From Hunter to Hunted: The business impact of prowlers on the Web

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Business people have a hunter?s mentality. They need it to pursue and capture enough new business to successfully compete. They spend thousands of dollars and hours attending trade shows, conferences, seminars and networking events with the primary goal of cultivating new business relationships. They make sales calls, send postcards and blast e-mails, all in pursuit of their most desired prey: new customers.

These time-tested tools have served the business hunter well. But the times they are a-changin?. And, thanks to Google, the hunted have become the hunters, as customers are taking control of how they discover potential vendors. Business owners must now make it easy for prospects to hunt them down.

Power to the Prospects
E-mail currently is the tool of choice by which businesses of all sizes interact with customers and prospects. According to The Kelsey Group, e-mail is the primary daily online activity of 77 percent of the people surveyed in a recent study. Studies show, however, that up to 75 percent of e-mail is perceived by its recipients as unsolicited, junk or unsolicited junk, which means that not everyone who receives your e-mail is in the market to be captured. That?s why the average response rates of e-mail campaigns are in the neighborhood of 2 percent to 5 percent. Basically, your sales cycle isn?t matching up with their buy cycle.

Most buyers only buy when they are ready to. And when they are ready, they morph into hunters, with their tool of choice being Internet search engines. A Nielsen/NetRatings study found that 5.3 billion Internet searches were performed in February, up from 3.8 billion in February 2005. The study also found that the average Web user performed 43.1 searches this February compared to 33.2 last year. ?Search? is rapidly closing in on e-mail as the primary daily activity, according to The Kelsey Group, with roughly 50 percent of all Internet searches going through Google. As a result, businesses of all sizes are expected to spend $5 billion in advertising on search engines, up from $2.4 billion in 2004.
How can search engines direct hot leads directly to your business?

Search Engine Optimization and Marketing
Most everyone understands the basics of ?search? on Google. Some-one motivated to learn and/or buy something types in a word or two and gets back a list of links to Web pages that include those words, with a short description of the page?s subject matter. These results are deemed ?organic? because they are based on algorithms Google created to determine the relevance of the links to the search term. Google doesn?t accept payment to get your page higher up the list. But there are ways to get listed higher up on the returns list through search engine optimization, or SEO. Being listed in the top five or six links increases your chances of being clicked by four to five times. The farther down you are, the less the likelihood you have of being clicked at all. So if you want people to know about your company?s products and services, you can hire an SEO consultant to get your pages optimized so that they rank high on search terms related to them. You could even do it yourself if you feel comfortable dealing with HTML.

The other way you can take advantage of searching is through the Google AdWords search engine marketing program. AdWords allows you to bid on search words or phrases. Google will then place the winning bids in the list of sponsored links in the right margin of the results page.? If you go to www.google.com and type ?toys,? you?ll see the organic results in the main section with the sponsored links off to the right. Even with optimized Web pages there is no guarantee that you?ll show up at the top of the results list, so AdWords gives you the opportunity to bid for a top spot. And bidding can mean spending as little as 10 cents each time a person clicks on your sponsored link during a search.

Adding to Your Tool Chest
When your site is shown in both organic and paid results for a search, searchers click one of your listings more than 90 percent of the time. As the impact of ?search? grows it will be even more important for companies of all sizes to use the tools. A recent survey found 43 percent of search engine users are seeking local merchants to buy something offline, and 54 percent of searchers have substituted Internet search for the phone book. Google, with more than 80 million searchers a month, is a good place to start your efforts. Google also includes other popular services, such as GMail (a free e-mail service used by millions), Google Video and AdSense, its network of member sites that places ads of relevance on millions of sites across the Internet.
Other search engines to check out are Ask Jeeves, MSN Search, Metacrawler, Yahoo! Search, Dogpile, Teoma, AltaVista and Vivisimo.

Brent Leary is a partner with CRM Essentials, a customer relationship management consulting/advisory firm. Check out his blog at www.brentleary.com.