by Michael Shade, IQS Editor
For better or for worse, successful contemporary business models must include a web marketing strategy. Success in business is and always will be a function of product quality and customer service, but as the Internet becomes more thoroughly integrated into how people live, it must also become integrated into how people do business. There are two ways to look at this task that virtually all companies are now facing: as an obstacle or as an opportunity.
Scholarship loves to look at history and divide it into periods, and the history of the Internet is not an exception. A nascent form of what is now known as the Internet existed as early as 1969, but around the early 90s the period now described as Web 1.0 began, and with it were ushered in the earliest message boards, e-mail clients, hyperlinked scrolling banners and all of the rest of what could now be considered the original building blocks of the Internet. Many of these ingredients seemed at the time like novelties as opposed to serious tools. Until the incorporation of search engines like Google and Yahoo! in the late 90s, navigating the random smattering of websites online at that time was an impossible task. Search engines became the new libraries of the Internet; at first their contents were all piled in one room, accessible through simple search functions. But as time went by and as technology developed, search engines refined their ability to bring relevant results to their users. Around this time, the ears of the business world began to perk up.
Businesspeople started finding their competitors’ books in the Internet library. They couldn’t bury them, so they had to find a way to make their own books more visible. It was at this point that the transition from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 began. Words like Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing began working their way into businesses’ vocabularies. Strategies ranging from improving user experience to gaming the search engines’ algorithms emerged. And as search engines, Google in particular, became increasingly involved in the world’s experience of the Internet, they decided to start shaping the search results they provided based on what they perceived to be the merits of the web sites they indexed. As of this moment, two or three search engines manage almost every search query on the Internet. The business world is all too aware of this reality, so it has rushed to adapt to the search engine giants’ standards. This is true for manufacturers, shopping centers, restaurants and even news agencies.
Today, a 1st page, 1st place listing on Google is like a billboard in the library’s entrance. Whether a company sells steel tubes or tube socks, if it has cultivated a web presence, and if that web presence is design-oriented and search engine-optimized, that company is likely to occupy a prime spot in search engine results for queries related to their services. Because search engines are increasingly the main avenue by which customers access the products and information they need, top tier organic search engine rankings have become solid gold real estate. While the ins and outs of Search Engine Marketing are complicated, the fundamentals of good business web design are these: exceptional content, high user accessibility and interactivity, good keyword use and placement and, increasingly, active involvement in social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
While it is clear that it has significantly influenced global commerce, in some ways the advent of search engine marketing, web optimization and e-commerce generally has not been completely paradigm-shifting. A web site’s success, which can be measured by its search engine rankings, its number of visitors and the extent to which it contributes to revenue generation, depends on the quality of the company and services that the site represents. It has been demonstrated that web design strategies that attempt to manipulate search engines often fail, while design that focuses on user experience and continued innovation yields improved rankings, increased traffic and, ultimately, greater revenue.