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Businesses Waking Up to Fact Web Here to Stay, Online Expert Says

Aaron Kahlow, managing partner of online marketing consultants Business & #173;Online, knows a couple of things about what a business Web site needs. Looking at the Business Journal’s Web site, www.sdbj.com, Kahlow gave some feedback.

“There are too many columns; you’re asking me to absorb way too much,” said Kahlow. He said the site should have two vertical columns of links to headlines and stories rather than four columns.

For Kahlow, a strong Web presence is no longer an option for businesses and must be a part of any company’s marketing game plan.

Kahlow chaired the Online Marketing Summit last week in San Diego, helping confused marketers in cyberspace get their bearings.

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The 300 attendees assembled to learn how to produce effective marketing in a still new medium.

Kahlow said that 40 percent of the attendees were from companies represented on the Fortune 1,000.

“The Web is here to stay and the rest of the world is finally waking up to it,” said Kahlow. “There are profitable business models that use the Web as opposed to the old pay-per-click or advertising model.”

According to the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization , a nonprofit based in Wakefield, Mass. , $9.4 billion was spent on search engine marketing in 2006, with that number expected to double by 2011.

The same study reports that most of that money was spent on search engine optimization, which, along with Web site usability, were the main topics tackled at the summit.

“Marketers know a lot about graphic design and (basic computer coding), but not the deeper layers of usability and search engine optimization,” said Kahlow.

Summit panelist and Jupiter Research analyst Kevin Heisler said that those two aspects are crucial for marketers to understand.

“Search engine optimization is the area to focus on to drive traffic to your site,” said Heisler. “With usability, you’re persuading, or ‘inviting,’ the user to do what you want them to,” in other words, turning page views into purchases.

At the summit, workshops were held on those two critical areas, where marketers received one-on-one attention from specialists for 15 minutes. During that time, specialists would point out improvements for Web sites , similar to what Kahlow did for the Business Journal’s site.

“It was designed to provide concrete value for every single participant,” Heisler said. “They had action items they could take home and execute.”

Kahlow said that Web marketing is gradually gaining importance in executive circles, which will drive further investment.

“You’ll see budgets start to open up (for Internet marketing),” he said. “It never ceases to amaze me how little people know and how little people invest in this space. It’s in the mainstream conversation and it has to be a portion of your marketing game plan.”

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