Can You Be Found Where People Are Looking?

Do you know where your prospective customers spend their time online? Do you maintain a presence in those places?

Last night I came across an AP article about the recent search engine purchases of ad networks and why it’s a sign of how things are changing on the web. I encourage you to give the article a read, but the main point I want you to take from it is the idea that how and where people are spending time online is becoming more fragmented and most people are interacting less and less with a single source of information.

Search engines are modifying their business models to reflect these changes and so should you.

Gone are the days of emphasizing ways to attract and keep visitors — the way television networks long have operated — by creating destinations with anything people might need for work, leisure or companionship.

Instead, those companies are now more aggressively trying to follow Web surfers elsewhere — and bring lucrative advertising to them.

Pay attention to the idea that search engines are trying to follow web surfers elsewhere. A few years ago it was all about creating a portal that provided a one stop source of information. Today there are so many different ways to find the same information and people are spending time interacting with variety of them. They may interact with a portal, or a search engine, or a social media site, or any of the different sites that allow them to find what they need. Even more, people are using one site to find certain types of content and another site to find a different type of content.

So instead of relying solely on being portals for consumers, the major companies are creating one-stop shops for advertisers, who are increasingly wanting to buy ads centrally and place them where the eyeballs are. The networks take care of feeding the ads to smaller sites.

“We’re not interested in building yesterday’s portal,” said Ron Grant, AOL’s president and chief operating officer. “Consumers are finding what they are looking for is coming from more and more fragmented places. We need a way for advertisers to take advantage of that fragmentation.”

Search engines

are attracting more people but are keeping them for shorter durations as users find what they need elsewhere.

Where Can Your Customers Find You?

The discussion in the AP article is focused on search engines and advertising, but the lessons are for all of us. If your site is primarily a lead generation mechanism your goal might be to get someone to contact you about the services you offer. Does it make a difference if they find your email directly on your site or on your MySpace profile? Does it matter if the words that convinced them to call were found on one of your pages or in your reply to a question on a forum or other social network?

In the end how much difference does it make if someone purchases your products through the shopping cart on your site or through the one on eBay? Does it matter if it was your content or the content of one of your affiliates that ultimately made the sale? Ignore for a moment that your per sale profit is different depending on where the sale originates. Given the lifetime value of a customer should it really matter where a new customer first finds you?

The goal isn’t only to bring people to you. The goal is to be in front of them or have them think about your brand when they want what you have to offer. When you think of search engines it’s conventional to see them as a source of traffic for your site. However, what you’re really doing is building a presence on another site. Search engines are not the only place you can build that presence.

I want to expand on the idea of using social media as a source of branding in a post I’ll hopefully have ready later this week. For now think about the concept that your site isn’t the only place where your brand lives or where you can do business.

The web is social and the more you can embed yourself in the social fabric of the web the better your chances for success. Your customers are looking for you in a variety of places and not always directly on your site. If you aren’t in front of them when and where they look you can be sure someone else will be.

Where are you building a presence online? Can someone find you without having to find your site?

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