In Search of…

In the popular '70s TV show In Search of..., Leonard Nimoy captivated audiences with tales of the bizarre - mysteries, obscurities and the paranormal. Nimoy and the In Search of... crew traveled the globe looking for oddities to portray on the show.
Today, millions of Internet users continue in Mr. Nimoy's tradition. Everyday, Internet users around the globe travel the World Wide Web looking not for the obscure, but for the normal - local shops that sell specific goods, company phone numbers and brands of goods that meet specific needs. However, for many, the search ends in frustration: all they can find is the obscure.

In the popular ’70s TV show In Search of…, Leonard Nimoy captivated audiences with tales of the bizarre – mysteries, obscurities and the paranormal. Nimoy and the In Search of… crew traveled the globe looking for oddities to portray on the show.

Today, millions of Internet users continue in Mr. Nimoy’s tradition. Everyday, Internet users around the globe travel the World Wide Web looking not for the obscure, but for the normal – local shops that sell specific goods, company phone numbers and brands of goods that meet specific needs. However, for many, the search ends in frustration: all they can find is the obscure.

Internet search engines are a pet peeve of mine.

Why should marketers care about Internet search engines? Imagine a shopping mall with 1.6 billion stores. That’s quite the crowded marketplace. How would you expect customers to find your store?

At last count, there were some five billion ‘pages’ of content available on the Internet. Google, one of the Internet’s most popular search engines, indexes over 1.6 billion of them. How would you expect customers to find your site?

A recent study by search optimization firm iProspect of Arlington, Mass., showed that 85% of Internet users ‘use search engines to find solutions and vendors.’ It says that unless users ‘know a company’s exact Web site address or search by the company or brand name, they will use keywords that describe a product or service’s features, benefits or attributes to conduct their search.’ And what does this yield?

By way of illustration, consider the following real example. It’s early-afternoon on a brisk Sunday in October. I decide that it’s time to do something about the mounting ground cover of fallen leaves in my back yard. Being the lazy type that I am, simple raking and bagging just won’t do. A leaf blower – that’ll do the trick nicely. So off I go to my personal computer in search of a store that rents leaf blowers. Up comes Google and I type in ‘tool rental Toronto.’ What is a seemingly simple query yields the following battery of unrelated and somewhat obscure content:

* a City of Toronto By-Law Amendment form for the development of a new Home Depot retail warehouse

* a directory listing of construction and maintenance companies in Toronto

* a listing of ‘publicly traded upstream oil service companies’

* a listing of members of the American Rental Association

* an unidentified document about student run cooperative businesses that looks like it’s housed on a server at the University of Michigan

* a sample equity research report from Credit Suisse First Boston (CSFB) on Home Depot

Etc, etc, etc.

So what does this tell us?

Somewhere, out there, is a rental store looking for my business – and I couldn’t find it (at least not online). Imagine investing hundreds of thousands of dollars on a consumer Internet site, only to have someone not find it!

Yet many marketers seem to ignore this reality. Most companies don’t invest the proper amount of time or resources to develop a content management strategy that ensures their sites are properly set up to be searchable, even though there are lots of resources available online that discuss the do’s and don’ts of Internet search engine optimization.

The same could be said of on-site search engines – those search capabilities that exist within a company’s sites. In another ‘obscure’ example, I recently searched a major sporting goods retailer’s site for ‘tennis shoes’, only to find 49 products that included snow shoes, sneakers, shoe bags, tennis skirts and running shoes. Tennis shoes were the 40th item listed!

If you have an Internet site that uses search technology to help customers find products and services, or your site could benefit from increased traffic coming from search engine sites like Google, invest the time to properly develop a content management strategy that will make searching pay off. Otherwise, you’re wasting your Internet investment dollars.

And as for my leaves? After an hour of search frustration, I decided to reserve that exercise for the next weekend. (I wonder if Mr. Nimoy has a leaf blower.)

Michael Shostak is president of Wideframe, a Toronto-based Internet professional services firm that specializes in helping organizations make better use of technology to build more profitable customer relationships. Wideframe is a Vickers & Benson Arnold company. Michael can be reached at mshostak@wideframe.com or at (416) 480-3760. (www.wideframe.com)