By Jerome Toulorge, Editor-in-Chief, EMEA, eMarketing, Avaya

Most businesses today have some level of online presence, and at the very least, a website. Being online is one thing, but transforming this presence into a true business tool is another thing completely. In the UK alone there are 175 million Google searches per hour and 2.9 million Google searches per minute, so making your business stand out in this online marketplace can be a challenge indeed.

Typically, most small businesses see Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) as the best way to make their online presence felt, and rightly so. Unfortunately however, all too often these tools are implemented as a one-off answer to the problem of assuring online presence rather than as rolling solution that needs to be tweaked and refined to deliver the best results.

Like a product placed on the bottom shelf, companies that appear low in search result rankings, run the risk of not being noticed or worse, becoming irrelevant. To succeed against your competitors, you want your business to be right at your customer’s eye level — SEO can help deliver this. Search engines scan webpages and categorise them based on the use of certain “key” words or tags. SEO can ensure your website includes the words your customers, partners and potentially new business prospects are searching for, increasing the chance of them finding you. As trends change, new product lines are launched, new buzz words are introduced, or the landscape becomes more competitive, your key words may need to change to reflect these influences.

SEO can also enhance the online presence of your company adding credibility to your business. It does this by organically growing a business’ online presence through the use of web links - both inbound and outbound. By having other sites link to your website (inbound links) with similar content it helps build your credibility and attracts new visitors. Outbound links allow you to link to other sites with similar content — growing your online presence naturally.

Once your website has been optimised it’s important then to consider analytics. Web analytics measure, collect, analyse, and report on the internet data to help understand and optimise the website. SEO can provide rich information about customer behaviour online and answer questions such as:

• Which keywords bring in the most sales?
• What new keywords are customers using?
• What keywords are most popular?
• Which landing pages are popular?
• Where do your customers live?

Where SEO is a natural — and free — way to increase your online presence — search engine marketing (SEM) is the paid for side of the formula. The above combination of SEO and analytics can better help identify SEM opportunities to further support your online business goals. Through the information gathered from the SEO process, businesses can determine which terms are attracting the most leads to your site. This information can help fine tune paid for opportunities with any of the leading search engines.

These tools will not only help evaluate your company’s site traffic but will also help develop appropriate responses such as rewriting content, redesigning web pages, and securing new key words. The process should be dynamic — as industry trends change, your online presence should accompany these shifts.

Search marketing is proving to be an invaluable part of a company’s overall integrated marketing strategy and it can certainly pay dividends for small and medium size businesses looking to compete with much larger organisations online. Understanding the goal you’re working towards — whether it is increased sales or web traffic growth, or attracting new business — will allow you to identify the best tactics will help you reach your ultimate aim. The secret to a successful SEO/SEM programme is analysis, revision and re-launch.