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Searching For The Answer? Maybe The Answer Is Search by:Jay Nagdeman

Searching For The Answer? Maybe The Answer Is Search by:Jay Nagdeman
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It is easy to forget that the Internet has had a very short history. It all began in 1968, when the Department of Defense (DOD) initiated a project to develop a reliable computer networking system. By 1972, the systems structure was in place and transmitting the first-ever e-mail. By 1973, an expanded system was communicating with the ships at sea and, via packet radios, with troops on the ground. In 1974, developers implemented a standard protocol that allowed communications among all networked computers, regardless of their operating system.

Although the project was funded primarily by the military, the supporting information was not classified. The developers, which included universities across the country, posted the software and source codes on the network as "freeware." The resulting research and development led to the introduction of the World Wide Web at a scientific conference held in Geneva in 1989. Shortly thereafter, the Commercial Internet Exchange (CIX) was established to provide a universal commercial connection point to the Web. The Internet as we know it was born.

Engines of Change

Soon, a significant amount of information began to accumulate on the Internet. In response, two unrelated pairs of doctoral students took two very different approaches in their quest to develop a mathematical structure that would organize this content and, by extension, enable users to retrieve it efficiently. The work of one team led to the introduction of Yahoo! in 1994, while the work of the other team led to the launch of Google in 1998. The stage was now set for a new world of commercial activity on the Internet.

The launch and subsequent refinement of Web search engines completely changed how people used the Internet. Now that anyone could quickly find the information they needed, the Internet was much less intimidating and much more user-friendly. Today, search activities comprise over 80% of online transactions, with U. S. users alone conducting 9.5 billion searches each month.

With the vast amount of content available on the Web, virtually any search yields hundreds of pages of results. In fact, a recent search for the phrase "financial services marketing" found 203,000 exact matches. Research has found that very few users look beyond the first few pages of results. In fact, 85% of all new web traffic comes from search engines and 81% of search-generated traffic comes from the first three pages of results. Therefore, any financial services organization that wants to drive traffic to its web site must take positive steps to ensure that it consistently appears in the first few pages of search results in the major search engines.

Being A Search Optimist

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comprises an interrelated series of activities that seek to improve a company's organic ranking on major search engine result pages by promoting the site based on its content and purpose. Effective SEO takes into account the dozens of variables that search engines use to compute the "relevance" (or importance) of a given site. These variables include linguistics, site design, usability, amount of content and linking patterns. In addition, the search engine industry and the algorithms it uses are extremely dynamic. Any site that does not meet a search engine's rules and protocols will not appear in that search engine's results pages.

Internet search activity is driven by keywords, the words and short phrases that web users enter to find the information that they need. Keyword selection is a critical step that can have a long-term impact on the success of any organization's online marketing initiatives. Therefore, the optimization process begins with focused research to select keywords that will attract qualified traffic to the site. Keywords should be specific and relevant to the content on the subject page. Words that are too general can appear in searches that have little, if any, relevance to the site.

Search Engines periodically "crawl" sites to determine their relevance based on keyword selection. To determine how a given page should rank in the search engine's databases, the search engine robots, or spiders, read only certain areas of the page and evaluate the page's links. Therefore, each page should be optimized by making special efforts to clearly identify the relevance of the page using coding to focus attention on titles and descriptions, body text and images.

Rising to the Top

Currently, there are three basic search approaches:

- Organic Search (natural search or free search) is the original form of search ranking. Rankings are based solely on the relevance of the Web site to the keyword(s) entered. Marketing can generate higher organic results for selected keywords by using Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to manipulate Web site design, copy and coding. While SEO can drive traffic over a longer period than Paid Search, it is very time and labor intensive.

- Paid Search (pay-per-click advertising or PPC) guarantees preferred placement to Web sites that have purchased the relevant keyword(s). The highly visible "Sponsored Links" areas generally appear on the top of search engine results pages. While PPC is characterized by quick implementation and adaptability, the cost of popular keywords can escalate rapidly. Other forms of paid search-e. g. contextual advertising, banners, etc.-have also proven effective.

- Paid Inclusion (paid submission) involves paying a search engine to review the Web site for possible inclusion into their search index. While paid inclusion increases the odds that the site will enjoy high placement in the organic search results, it does not guarantee high rankings.

The Bottom Line

Today, the Internet is probably the most effective way for a financial services firm to gain national visibility for its products and services. Because few financial services firms have fully leveraged the power of the Internet, this is an excellent time to cost-effectively achieve competitive advantage. Any organization serious about Internet marketing should begin with a systematic Search Engine Optimization program to improve their organic (unpaid) rankings on major search engines.

About the author

2009 Jay Nagdeman. All Rights Reserved.

Jay Nagdeman is President of Suasion Resources, a specialized financial services marketing organization that helps financial organizations enhance revenue growth with disciplined marketing approaches that create relevant marketplace differentiation and focus marketing resources where they will receive the greatest returns.

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