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Search Engine Optimization and the Bottom-Line

By Jill Whalen
Posted Friday, September 17, 2004

A question on many Webmaster's minds these days is whether or not they should bother with optimizing their site to rank high in the search engines. We've discussed this in previous articles, and it always seemed to come down to a big "it depends." However, I'm starting to realize that for many clients, good search engine rankings can actually make or break a business.

While putting together my presentation for a conference in Amsterdam back in Jan. 2001, I decided to base my speech around one Web site we had recently worked on for a client. The site in question was the Bariatric Institute of Kentucky in Georgetown, Kentucky. Dr. Randall Bolar performs gastric bypass surgery on morbidly obese patients so they can lose weight and lead happier, healthier lives.

Do you have money to burn?

The work we did for this site lead to a very successful optimization. Dr. Bolar had originally let his Web design firm handle his site submission and, as he put it, he "might as well have taken the $1,000 out of his pocket and lit it on fire!" When we began work on the site, it had nearly no presence in the search engines and directories. After our optimization, it had achieved the desired top-10 results in most of the search engines and directories, for a number of relevant keyword phrases. Traffic had increased substantially, and users were finding the site through the intended keywords. Since those are the metrics I look for when determining our success, this appeared to be quite a successful optimization, indeed!

However, I realized that I had never actually asked Dr. Bolar how effective the Web site had been in attracting new patients to his office, which of course, is the bottom-line. So I dashed off an e-mail to Dr. Bolar, asking if he had received a lot of new inquiries and new patients over the past few months since the rankings had taken hold. Within a half hour, and on a Sunday no less, Dr. Bolar called me to answer my questions. Here's what he told me:

Before their optimization, they were getting approximately 2 - 4 new patients a week through their Web site. Once the rankings kicked in, these numbers jumped to a whopping 50 - 70 new patients a week! Dr. Bolar told me that he went from having a struggling practice that nearly went bankrupt and closed down, to a thriving practice. He's currently in the process of looking to hire another surgeon. Nearly all of his new patients have found him through the Web site. He even had one patient who drove 7 hours to his office and has gotten numerous other patients from out-of-state. The very next day, in fact, he was seeing 11 new patients, all of whom had found him through the Internet. (Update 2004: Dr. Bolar's Internet presence has enabled him to move from being a very small clinic -- Georgetown Surgical Clinic -- to a much larger institution -- the Bariatric Institute of Kentucky!)

All I could say was, "Wow!"

Was it just a fluke?

This startling revelation made me wonder how some of our other clients' businesses may have been impacted by being easily found in the search engines, so I dashed off a few more e-mails and eagerly awaited the responses. Again, each one had nothing but great things to say about the effects of good search engine placement for their bottom line.

Joe Tedesco of JE Brown told me that his company had spent thousands of dollars on advertising at the same time they did their optimization. Their results were good, but not compared to their total outlay. They decided to lay off the advertising and re-think their marketing strategy, but when they stopped the advertising, they realized that it had little to no effect on their bottom line. The majority of their visitors were coming through the search engines! Joe says he's a big believer in Search Engine Optimization because of the "little to no work that's involved once the rankings are achieved."

I also heard back from Kathy Drewien, from Atlanta Relocation. Most of Kathy's clients find her services through her Web site, so search engine visibility is extremely important to her. Kathy told me that in1998, before her Web site optimization, she had 14 Internet transactions that grossed $100,000 in commissions. In 1999, after a successful optimization, those numbers increased to 22 transactions for $121,500 in gross commissions. Again in 2000, she had 22 transactions for a total of $165,939 in gross commissions.

Content is still king

It's important to note that simply being found in the engines isn't always enough. Once found, your Web site still has to sell its products or services. I believe that a big reason why our optimized sites end up getting so much new business is because we increase the overall appeal of a Web site when we work on it. That is, we write great, professional marketing text, and suggest other changes that may give the site a more professional appearance. These things are just as important to the bottom line, as getting the high rankings in the first place.

It's true that not all businesses will achieve the same kinds of return on investment from a successful optimization as the sites discussed here. However, when you consider the low cost of SEO compared to other forms of marketing, your bottom line may increase substantially. Just make sure you find the right specialist for your needs. All Search Engine Optimization consultants are NOT created equal!

About the Author
Contact Jill Whalen by e-mail at

Jill Whalen of High Rankings is an internationally recognized search engine optimization consultant and host of the free weekly High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter.

She specializes in search engine optimization, SEO consultations and seminars. Jill's handbook, "The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines" teaches business owners how and where to place relevant keyword phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rankings in the major search engines.


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