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'Fortune' 100 missing out on search optimization craze

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More than 40% of Fortune 100 marketers are not optimizing their Web sites for search, fewer than 10% of them use search engine optimization effectively and that could mean a decline in market share over time for many blue chip marketers.

That was one of the conclusions of Oneupweb, a search engine optimization and marketing company in Suttons Bay, Mich., which studied the Web sites for first 100 companies listed in the Fortune 500 list. Oneupweb looked for meta tags, primary keywords, title tags, indexable text and search engine ranking results.

"We were surprised that the big guys weren't on top of marketing opportunities," said Lisa Wehr, president of Oneupweb. "One would believe that they got big by being great sales organizations, not by ignoring a marketplace like the Internet. Are smaller companies more agile or more open to new ideas and new opportunities than big companies with all the resources? That's surprising."

Wehr said if these same companies were ignoring advertising or customer service, their stock would probably tumble.

"Market share, brand equity, sales, reputation, investor confidence--these are all at risk if a company isn't effectively using search engine optimization," Wehr said. "Ignoring search engine marketing is like building a beautiful store and locking the doors."

One example of the potential loss of sales cited in the study is the keyword phrase "medical lab products." Cardinal Health, a medical lab product marketer to doctors' offices, is No. 17 on Fortune's list. But rather than appearing in Google's top 10 search rankings, Cardinal appears at position 16. Its key competitor, McKesson, does not appear in the top 30. Neither, said Oneupweb, is positioned to reflect its global stature.

There were some notable exceptions. Companies optimizing effectively, according to Oneupweb's analysis, are AT&T Corp., BankOne Corp., Duke Energy, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard Co., Medco Health Solutions, SBC Communications, State Farm Insurance and Verizon Communications.

One analyst cautioned that measuring how well a site is optimized can be subjective. He said the line from where Web site development stops and search engine optimization starts is "blurry." "The measurement of how well someone handles SEO is more subjective in terms of how well you score on that," said Niki Scevak, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

Either way, the focus on SEO is important. Jupiter estimates six out of seven commercial referrals come from organic index results rather than paid search. However, far more attention and dollars are being directed to paid search marketing. "The focus is too far toward paid listings and less toward SEO," Mr. Scevak said.

It is akin to advertising vs. public relations. A news story written about a company often carries more weight for that company that their buying a full-page ad, but they have no control regarding the story angle, just as organic rankings cannot be controlled.

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