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What if they Google me?

Google Flickr photo courtesy of Tomas de Aquino
(MoneyWatch) There's a New Yorker cartoon about the Internet that I love: Two businessmen are in a bar and one says, "I have a strange feeling that someone is Googling me."

No joke, actually. Prospects check companies out on Google. This has tremendous implications for generating leads and converting them into sales

As everyone in sales and marketing knows, Google Ad Words is the search giant's advertising platform that offers cost per click, cost per impression, and cost per conversion ads For a price, you ensure that your name will appear on the first page of search results when a prospect "Googles" you. (I admit that using Google's trademarked name as a verb is probably aggravating a gaggle of Google intellectual property lawyers.)

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Want credibility with prospects? It helps to finish high in search rankings. Forrester Research reports that 62 percent of Web users click on a search result that appears on the first page of results and that 90 percent click on a result within the first three pages.

According to Crain's business-to-business magazine, more than half of the marketers (52 percent) surveyed by MarketingSherpa said pay-per-click ads outperform all other tactics. E-mail marketing to a house list came in second at 47 percent.

Along with having your company or product show up high in the rankings by buying your way in, how can you rank high naturally? This gets us into the murky terrain of field of organic search, and many companies make their living by optimizing websites to rank higher in Internet searches. Here are six simple tactics suggested for effective search-engine optimization.

Love those free tools. Google AdWords offers a number of free tools. You can compare and contrast different keyword phrases, check trends across Google searches, even use a typo tool so you can see which words are most commonly misspelled so you can buy those terms, too. You don't need to be a Google AdWords customer to use these tools. A personal favorite is the free Google AdWords keyword tool. This allows you to enter short keyword phrases and find out the popularity of that string of words on Google.

Make the first words count. The first 150 words of your website are all important for the search engines. Make sure you use the two or three most critical keyword phrases in your home-page introduction. But don't overload your website with keyword phrases.

Consider your target keywords carefully. Too many sites are relevant for a single word, so pick keyword phrases that are two or more words long.

Don't use just the name of your business as the title tag of your website. Failure to put target keyword phrases in the title tag of the website is the main reason perfectly relevant Web pages may be poorly ranked.

Write interior pages with your keyword phrases in mind. Add HTML hyperlinks to your home page that lead to major inside pages of your website. If you naturally point to other pages from within your site, you increase the odds that the search engines will find more of your website.

Keywords are king. Go to several search engines and search for your keyword phrases. Check out what websites are appearing in the top results. Visit these websites and then contact the site owners to see if they will link to you. Links are often possible with non-competitive sites, especially if you offer to link back (often called reciprocal links).

Interestingly, 36 percent of search-engine users believe that the companies with websites listed at the top of the search results are the tops in their field. Translation: A poor ranking on Google could mean poor sales.