Because even if your Web site is listed 21st from the top of the list of thousands of Web sites found, the chance of prospects clicking through drops precipitously after the first five or 10.

The good news is that the best ways for getting your Web site to the top of the search engine results can be relatively easy and often relatively inexpensive to accomplish.

So where do you start? A good way to begin is by answering these questions.

1. Are you incorporating the right keywords and phrases into every appropriate page of your Web site?

Focus first on the words and phrases prospects use when searching for products or services like yours.

If the search engines can't find and index the words on your Web site and Web pages that prospects use when searching for companies like yours, your site will never reach the top of the organic (natural) search results for those words or phrases.

With that in mind, consider asking yourself these diagnostic questions:

  • Have you asked your existing customers and prospects which words or phrases they would use to search for companies, products and services like yours? We can guess at the answers, but I've found that we are frequently wrong.
  • Did you research which words and phrases are actually used most often when people are searching? My favorite tool for learning which words and phrases are being searched most often is Wordtracker, which also offers a free trial.
  • Did you include the more popular keywords and phrases in your URLs, page titles, headlines, body copy and text links? Simply adding keywords to your code such as and isn't enough. In fact, many search experts think the search engines ignore those particular meta tags.

2. Have you designed your company's Web site with search engines in mind?

Today's search engines have trouble reading and indexing the text in your graphics, Flash animations, PDFs and dynamically built pages. Ask yourself:

  • Are you using the text that search engines can read before the graphics and Flash animations in the source code of your various Web pages?
  • Are you giving your graphics file names that include relevant keywords? Replace file names for graphics like "graphic1.gif" with optimized names like "Network-consulting.gif."
  • Are you including keywords and phrases in tags for each of your graphics? You've seen the text that appears when your mouse hovers over a graphic. That text can be read by the search engines too.
  • Are you including indexable text in the source code of your dynamically built pages? A lot of Web pages that are built on the fly from databases of content are read by the search engines as a bunch of coded instructions on where to find the content, rather than the actual words that can be indexed. Be sure to include key words and phrases that can be read in the templates for these pages.
  • Are you using the latest version of Adobe Acrobat to make your PDF files indexable for the search engines? Newer versions include meta text that can be read by the search engines. And describing the content of the PDFs in the link text or description can be a big help too.

3. Have you taken steps to ensure that the search engines can find all the important or relevant pages of your Web site?

  • Have you included a sitemap on your homepage, pointing to all of your site's individual pages?
  • Does your sitemap include lots of keywords and phrases in the page links and descriptive copy for each page of your site?

Worth noting is that Google is beta testing Google Sitemaps as an easy way for you to help improve your coverage in Google's index. It's a collaborative crawling system that enables you to communicate directly with Google to keep it informed of all your Web pages, and when you make changes to these pages. Yahoo! is testing a similar sitemap tool.

4. Have you considered the positive impact of having links to your Web pages from other Web sites?

Some of the leading search engines consider your Web pages to be more important if other important and relevant Web sites include links to your pages. With that in mind, ask yourself:

  • Have you included a listing with a link to your Web site in every appropriate online directory you can find? This includes making sure your company is also listed as a Microsoft partner in Microsoft's Resource Directory. This is accomplished by logging in as a Microsoft partner and updating your company's profile to indicate that you want to be included in this directory.
  • Have you included information or content on your site that other Web sites will want to link to? For example, you could include industry calendars of events, reference tools (checklists, calculators, etc.), how-to guides, articles, white papers and glossaries of industry terms.
  • Have you offered to trade links with your industry partners, suppliers, customers and other relevant and important Web sites?

5. Do you keep the content on your Web site's pages fresh and up-to-date?

If nothing has changed on your Web pages, the search engines will skip right on by looking for other sites with something new to index. As a result, your site might move lower and lower in the search engine results pages. However, if the search engines see that your pages have changed, they have a reason to re-index them, and you get a new chance to move your Web pages to the top of the search engine results. With that in mind, are you:

  • Tweaking your various Web pages regularly, making minor changes and updates to the keywords and phrases in the content where needed?
  • Adding new pages to your site that include in-depth content related to the most popular relevant keywords and phrases?

6. Are you avoiding the dirty tricks of search engine optimization?

The search engines want their users to find relevant results when searching.

So they frown on—and usually figure out—the sneaky tricks some companies use to try to get their Web pages to appear at the top of the search results.

When the search engines do figure out the tricks being used, and assume they will, they will change their search results criteria and may remove the offending Web sites from their directories altogether.

This actually happened to a Microsoft partner I know. So my advice is to play it straight, focusing on including relevant and popular keywords and phrases on your Web site, getting links from other relevant and popular sites, and refreshing your content frequently.

7. Have you considered buying your way to the top of the search results?

If you try the techniques mentioned earlier in this article and you still can't move to the top of the search results, consider using pay-per-click or sponsored results to buy your way to the top.

But be careful, as this approach costs you money every time someone clicks on your pay-per-click ad. And, as documented by the research mentioned at the beginning of this article, nearly 70 percent of your prospects are clicking first on the "organic" or "natural" search results, leaving less than 30 percent to click first on your paid listings.

With that in mind:

  • Consider using pay-per-click ads as a temporary solution while you work to optimize your Web site for organic searching.
  • Select your pay-per-click keywords or phrases with care. If you use broad terms (for example, buying "training" instead of "Training for IT Professionals," or "Microsoft Business Solutions" instead of "Navision Reseller"), you may spend a bundle for clicks that are not from relevant prospects.

Looking for additional guidance on getting to the top of the search engine results? If you have the resources needed to "do it yourself," I recommend the e-book, The Unfair Advantage Book on Winning the Search Engine Wars. I personally subscribe as it is chock-full of useful news, tips, techniques and resources.

If you are looking for a search engine marketing firm to handle your search engine optimization for you, consider purchasing MarketingSherpa's Buyer's Guide to SEO Firms and Paid Search Advertising Agencies.

Make search engine optimization an ongoing effort at your company. Your Web site and its individual Web pages are like an orchard of fruit trees that needs to be watered, weeded and fed if it is to keep bearing fruit.