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Putting the O in SEO

Lisa Doyle
  • In moving up Web search rankings through search engine optimization, brands may translate those extra page views into sales.
  • With effective SEO, even the smaller companies can compete with the major players.
  • It’s in a company’s best interest to actively monitor what is being said about it in social networks, and parlay social media activity into brand Web traffic and sales.

If your business has a Web presence, the name of your company will probably pop up on the first page or two when it’s plugged into a Web search engine, such as Yahoo! or Google. However, what about the general type of products you sell, like shampoo or moisturizer? Chances are, you’re facing stiff competition for keywords like these, and your Web site might be overlooked by the search engine, and as a result, the potential customer. Many companies in the beauty industry are now actively working on their search engine optimization (SEO) in order to move up in search rankings, and translate extra page views into sales.

In-house vs. The Pros

Tempting as it may be to attempt SEO on your own, hiring an outside company for guidance often proves to be a worthy investment—especially because the Web is ever-changing. “Only a small minority of companies keep up-to-date with Google’s likes and dislikes, when it comes to ranking well on Google,” says Nick Bell, business development director of Melbourne, Australia-based Web Marketing Experts. “To learn SEO for fast, effective results takes years of trial and error.”

Ian Strain-Seymour, director of online strategy of Apogee Search, headquartered in Austin, Texas, agrees. “When companies plan to learn SEO on their own, it often just doesn’t happen. People are so busy with day-to-day operations, it’s difficult to find time to do this,” he says. “Plus, there’s a lot of false material on the Web, and you can ‘learn’ SEO techniques that will actually end up getting you removed from Google, banned or blacklisted. Then you have to figure out why, and put in your requests to get re-included.”

At Your Service

What exactly does an SEO consulting firm do? It varies. Some companies offer a complete package—including ongoing testing, Web design and development, e-mail click-through tracking and more, while others focus primarily on keyword rankings. Apogee Search recently added the service of conversion optimization, which means tracking how many visitors made a purchase on the Web site, and then improving the site to entice more visitors into making that purchase. “We analyze a Web site’s goals for its performance, and we test to see how we can make it perform better,” explains Strain-Seymour. “For example, we’ll run two to three versions of a shopping cart on a Web site to see how many items people will buy with each version.”

In 2007, Bath & Body Works was at the forefront of SEO when it hired San Mateo, California-based Coremetrics to gauge traffic on its relaunched Web site. Through the Coremetrics Benchmark program, the company compared the performance of against that of its direct competitors, and thus analyze how and why Bath & Body Works could improve its product page, navigation and landing pages. The results within a year? A 13% increase in visitors who reached a product page, and onsite search conversion (visitors who both used the site’s search function and made a purchase) rising by 31%.

With effective SEO, even the smaller companies can compete with the major players. SkinB5, a small, home-based Australian skin care business, contracted with Web Marketing Experts in an effort to achieve online success. Not only did Web Marketing Experts outline a complete online marketing strategy integrating SEO, they also redesigned SkinB5’s Web site. “Attracting traffic is only half the battle,” notes Bell. “The site must be able to convert traffic into sales.” The combination of services proved to be powerful for SkinB5—within a year, its annual sales went from $30,000 to $1.2 million. Moreover, the organic rankings of search terms, including “acne cure” and “Vitamin B5” keep it in the first and second pages of a Google search.

The Social Media Link

Companies in every industry should note that their brands and products are turning up in more and more searches due to people posting links on blogs, Twitter, Facebook and more. A way to stay ahead of the curve is capitalizing on social media first. Steve Goddard, president and founder of Pravana Naturceuticals, credits social media as a key factor in his company’s success. “We’re using Facebook to bring people to our Web site, and we’re really trying to triangulate every message we put out,” he says. “We use it to push the consumer to our Web site, but we’ll also put together incentives—they can visit the site to get a free DVD on color, for example.”

According to Strain-Seymour, it’s in your company’s best interest to actively monitor what is being said in social networks. “You search for a company’s name, and part of what you will find is information on Twitter or someone’s blog—these are found separate from the manufacturer or reseller site. A blog may say, ‘I love this product, I’m very loyal to it,’ or it could be the flip side,” he says. “These comments can really influence a buyer.”

Consider This

Even with a professional in your corner, a company shouldn’t expect to see overnight results. However, you should see significant improvement of your key search terms within a reasonable time period. “If it’s a keyword that’s not very competitive, it could take only three to six weeks,” notes Strain-Seymour. “But, if you want to rank on ‘iPhone’ or ‘lipstick,’ that could be a nine- to 18-month-project to be among the highest-ranking terms.” Bell agrees, also citing the age of a site as a factor in its SEO success. “A client can see results in one to three months for sites that are six months and older, but new sites can take three to eight months,” he says. “Google prefers aged Web sites.”

Additionally, most companies contract with an SEO consultant on a long-term basis, as the consultant can continually improve their rankings as the Web sites evolve. “Month to month, we improve and build links on their sites,” says Strain-Seymour. “We will get a company ranked really well among certain terms, and then we will switch to work on other terms. Then as it adds products, we improve the SEO for these new terms as well.”

The cost of contracting with an SEO consultant long-term can range anywhere from $1,500 per month with a smaller firm offering fewer services to up to $15,000 per month for a full-service SEO and Web marketing operation. The decision of how—and how much—to invest is up to each company, but Strain-Seymour offers a tip to get your money’s worth: “Find out how many hours the consultants expect to do per month. The figure should work out to $75 per hour on the low end to $250 per hour on the high end.”

Lisa Doyle was formerly the associate editor of GCI magazine and is a freelance writer in the Chicago area. Her work has appeared in Skin Inc. magazine, Salon Today, America’s Best, Renew and Modern Salon.

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