Everybody knows that after you build a Web site, you must drive traffic to it in the form of clients, prospects and referral sources. Without traffic, nothing is possible. It

In the brick-and-mortar world, the solution to no sales can include many steps, but the first is to simply put up a sign. How can any business possibly sell product unless customers know the store exists and that it is open for business? The same is true with the Internet. If you want to sell a service or build a brand, you have to attract visitors to your Web site.

Suppose you decide to drive your family to Florida for a vacation. Suddenly, you begin seeing signs for a roadside attraction called "South of the Border" - branded with an exaggerated Mexican bandito wearing a large sombrero and the tagline "Kids Rule!" The sign states: "Only 175 miles to go!" Subsequent signs mark your proximity to the fun: "Only 165 miles to go ... 155 ... 145 ... ." Later, the signs appear every mile - each with a wacky new icon - but consistently visible.

Clever, sure, but you might ask: What's the cost of all those billboards? It must cost a fortune to lease the space, erect the billboards, maintain them, and change the signage.

However, what if South of the Border negotiated a special deal with all landowners and the sign company so it only paid a fee each time a car enters their property? That would move the company's marketing efforts from clever to genius!

Under this scenario, because the company's investment in roadside signage is based on a variable expense, rather than a fixed fee, they would only pay for the customers that actually visit their "site." Smart.

To adequately record traffic, the company would implement a special counter to measure visitors coming from every possible direction. They would track where traffic originated based on license plate and the number of occupants in each car. South of the Border no doubt would invest a great deal of time installing this tracking system, but it would insulate the company from paying excessive marketing costs and offer more bang for the buck in the long run.

The South of the Border solution would be even easier to manage if all prospects were driving down the information highway. The leading search advertising and tracking solutions (Google, Yahoo and Bing) do just that - allowing businesses to advertise to their defined audience(s) and only charging when prospects visit the company's Web site. In fact, with the release of these solutions, advertising on the Internet has changed forever.

The way it works is easy: Search engines allow anyone surfing the Internet to find your site free of charge. However, successful businesses take this one step further and work to elevate their sites to the first page of search results. This is called search engine optimization. Beyond the first page, yoursite is buried behind pages of search results, many of which will be your competitors. To make it to the coveted first page, your site has to be extremely popular and linked to hundreds of other sites ... or you can use the search engine's pay-per-click service. Though the first option is more attractive, it takes time to get there, making the second option the practical choice.

These services enable you to advertise only to those visitors interested in your products or services. You pay the search engines only if your ad is clicked. They even sweeten the pot by providing users with a treasure trove of data regarding site visits. This is a perfect variable expense scenario! Who wouldn't want to advertise directly to people interested in their service and only pay for actual hits to the Web site? All large search engines apply this basic model.

When surfers search Google, Yahoo or Bing, advertisements are presented based on the advertiser buying certain keywords or phrases that match the search term. If your firm specializes in construction accounting, you would purchase keyword phrase combinations that include the words "construction accounting," such as "Florida construction accounting" or "construction accounting tax implications." Depending on how high you bid on each keyword and your daily budget, your ad will appear when anyone searches with a term that includes those terms. When your ad appears, it is called an "impression," which you do not pay for. You only pay if someone actually clicks on your advertisement. If you divide the clicks by the impressions, the result is called the click-through rate.

The goal is to have the highest CTR possible, because that is the measure of traffic to your site. When calculated by different ad campaigns, it helps determine the effectiveness of those campaigns.



If your business plan requires getting traffic to your site, the search engines and their pay-per-click model is probably the most effective solution. Just be aware that, like placing South of the Border signs along highways, proper planning of your overall marketing program is crucial to drive prospects to your site and get them to stay for a while.


Barry Friedman, CPA, is chief executive of BizActions, a B-to-B e-mail newsletter service provider.

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