Casting a Wider Net
By YEHEZKEL LAING

Nov. 4, 2004

A look at the best ways to market products on Internet

In the new global economy, companies trade all over the world. So it is natural that the Internet, the ultimate global communication device, should become a major venue for modern business. In the past several years more and more Israeli firms have begun marketing to the world via the Web.

Ron Spinner, originally of Detroit, is CEO of Haifa-based AIMS, an Internet marketing company. Spinner got involved in the field via conventional marketing communications, with which he has been involved in Israel for the past 21 years. “In 1998 I was working on optimizing a Web site I had designed for a customer. The client told me later that he was getting a lot more hits. I realized that I could turn this into a business.”

AIMS, says Spinner, does two main things. “We help Israeli companies bring more international traffic to their Web sites. And once they come, we help increase conversions – transforming surfers into market leads or customers.”

The simplest and most basic way to increase traffic to a Web site is to optimize it for better placement in search-engine results. The world’s most popular search engine, Google, considers over 100 things on a site to determine which rank it will receive in a search. This information, however, it keeps secret so people can’t manipulate the results.

Still there are many tricks of the trade. According to Spinner, the most important thing you can do to make your site more search friendly is to simply put a lot of text on your home page.

Search engines search by words and the home page is the most important page for searches. But most people fill their home pages with pictures and fancy flash movies which search engines can’t scan for information about the site, so text is key.”

Once adding text, he says, focus it on what you are selling and not on a thousand other things. He also says, keep it simple. “Avoid using difficult terminology that only industry insiders know.” Sometimes all it takes is a small adjustment to get big results. “Once I changed the title of a Web site and got a 41% increase in traffic. Every little thing counts.”

According to Spinner, it’s important to decide on your target audience at the outset. “Most people do the opposite; they first design their site and then decide on who they are focusing.” But he also stresses that positioning isn’t everything. “You can be in a worse position in the search results and still get more hits if you have a more popular key word, so you need to look at the overall picture.”

Google also now has local sites and the results differ according to location.

Spinner says search engines are relatively primitive and a lot more can be done; for example, using ontology. While surfers input a specific word for the search engine to find, it can also look for a synonym of the same word. Another problem with search engines is that they are made only for people. Spinner says in the future a more intelligent “semantic” Web will allow a user to send out “intelligent agents” or programs to searching and bring back the results.

Another method of increasing traffic is advertising. The simplest advertising method is via PPC or pay-per-click ads. These are text ads that are related to search items and usually appear in a right-hand column next to a search engine’s natural results. The owners of the ads pay for them according to the number of times a surfer clicks on them, hence their name.

“It’s very confusing,” says Spinner. “Many people don’t know the difference between the natural results and the ads.” Still, the majority of people click on the natural results. Google claims they do it by a ratio of two to one but Spinner believes it’s closer to three to one. Each type, he says, has its advantages.

“With the natural results you get more attention but the marketer has little control over them. With the paid ads, however, you have a lot of control and you can do research to see what ad does better.” Spinner recommends working on improving both natural results and placing PPCs.

Prices for PPCs vary widely both between search engines and depending on type of product. On Google, a PPC starts at five cents per click and can go up to several dollars for the more popular searches, while on Overture/Yahoo PPCs start at 10 cents a click and there is a $20 minimum monthly charge for advertising. On Zap.co.il, a popular Israeli shopping comparison Web site, PPCs start at 30 agorot. In the UK, PPCs are more expensive and start at a 33p per click.

Meanwhile a law firm in Texas, which runs a consultancy company to the gas industry, reportedly charges the most for a PPC – $100 per click.

There is a trend today toward localizing PPC results. That means some ads now appear only in a radius of a few kilometers from where their businesses are located.

Internet advertising in Israel is still small scale. According to a poll of the Israeli advertising market conducted by Seker Yifat in 2003, Internet advertising accounted for only 2% of the overall amount or about $15m. Newspapers hold the lion’s share, $293m. or 53%; TV accounted for $248m. or 33%, and radio $152m. or 7%. The remaining 5% was from movie theater ads and billboards.

However, while Internet advertising remains small, there is huge growth while newspapers, TV and radio continue losing market share.

In the US, meanwhile, Internet advertising revenues for the first six months of 2004 were some $4.6 billion, a 40% increase on the first half of 2003.

Once you get people to come to your site you have to convert them into customers. Conversions, warns Spinner, are too often undervalued. “Most people focus on search optimization and PPCs and do not pay enough attention to conversions. But conversions are just as important as traffic or even more so. Raising conversions from 1% to 2% is just as important as raising traffic from 10,000 a month to 20,000.” The more focused the traffic, he says, the more chance of getting a conversion.

To get more conversions, Spinner says keep it simple. Another important thing is good copywriting, as well as good English. “Most Israelis think they can write all their own copy but they can’t.” Gathering a list of e-mail addresses is also a good way of getting in touch with surfers and increasing conversions. Newsletters can help in this regard. Offer a bonus so people will register to receive it such as giving a discount of 5% to 10%.