Thursday, July 17, 2008

Search Engine Optimization: Local businesses must adapt

Getting a listing in the phone book or putting ads in the local newspaper may not be as effective for business in coming years.

BYU students are using the web now more than ever and Utah County businesses have become increasingly aware of the need to go online to take advantage of the ever-increasing use of the internet.

“The rising generation isn't looking in the phone book,” said Dave Bascom, CEO of, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, works with its clients to increase traffic to their websites. Bascom, a BYU alumni, began his career working for by promoting increased web traffic to many of Utah's hotels and resorts. He later became successful after launching which changed its name to over a year ago.

“Companies that aren't online are missing out to their competition,” Bascom said.

Many BYU students can be seen out on the grass or in the eatery using laptops surfing the internet. The 10 open-access computer labs are often filled to capacity with students, especially during the fall and winter semesters. Students must use the internet to register for classes, check grades, take quizzes and look up class assignments. This only lends to the fact that students are beginning to use the internet more frequently to look up businesses and product information.

“I haven't used a phone book in years, because you just look up phone numbers even on the internet,” BYU student Tyler Smith said. “Why would I go to the yellow pages when I can go to the internet?”, which now provides service to many national companies, has also helped many local businesses to find added traffic, which have led to increased profits.

“Even localized businesses should have a web presence,” Bascom said.

Cascade Collision, a client of, has received much of its business from its website. The Orem based auto body repair shop, which has no need of catering to a national audience, will appear on Google after any user searches for “Utah Auto Body Repair,” which is what local residents would search for, Bascom said.

“We are getting more often that someone will say they found us on the web,” said Brian Nichols, owner of Cascade Collision.

Nichols said he has received a lot of added benefit from having a marketing plan that involves the web. Many customers have not only found the company by searching online, but they have also been able to learn about Cascade's processes for collision repair in order to make informed decisions on whether to use their services. This information has yielded positive results, Nichols said.

Nichols has also kept the student market in mind as he's emphasized the use of the internet for the company.

“Generally, college students are internet savvy,” he said.

Web development professionals say that for local businesses, like those in Utah County, it can be difficult to compete with some of the larger national companies that offer similar products.

“I just think it's getting pretty tricky to get these natural search results to the top of the page,” said Garry Scoville, Director of IT at Magellan Health. “The average small company can't afford to do it.”

There are many marketing opportunities for small businesses that can't afford SEO services, Bascom said. He advises small local businesses to put their business information in the free local Yahoo and Google listings. One other cost-effective online marketing option is pay-per-click advertising, Bascom said.

Pay-per-click advertising allows marketers to put ads online and only pay whenever a user clicks on one of their ads. Scoville also agreed that a pay-per-click campaign would be the most effective method of marketing online for local businesses because the advertiser will only pay for actual results of real visitors.

The increased use of the internet doesn't necessarily mean an increase of consumers actually buying products online. Many students and Utah County residents simply use the internet to find store locations, product availability and to learn about products and services.

“I wanted to buy an external hard drive so I looked it up first,” Smith said. “I haven't bought anything over the internet recently, I usually go research it and go buy it at the store.”

The internet lets users easily look up product reviews by customers who had already purchased that product. always has a list of reviews for its products. Usually these reviews are based on a five-star rating. This kind of information is not found in stores or in the phone book.

“I won't necessarily buy from the internet a lot just because its too tempting to buy a lot,” BYU student Ben Thompson said, “but I'll do a lot of research on it--look at reviews and stuff.”

The internet also offers a wide variety of discussion forums for users to rave or condemn certain products or companies. In this way the internet promotes better business practices. Any act of scandal or disservice by a company will eventually find itself online and available to the public.

Some people can still be wary of using the internet for fear of releasing their personal information to spammers or identity thieves. In the near future, there should be more secure ways of buying things online, BYU student Anne Ricks said.

There are many added benefits for businesses to have a website beyond marketing.

“The web is great because it provides a store that people can go see with out having any employees,” BYU student Chris London said.

London is a self-taught programmer who has worked for many web development firms including Provo based Heritage Web Solutions. He currently works in Orem for a company that builds websites for national clients, principally law firms.

The internet saves business owners time and money. It allows customers to browse products at any time, 24 hours a day and seven days a week, London said.

London hopes to own an online business that will require very little of his attention.

“Every small business will have to be on the internet in 20 years in order to survive,” London said.

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