Tuesday, March 13, 2007

How To Compete Against 51 Million Pages On The Net

My potential mortgage site client, Stephen, was breathing hard on the phone, slightly exasperated, slightly excited; He wanted to go right to the ‘bottom line.’ Even though he wouldn’t say it, this ‘net stuff’ was new to him and he had questions about how successful his web site could be in bringing new loan business.

I could almost hear Stephen pounding his fist on the desk, saying, "What is my return on investment (ROI) if I do this web site? What do I get back? I have a successful business now, do I really need to do this internet thing?"

I have heard it before from many clients... trying to apply real world thinking and analysis to the virtual world of the net -- it just doesn't always perfectly translate across the two worlds. My client was trying to know the final score of the game, before it even started. His return of investment (ROI) question was the easy part. We hadn't even got to the comment where Stephen would say his web site should be ranked in the top 10…

Search Engines And Web Pages

"Let me take a look at Infoseek and see how often your most desired word ‘home mortgages,’ is found," I said typing on my keyboard. "OK, for today, this 1st of July, 1999, for your phrase…" I said waiting for the cable modem to show the results, "Ahh, interesting, Infoseek shows only 51,735,822 web pages relevant to home mortgages."
I didn’t see it, but I could hear his jaw open in amazement.

"51 million pages?" Stephen said, with the words ‘51 million’ echoing on the phone line. "On the net? Is that all?"

"Yep, that is today’s count," I replied. And there was more. "Infoseek, Stephen," I went on to say, "has only one third of all known pages indexed, so the real number is probably closer to 150 million pages."

Stephen slowly said, "How do I compete against that?" I am sure he was thinking about how he had built up his New York mortgage company through hard work, networking, getting to know people and good service. But this was different; the net has its own set of rules to play.

I was getting ahead of myself, so I said. "Let's talk about real world examples and how the Internet can be your ‘best salesperson’ and possibly bring you hundreds of clients each month." I paused because I know he can be a two-edged sword, "Of course by failing to properly design and promote your web site, the net can be your foe, and your competitor can get those customers instead."

"How do I compete?" Stephen reiterated, and I was surprised he did. Here was a man who ran his company with an iron fist, knew exactly what he wanted and how to get it in the real world, and he was asking for a bit of help.

How To Compete Against 51 Million Pages

"Well, by doing everything right." I quickly rattled off a checklist of basic factors. "Clean layout, easy to read, easy to navigate, fast loading images, pages that work in all browsers, and content that is valuable to your customer." I pause to catch my breath, "And there a few things you don’t want: pulsating – gyrating – exploding images that detract and distract from your site; links off your site that allow your hard earned customers to leave with a simple click, non-uniform layouts..."

Stephen cut me off, "I just wanted a web page."

"Well, there are just 51+ million web pages for your keyword in Infoseek. What you really want is a web site, that will get found, that works for your customers."

"Um, right." He replied. Stephen, was beginning to realize that it might take a different knowledge base to compete on the net. "OK, so I have to do all that?"

"Yep." I smiled and continued, "And those are just the human factors. In order to get humans to your site, you have to go through the search engines." I then listed additional search engine considerations. "Stephen, for the search engines you have to optimize your HTML source code: meta titles, meta keywords, meta descriptions, alt-tags, word counts, search engine submissions, web page ranking analysis…"

How Search Engines Work

I could tell by the silence that this techno list was not really reaching him, so I tried a different approach. "Let me explain it a different way. Here is how search engines work. Once you have created your site, you need a method to communicate what you do and where you are. This is where search engines come into play. They are like the giant ‘Yellow Pages’ of the net (there are 8-10 major engines and 100's of lesser engines). What makes search engines powerful is that Internet users can go to the search engine site, type in a few key words, and the search engine will produce a list of web pages that most closely match the keywords searched -- hopefully yours. (Latest statistics indicate that 86% of web page owners claim that search engines are the primary means that caused a viewer to find their site.)"

"The great news is that the search engines are FREE to list your web page and they are FREE for the Internet viewers to use. The bad news is that there are now 140,000+, oops, now 170,000, new internet domain names every month (that is up 40,000/month from January 1998). That is two and a half-new domains names every minute, every day, each with numerous web pages, competing against your site."

"If your site talks about ‘hummingbirds,’ and someone searches for ‘hummingbirds,’ your site will be compared against all the other web pages containing ‘hummingbirds.’"

"I don’t care about hummingbirds, I want home mortgage customers!" Stephen said.

I went on, "OK, but you have to know that the engines are absolute in their analysis and ranking of your site. So if you have on your page, ‘home mortgages’ this, and ‘home mortgages’ that and someone looks for ‘home mortgages,’ you have a chance of being found. You can greatly improve your rankings by preparing and writing your site in a manner that makes it easy for the search engines to understand your site and thus, score your site."

"Now here is where it gets a bit tricky," I continued. Assume your site has ‘home mortgages’ all over it, and your perfect client goes to a search engine and types instead the words ‘home loans.’ Well, your site is ‘home mortgages’ and the customer is looking for ‘home loans,’ so there is NO match.

