Profitable Internet marketing isn't magic, says David Ponn, CEO of Search Optics Inc., a firm that specializes in helping auto retailers with online efforts.
“All you need to know to be successful are a couple of simple facts,” he says. “The people who build Internet search engines are running flat out to stay ahead of the marketers who manipulate Internet search engines. You absolutely need to know who's ahead at any given moment.”
Automotive retailing is about generating quality leads and converting them to sales, Ponn says. “If you're a dealer, nothing else matters.”
Until search engines such as Google came on the scene, the Internet was a chaotic place with eight billion pages filed in random order and no index.
There is no way to alphabetize the Internet like a phone book, so the search-engine companies set out to organize the world's information on the Web.
“What makes Google, Yahoo and MSN viable is relevance — the ability to sort through those eight billion pages, plus all of the new ones added each day, and quickly deliver the page most relevant to the searched terms,” Ponn says. “That's a much more difficult task than simply indexing them.”
Google began asking the people who put pages on the Internet to describe them, and the meta tag was born. That is a bit of keyword coding on a Web page that the search engine detects. Using meta tags, Web builder could tell a search engine which inquiries their page was relevant to.
“It worked like a charm, until marketers figured out that salting Web pages with meta tags — mirroring words commonly used in inquiries — would drive traffic to their sites,” Ponn says.
So the race was on for Google to redefine relevance.
Next, the search engines began looking into the content of Web sites for relevant information. In response, marketers started using high-frequency search words in their copy.
The search engines again shifted gears and started evaluating Web sites based on how they were linked to other Web sites. Marketers responded with hundreds of dummy Web sites that existed only to link with their real pages and drive traffic to them.
Now, Google et al. are starting to look at what people are saying about a Web site as a way to determine its relevance. Marketers are beginning to catch on to that, too.
“Once upon a time, meta tags were an important part of a Web site,” Ponn says. “But that was three full generations of search-engine evolution ago. Today, you still need meta tags on your Web site, but they account for less than 5% of its total search engine score.”
Another misconception is that there's only one right way to do search-engine optimization, he says. “Actually, there are many approaches to SEO, and you need to be doing all of them all the time.”
He rebuts the idea that a Web site click in and of itself somehow becomes a showroom sale. “What you need are not clicks, what you need right now are phone calls from motivated customers who know you have something they want to buy,” he says
Clicks matter when they turn into something a dealership can close, such as a phone call. “Web site should spur those phone calls,” Ponn says.