You might be surprised to learn that many leading dealers are falling short when it comes to leveraging their Web sites through the top search engines. A recent Google search that PROSALES conducted on dealers, for example, revealed that some companies' Web sites cannot be easily located, which means either they don't have Web sites or they have sites that are poorly designed and cannot be found quickly through Internet searches.

If your company's site does not come up at the head of the pack in search engine results, you could be missing both sales and marketing opportunities, as well as the chance to provide better information about your vendors and give customers a better online experience. Here's some advice from two dealers that are hitting the mark when it comes to making the most splash on the leading search engines.

Both Beisser Lumber (www. and Brunsell Lumber & Millwork ( have been able to ensure that it is easy to locate their home pages through Google and other search engines, as well as find specific pages on their sites through more detailed searches. The latter is important because many Web searchers click through to “secondary” pages on Web sites that contain the precise information they need, rather than link to corporate home pages. Why do these sites fare well? They contain critical pieces of information—read and interpreted by search engines—in the source code that drives the sites.

So why is it important for Internet users to be able to find your Web site through search engines? Prospective customers that didn't know about your firm might wind up finding your site and making purchases—whether it be over the Internet, over the phone, or in person. Moreover, customers that are new to an area or are outside your locale may buy from you if you have the right products and services at the right prices. Case in point: Beisser Lumber is in the process of building a new lumberyard and new offices in Iowa City, Iowa, two hours from its headquarters in Grimes, Iowa, and also plans to expand into Illinois. As it makes these moves, maximizing its visibility to customers that don't know the company is vital. “We're getting into markets where the name Beisser isn't that well known,” says Rob Walker, manager of marketing/advertising for the $50 million dealer. “We assume that one of the first things people will do is go to a Web site and type a name into a computer.”

The good news for Beisser is that, even for someone who doesn't know the company's name but is looking for a lumber dealer in Grimes, Iowa, specifically or the state in general, they're likely to find Beisser over the Web by typing a phrase such as “lumber Grimes Iowa.” Walker says the company's Web developer has experience in building the site to be search-engine friendly and that accounts for the strong positioning. In addition, he says the site will benefit from a solid refresh that's on tap.

Beisser's forthcoming site revamp—expected to go live in the first quarter at a cost of around $3,500—will provide an updated list of links to vendors whose products are carried by Beisser, as well as more sophisticated graphics and logos. The company also will tweak its list of “metadata keywords” that tell the search engines the words and concepts that should be associated with the company. For instance, keywords on the current site emphasize wood, lumber, and construction, but following the upgrade they are also likely to emphasize its door shop and woodwork shop, he adds.

Brunsell Lumber & Millwork, a $40 million dealer based in Madison, Wis., also has a site and key pages that can be found readily through search engines. According to Ron Pelky, vice president of sales, the site was originally developed to inform contractors of key products carried by Brunsell, so links to major manufacturers were an integral part of its strategy. “We did think if we did the site correctly, we could also use it to find new customers,” he adds. The company offers online purchasing to contractor customers and is considering expanding to sell tools on the site, Pelky says. “Tools are something people seem to be willing to buy over the Internet,” he explains.

Whether your site is selling products online or serving primarily as a marketing vehicle to promote new locations and attract customers to stores, without detailed search engine coding behind the scenes it's likely that new business is surfing right past your company. So don't forget to take steps to make sure you are ready to catch the waves. —Tom Smith is freelance writer based in Amherst, N.Y.

Sidebar: Searching for Answers So how can a busy dealer executive that may or may not have any technology expertise determine whether the company's Web site will get good search engine placement? There are a number of simple steps you can take and tests you can run:

  • First, open your company's home page, go to the top of your browser, and select the “View” drop down. Near the bottom of the options, select “Source.” This is where you (or any site visitor) can see the “source code” for your site.
  • Check to see whether your site has a field called “title.” Whatever words you select for that field will appear at the very top of the site visitor's browser bar. It should be a simple word or group of words that clearly define the company, its business, and its Web site. Search engines strongly weight the title field when interpreting the focus of a page.
  • Look at the field called “meta name = description.” It should include a clear, substantive explanation of what your company is and does. Often, search engines will use this phrasing or something close to it when listing your site in search results. If there's no such field, consider adding it.
  • Look at the “meta name = keywords” field to see if they represent a prioritized list of products, services, or other topics that you'd like to have your site associated with. For pro dealers, obvious choices are lumber, wood, construction, building materials, and so on. If there are no keywords, consider adding them.
  • Run some test searches on Google. If you enter your company name, does it come up as the first result? Check to see if you can find a specific page on your site, such as your listing of services, by entering “your company name services.” Finally, try entering “lumber” or “building materials” and your primary city or geographic location, and determine whether your company comes up on the first screen of results. If any or all of these searches don't yield the results you're looking for, it's time to revisit your Web site design and update the information it presents to the search engines.