Web sites that lack search engine visibility are losing business. Second only to e-mail, the most popular activity for U.S. Internet users is information search—67.3 percent of users perform searches, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. And an estimated 40 percent of Internet users are using the web to make product or service purchases. Statistics show that if you want shoppers to purchase from your web site, you must make sure they can find you when using search engines.

In many respects, consumers are more knowledgeable about what they want, and businesses are playing the catch up game. Search engine visibility is being approached cautiously by mainstream business. While they’re adopting this marketing strategy slowly, their competition is gaining precious attention and premium visibility from strong optimization techniques. On the Internet, business size doesn’t matter nearly as much as the ability to be found in a search.

With the Internet becoming an integral part of each person’s personal and professional life, search engines have become the yellow pages of Internet commerce. When you want to find a product or service on the Internet, you probably open a web browser to the search engine you like the best and type in what you want. Unlike the yellow pages, search engines don’t take your money or ask for your permission to list your web site. And how is that so?

Once your web site is created and launched, search engines will find and rank your web site automatically based on your content. Again, they don’t ask what words you’d like to be listed under, but rather allow your web site to tell them what words are most important. If these words aren’t carefully optimized during web site development, you risk having a wonderful web site that’s invisible to all of the search engines.

Optimization focuses on designing pages within your web site to attract search engine spiders—the automated robots that crawl the web to include documents in the search engines’ databases—to the words under which you want your web site listed. Web site design skills are a must to optimize a web site’s pages properly. When optimization isn’t taken into consideration during the development of your web site, you have two options to improve your search engine visibility. You can turn to a search engine optimization expert for keyword, content, and optimization advice or rebuild your web site all over with search engine visibility in mind.

Which of these you choose will be based on how the existing web site was created. For instance, if your web site was created using Macromedia Flash, then your web site has very little possibility of ever ranking well with the search engines and will require a lot of work to improve. The reason Flash sites don’t perform well with the search engines is because a Flash web site is one large file a search engine doesn’t know how to read. If it can’t read it, it doesn’t know what words to list it under. However, if your web site was created using standards-based Internet programming languages, such as HTML, PHP or Java, your web site has substantially increased its potential to rank very well in the search engines without a lot of effort.

You might be asking yourself why anyone would want to use Flash for a web site if it performs so poorly in the search engines. The answer is that Flash is very graphical and aesthetically pleasing. If it’s done well, it looks really good, but it’ll never list well on natural search results. Does that mean you should never use Flash on your web site? No, Flash never was intended to be a web site development environment. It should be used to enhance a web site that’s built with a programming language mentioned above.

Search engine visibility is key to a successful web site. For searchers to consistently find your web site, you must be ranked prominently in the search engines. The average Internet user will look through the first two to three pages of search results to find what they’re looking for. That means you have to be in the top 30 for a searcher to find your web site.

I suggest you try an experiment for yourself: using the search engine of your choice, search for your company’s web site using the name of your company. Does it rank well? Now, search for it using the product or service names your company provides. How do you rank now? These simple tests will give you an understanding of how hard your customers have to search to find and do business with you. Marketing efforts can be substantially more successful with high visibility on search engines.

Whether you have a web site or are just thinking about creating one, you should remember that a web site, no matter how great it looks, won’t get any visitors without giving some thought to search engine optimization. IBI