IN the same website as it used to attract new customer in the US, Japanese car manufacturer Honda also sold used cars. Now, for a potential used car buyer, it was confusing because when he for the brand on a popular engine, the first site that came up was the main site. The customer then had to navigate through reams of information before he could reach the used cars page. Honda had its optimised but what they came up with was a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Enter SEO (engine optimisation) experts. A microsite was created for used cars only and the traffic redirected to it. A map was created based on user’s location. For instance, if there was a user in New York city, the map would list out used cars near the location and would put the potential buyer in touch with the current owner. In a few months, queries for the microsite shot up from tens to thousands.

SEO and Engine Marketing (SEM) has fast gained importance as a part of owned media. The online advertising market in India, according to IMRB for 2009-10 was estimated at 785 crore and is expected to grow to almost 1,000 crore in 2010-11. Of this, advertising was estimated at 368 crore in 2009-10 and is expected to touch 460 crore in 2010-11.

Despite the impressive numbers, userdefined optimisation however is still nascent in India. Madan Sanglekar, principal partner – invention, Mindshare calls SEO the “behind-the-scene, boring cousin” of the digital world. “This is a small but growing market. Since it is more process oriented and tool driven, it isn’t given as much importance as, say, websites or microsites or apps are.” He adds that brand managers tend to give 90% of their attention to the site itself and only about 10% to SEO. “Website decisions are taken by brand managers and not the IT staff in an organisation. But when it comes to SEO, it is relegated to the IT staff.” Agrees Gulshan Varma, head, ad network – India & ME, Komli Media: “The average Indian makes about 30 a month and 70-80 million people in the country have access to the internet. With those kind of numbers, SEO needs to be given more importance.”

Agencies may rue the lack of attention, but brands like HDFC Life and Volkswagen use SEO to maximise their brands’ presence online. For HDFC Life, SEO is a core activity in its marketing pie and though it takes only 0.1% of the entire marketing budget, it has given the brand through targeted efforts an increase in organic traffic to its website at around 20%. Sanjay Tripathy, EVP & head, marketing & direct channels, HDFC Life says, “More than 50% of our traffic comes in through the engines on a month-on-month basis where as on an average we have around 4.5 lakh visitors on our website monthly.” Volkswagen has a dedicated team monitoring the results, volumes and analytics and their customer management system (CMS) system that ensures high ranking of its corporate site on major keywords. “It would be wrong to say that the SEO is only meant for online companies. We have experienced in the past that offline activities are also driving the online even for companies that are primarily using mainline media e.g. the Vento ‘Talking newspaper’ was the second most word on that particular day”, says Lutz Kothe, head-marketing & PR, Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Volkswagen Group India.

For matrimony portal, SEO is a long-term strategy. “Over the last several years, we have put in time and effort to make sure that we rank high on keywords related to our area of business including our brand name itself. This not only helps drive traffic to but also helps increase our brand exposure and awareness. Every month, we get thousands of new members to our site through organic (SEO) results”, says Ram Bhamidi, VP – online marketing,

The time for SEO to come on its own is still away and for most Indian companies their websites are just an extension of the current TVC. “SEO is one of the oldest forms of marketing on the web”, says Gautam Mehra, business head – Mumbai, Connecturf. “But there are two kinds of companies which are using it — brands that do it because everyone else is there, and those for whom SEO is a primary focus, like finance and travel brands.” Coffee retail chain Café Coffee Day(CCD), which isn’t big on traditional media has used SEO and the digital medium to its advantage. “Being a coffee company with retail presence, we capitalise on a lot of keywords related to hangout, coffee, coffee accessories etc. This kind of targeting has helped us in achieving top rankings for most of our keywords. We are also able to rope in traffic coming from international coffee connoisseurs who are looking to explore the subject of Indian coffee”, explains K Ramakrishnan, president-marketing, CCD.

The highest mindshare of the digital revolution has been taken by social media that has gained brownie points with marketers thanks to the glamour in it. “SEO seems uncool when compared to social media”, says Mehra, “and marketers feel it’s too technical in nature, doesn’t have creativity or imagery.” However brands are waking up the advantage of this lowest hanging fruit in the digital tree and if used smartly it can bring in numbers far beyond their imagination. “Setting a quantifiable objective; defining the visitor and blending SEO with SEM are few parameters to keep in mind for making SEO effective,” says Tripathy. Mehra echoes him: “Integrate SEO with social media; localise as per location and be visible in engine rankings as a brand, and not just as a single website”, are some of the tricks he suggests to be on top.

It is still early days for Indian brands in their attempt to understand the space and optimise the opportunity. And the only thing that can restrict them in doing so is ignorance of its potential.

Taken From “The Economic Times” 30 March 2011