Categorized | Search Engine Marketing

Promotions: Marketing and Sales 8.3. Search Engine Marketing

In section 7.7, we covered Search Engine Optimization (SEO), the strategies and tactics you use to drive traffic to your Web site by manipulating or influencing your placement on free search engine results pages (SERPs) based on keywords that users would logically employ to find sites or services such as yours. Search Engine Marketing (SEM), on the other hand, is the ongoing effort to promote your Web site on search engine results page by using search engine optimization as well as paying search engines to make your site more visible.

Yes, there are other ways to appear on search engine results pages other than the search listings (called “organic” or “natural” search results):

  • Paid placement: for a fee, usually a pay-per-click fee, search engines will place ads for your Web site on search engine results for particular keywords.
  • Paid inclusion: for a fee, often a yearly subscription fee, search engines or directories will include your site in their database although they won’t guarantee how visible your site will be in organic search results.

Search Engine Optimization

“Natural” or “organic” search engine optimization (SEO) is all about managing words and HTML markup on your pages to maximize your site’s visibility on Web search engines. Done correctly, search engine optimization will place your Web site in the top ten (first SERP) to top thirty (first three SERPs) results displayed when a user searches on a particular term, or keyword, or combination of words. Search engines “rank” Web sites and Web pages relative to keywords. When a user does a search on a word, the search engines display the highest-ranked site for that keyword first.

Search engine optimization begins with an initial strategy and copy and markup optimization of your site before it even goes live. SEO then becomes an ongoing process of tracking your placement on search engines using software specifically designed for this process (see 7.12), analyzing your Web statistics, and modifying how you deploy and mark up keywords on your site. Because search engines constantly tweak and toggle mathematical formulas, called algorithms, they use to rank sites relative to keywords, a winning SEO tactic this month may no longer be effective before the year is out.

Organic search engine optimization has three basic parts:

  • Keyword-rich text with keywords placed between high-value markup tags, such as markup tags specifying headlines on the page or links to other pages.
  • A navigation system that makes it easy for search engine robots to travel through your site and catalog your pages.
  • As many inbound links to pages on your site as possible (see link exchange management in section 8.4).

Follow three rules when optimizing your site for organic search engine placement:

  1. Search Engine Optimization is the MINIMUM marketing requirement for your site.

Statistics vary depending on who you ask, but most folks agree that 70% to 90% of the visitors to your Web site will be arriving from a search engine results page. All other ways to get people to come―pay-per-click, banner ads, link exchanges―pale in comparison.

  1. Search Engine Optimization is the only marketing activity you’ll engage in where you HAVE NO CONTROL over the results.

SEO firms are good at what they do, but keyword rankings are entirely done by the search engine computers. I’ve worked with some people whose sites consistently hit the number one position in search engine results yet have literally done exactly zero in the way of search engine optimization. I’ve seen the best SEO firms fail even after burning through a wad of some hapless company’s cash.

  1. Search Engine Optimization is a tool, not an end

Remember that the job of your Web site is to sell, persuade, and serve your customers, not to get top ranking on a search engine. Most of your leads, sales, and contacts will come from a second, third, or fourth visit, so your site has to perform for the customer. SEO should never trump the marketing, sales, and service orientation of your site. I can tell you from painful experience that most SEO firms have no consciousness of this fundamental, common-sense rule.

Paid Placement or Search Advertising

You can always pay a search engine, like Google or MSN LiveSearch, to display your Web site in a sidebar or top-of-page banner list whenever some user searches on a particular word. There you are, top of the page, and you haven’t lost one ounce of sleep struggling with the keywords on your page. This is what is meant by paid placement or pay-for-placement (PFP). Search engines always distinguish paid placement listings from the organic listings as a courtesy to their users. Despite this, paid placement listings do just as well as the organic listings in generating site visits.

You typically pay for placement using a pay-per-click or pay-per-listing arrangement (see 8.6 for a much fuller discussion of paid placement and pricing). The link to your site is correlated to particular word or combination of words that people might use to find a site like yours.

Paid placement has five components:

  • Listing: This is the title and description of your site that appears in the paid listing―both may be different than what appears on your free listing.
  • Keywords: These are the user-inputted search words, or combination of words, that will trigger the placement of your paid site listing on one or more of the search results pages. You determine which keywords will produce the most site visits and conversions.
  • Bid price: Search engines do not charge a standard price per click but instead allow you to “bid” on keywords. Bidding usually starts with a minimum price per click and can go as high as you wish. The bid price determines the order in which the paid listings are displayed. The highest bid will land the link at the very top of the paid listings on the very first page of results (and often the second, third, fourth, and fifth pages, too, if the bid is high enough). The lowest bid will appear last until the search engine starts cycling through the list again.
  • Maximum spend: You can and should set a maximum to what you’re willing to pay each day, week, or month for paid placement. If the arrangement is a pay-per-click arrangement, the search engine will display your paid placement until the number of clicks has ticked up a bill equal to your maximum spend. After that, your paid placement disappears from the site (don’t worry―your organic listing stays put).
  • Day part: Day parts, a standard tool used to buy paid radio or television advertising, is simply the time (or “part”) of day that the listing will appear. For instance, if you are targeting business owners, you will want to specify a morning or afternoon day part. If you are targeting consumers, you’re better off with a later afternoon or evening day part.
  • Geography: Some search engines will allow you to specify a geographical location. Search engines know where searches are originating by reading the IP address of the user’s computer. This allows you to precisely target your ads―a phenomenally useful tool if your market is very strictly local.

