It's difficult not to be bombarded these days with the glowing internet trends and statistics...the bottom line is that people (read: potential customers) have and continue to flock to the internet in droves in search of products, services and information. A recent study estimates that 72% of all buying decisions now involve the internet at some point during the buying cycle (researching, considering options, buying, confirming buying decision, or post-sale information gathering). Business pundits routinely shout the
critical importance of this medium and the need for an informative/visible web presence through books, magazines, media appearances, conferences, etc.
And yet, the majority of small businesses continue to avoid, seemingly waiting for something to happen that will help them better understand and harness this technology. And that's a problem for a couple reasons. First, the internet is a wonderful place to exhibit products and services and do business.
It's a virtual storefront open 24/7 and can show products/services when the owner/management is working
on other things...a dynamic that has been very profitable for some companies.
And second, without sounding too ominous, the door on visibility through search engines is slowly closing.
As a quick primer, the "Big 4" of search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask) display the websites that are most commonly associated with related keywords. They use a ranking system so that those websites that are most appropriate for a keyword are ranked and listed at or near the top, whereas those that aren't commonly associated with a keyword are ranked much lower or not at all. What some business owners don't realize is that most of the ranking is based upon techniques utilized within the website to rank higher. That is, ranking higher is largely within management's control.
An important part of these search engine ranking systems (also called "algorithms") that determine website positions is the element of age and history. That is, within their formulas are important criteria involving how long a website has been around. (Sorry, they don't consider how long you've been in business or how old you are...wouldn't that be nice?) Some of these criteria specifically include how long you've owned your domain (www.sample.com) and the age of the links pointing to your site. These algorithms can further identify and reward companies that have been doing the right optimization activities over time...rather than all at once. The bottom line is that the search engines try to limit the visibility of domains that are new and are using the latest "quick-hit" linking techniques and reward those sites that are established, informative and have been doing the right things all along.
But further, irrespective of the age and history elements, I find most companies are just not doing the basic
things necessary to position themselves highly. As a search engine optimization professional, my estimation is that in any given industry, a handful of companies in a local area actively jockey for the top positions (and lead streams), some make modest improvement attempts and most ignore the opportunity altogether. While true that the search engines of tomorrow (5 years hence) will probably look and act differently than they do today, I can't help but think that no matter how they evolve, there's only enough room at/near the top for a limited number, and that there's no way of getting around this "haves vs have nots" dynamic.
If you find yourself in any group not active jockeying for the top position, then my advice to you is to start learning and applying those things necessary to develop an informative and visible web presence now, because that's the direction the world is going in.
The internet is, frankly, ripe with information on improving your web presence. A recent study by Microsoft showed that most small business owners avoid positioning their sites higher and tools such as pay-per-click because they don't know much about it and consider it too complex and/or too time consuming. My response is that this may be the most important area of your business today and for some time. If you don't have time to look into improving your presence, then hire someone to do it. Better yet, because things continue to evolve, find someone who will not only do it for you but can clearly educate you and keep you abreast of developments.
If the prospect of attracting more and better qualified leads to your business isn't motivating enough, then consider the downside of your competitors leapfrogging over you and gaining such an insurmountable search engine lead that you could be treading water in this area for years. I encourage those companies that are waiting for something to come along to welcome and engage in making their website visible now...before we get too far down the road.