Even though you have what the customer is looking for, you WILL NOT be found. This costs web site owners thousands and thousands of dollars in lost business." Stephen was comprehending, "OK, so I will have ‘home loans’ and ‘home mortgages’ on my site."

"Yes, you have to have what people are seeking," I replied. "But, it gets even trickier… Some search engines are so absolute that the exact word has to match, so if you have ‘home mortgages’ on your site and your potential visitor types the singular version ‘home mortgage,’ you WILL NOT match. Some search engines are case sensitive, so if a customer types HOME LOAN, or Home Loans, or home loan, you will get entirely different results."

"OK, you worry about that," Stephen said, "let’s get back to my return on investment."

Return On Investment

"Let me address your return on investment (ROI) question." I said, trying to tie it all together.

"Let me give you an example. I had a client come to me with the same set of questions you have, except her company had already spent a considerable amount of time and money (about $12,000) designing her mortgage web site. The only problem was... a major problem. She wasn’t getting any business."

"I am not sure if the internet works,’ she said. ‘I just spent $100 for a company to submit my web site to every search engine out there… and nothing, no business.’ I told Stephen, that is poor ROI - $12,000 spent and nothing returned, and $100 spent and nothing returned."

"She went on and said , ‘I have a great site and nobody signs up for loans.’ She mistakenly believed that simply having a web site would yield additional business. She believed in the internet myth, Build it and they shall come. Unfortunately this was not true, no more than it is in the real world. The only people who are going to come is your mother and a couple of employees, nobody else is going to know you even exist ... buried in 50 million other pages. To succeed on the net, your company has to effectively market themselves in this new media."

I continued by saying, "After many weeks of hard work, we helped redesign her entire web site. We finally got this corporate mortgage client ranked at the top of many of the major search engines. It just so happens that as soon as we obtained our first ranking, a perfect customer was looking for a home construction loan on the Internet. We were at the right place, at the right time."

"Her potential loan customer went to a search engine and typed in a key word phrase and up popped her web site, ranked within the top 10 out of 4.7 million web pages. This customer liked what he saw and contacted our mortgage client via their tollfree number. Within 30 minutes of talking with a loan officer, this customer had given his financial information over the telephone and a credit check had been completed."

"To put the icing on the cake, this deal has now closed and the construction loan amount was $860,000 (commission of 1.5%, $12,900) and the take-out loan is $1.85M (commission of 1.5%, $27,750). For a total commission of $40,650."

Stephen commented. "OK, I understand that. I know I can make money by providing good service to my clients. I just need to get a web site going."

Site Design

"Well," I said, "to compete on the net, your corporate web site must convey a professional appearance and you should have your own unique appearance. The "cookie cutter" approach to web site design maybe worked a year ago, but not now. Mortgage customers are a very sophisticated crowd (current statistics show average income $60,000++, and university level education)."

"These customers are going to review various top-ranked web sites before they make a decision. Your have 20 seconds to make your impression: about 10 seconds for the download and another 10 seconds for what shows on your page. You have one chance to do this. If you don’t catch their eye immediately, they will just ‘click off’ and go to one of your competitor sites. You have now just lost a potential commission of thousands of dollars."

"If your site design looks like your brother-in-law (who has some computer experience and does web design part-time) put it together, you have one strike already against you. Your web site will seem cheap and fail to promote confidence in your mortgage services. The potential customer might not willing to take a chance with a mortgage company for one of the largest financial decisions of their lives. You need to build trust and confidence by your web site design."

"It goes back to old school of marketing. You first need a prospective Internet customer (web site promotion). Then you need a professional looking web site that will build trust and confidence (web site design). Of course you need competitive interest rates and a wide selection of loan programs. And to follow up, your company needs loan officers and customer service people that will oversee the loan process until closing. As you can see, having a web site is just one facet to help increase your mortgage business. If you don’t market your company effectively, you won’t attract any new customers."

"Look, son," Stephen said, "I know a lot about marketing, I built this company from scratch. You don’t need to give me pointers on how to sell my service."

Marketing And Promotion: Web Style

I didn’t want to annoy Stephen, but I did want to show him how marketing on the net is different without offending him. "As you know, with any marketing or promotion plan, it involves many specific and technical aspects.
It is somewhat like telemarketing, you just don’t start calling people and saying when they answer the phone,‘Would you like a home loan?’ It is the same way on the net, you simply need a game plan, a road map to help you guide you through the maze of successful Internet marketing."

"Let’s talk about web design. You spend $500 on a cheap looking design for your web site and you get no business. On the other hand, if your company spends say, $10,000 for a professional looking web site design and you get even one additional client (like our construction loan client for over $40,000). Your return on investment is over 400%. Now that is ROI."

"And the power of the Internet is that this web site is working for you 24 hours/day, 7 days a week to a massive audience—over 150 million Internet users and growing. The internet can be your best salesperson. What if you had one $40K customer like this per month? Per week? Per day?"

Now Stephen may not be proficient yet on the net, but he knows his money… "Well," Stephen said, "I think I have got it. Fifty-one million web pages with my keyword. And of course I want my web site to rank in the top 10…"

For online mortgage leads please visit our mortgage leads page.

Originally published August 1999

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