With paid placement, you need to guard against click fraud in which competitors or just plain-old cussed folk use automated software to click your ad over and over again just to rack up big expenses for you with no results. Competitors like to click your ad over and over again to push you to your maximum spend―that way they don’t have to compete with your ad. The best search engines provide software that spots click fraud and doesn’t count suspicious activity.

We cover paid placement in much more detail in section 8.6 under the heading, “Search Advertising.” Paid placement should be the cornerstone of your search engine marketing. Unlike search engine optimization, paid placement allows you to experiment with various keywords to determine which keywords yield the best returns. Some keywords will give you lots of site visits. Some will give you lots of leads or sales. Because you get immediate feedback, you can test different keywords, bid amounts, and maximum spends to determine the best keyword strategy for your organic search engine listings. If you were to employ only organic search engine optimization, it would take months to find out if your keyword strategy was working or tanking.

Paid Inclusion

When you submit a site to a search engine or directory―or when a search engine robot discovers your site―there is no guarantee that the site will actually find its way into the search engine’s database. It sometimes takes a half-dozen or more submissions to a search engine before the search engine deigns to include your site in its database. You can, however, pay particular search engines a fee to guarantee database inclusion, which is why it’s called “paid inclusion.” As the name suggests, you’re paying to be included in the database, not for a position or ranking in search engine results.

Paid inclusion is relatively cheap (well, you’re not getting much) and is almost always a one-time or annual fee. As with paid placement, you get to determine which keywords best classify your site, but the search engine is under no obligation to actually agree with you on that issue.

Why would you pay to have your Web site included in a search engine’s database? After all, almost everyone else in the database didn’t have to pay anything!

Paid inclusion makes sense across many scenarios. You may have a site that’s “invisible” to the search engines―for instance, content on your site might be contained in video, audio, or Flash animations. Search engines cannot read the content in those formats, so while the search engine may find your site, for all practical purposes, your site is nothing but blank pages. Alternatively, the link structure on your site might be very complex, so search engines will miss very important pages. In both instances, paid inclusion, not free submission, is your best way into a search engine database and results pages.

Paid submission is also the way to go if content is changing constantly on your site. Why? Search engine robots treat paid submissions differently than organic submissions. These robots have the task of cruising the Web, visiting sites, reading the content, and updating the keywords associated with these sites. These robots visit the free listings only once in a while―several months may pass between visits. But the robots will search paid submissions every two to seven days and update their databases accordingly. So if the content on your site is changing on a regular basis―say, you have an active blog that you’re using to drive traffic to your site―paid inclusion is the best way to keep the most current content in front of search engine users.

Like paid placement, paid inclusion can be a valuable search engine optimization tool. You can try out various optimization techniques on individual pages, pay to have those pages listed, and then monitor the results with Web analytics software. Again, you get results within days. Normally, SEO changes to Web pages take months before you see any results through the search engines.

Paid Submission

Once quite common in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, only Yahoo now takes paid submission. In a paid submission, you submit a Web site URL, description, keywords, and categories to a human editor who then reviews your site and places your listing (or doesn’t) under the proper categories. The fee is quite steep ($300 per year), but you usually end up in highly-trafficked positions.

8.3.1. SEMPO: Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization

Because search engine marketing is a relatively new kid on the block, the discipline does not have well-funded, worldwide professional organizations. SEMPO is the largest and most reputable of the non-profit professional organizations catering to search engine marketing and optimization professionals.

What does this mean to you? After all, you’re not a search engine marketer or you would’ve skipped this section.

First off, the site provides one of the most complete directories of SEM professionals, firms, software vendors, and consultants from around the world. If you’re doing anything global, the site’s list of SEM professionals across several languages is worth its weight in gold.

Second, because the site is oriented to SEM professionals, you can find tons of resources on the most current trends and effective tactics in SEO, paid placement, pay-per-click, Web analytics, ROI, and link exchange management. These resources include timely articles, case studies, research, and Webinars. If you want to go beyond the free resources and have access to special research and full video Webinars, you can join the organization as an individual for $300 per year.

8.3.2. Web Logic Group

A two-person group with offices in Pennsylvania and New York, Web Logic Group is a low-cost search engine optimization and marketing firm with fees well within the range of a small- or start-up business. Specializing in optimization, Web copywriting, Web site analysis, search engine analysis, and ongoing search engine marketing, the company offers two reasonably-priced packages:

Targeted Positioning

For a fee of $595 per month, Web Logic will evaluate your existing website, analyze your current search engine positioning, develop a keyword strategy, and rework all page content, syntax, and structure every month.

Positioning Plus

For a fee of $995 per month, Web Logic will, in addition to the services offered in Targeted Positioning, also manage your entire paid placement, pay-per-click, inbound link management, and advertising. Web Logic will only accept one client within a particular market to prevent any conflict of interest.

8.3.3. InfoSearch Media

Based in Marina del Rey, California, InfoSearch Media is a medium-priced SEO/SEM firm that primarily specializes in search engine optimization and SEO copywriting.

The firm packages its services into four different products differentiated by the size of your site. For new and relatively small sites, the “New Site” package offers the best value at $2,200:

  • Keyword strategy and search engine optimization of your site’s text up to twenty pages
  • Account manager for six months
  • Use of a Web analytics dashboard for six months
  • Keyphrase analysis of your Web site
  • SEO review of your Web site
  • Directory/search engine submission
  • Link exchange management help
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