Almost every Internet user enlists the help of one of the major search engines – Google, Yahoo, or MSN — every time they access the web. There are more than 65 billion searches every month, and any one of them could result in a prospective customer for your business.
Search engines allow your company to appear in front of people who have expressed an interest in your product or service – just by typing a few relevant key words in a search box. Links to your business can appear in two places on a search engine results page: as “natural results” or as a “sponsored link”. Natural is the term for links that appear after a word or phrase is typed into a search engine. A sponsored link is an advertisement a company has paid for when key words are typed into a search box. These links usually are shown above or next to natural search results.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the science of understanding how your business can appear more frequently in the natural results, through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and via sponsored links obtained through Paid Search.
Which approach is better? Like most marketing techniques, it depends on your business type, what results you want and how much your budget will allow. It also requires testing various strategies, gathering knowledge and then honing your next steps.
You’ll need to consider your target audience and how much a lead is worth to your business. Additionally, do you offer a niche product or service? Paid search can make sense for more specialized businesses. This is because, if you have a product focused on the masses, you’re likely to be competing with sizeable companies with equally large budgets for the same key words. It can be difficult to obtain the top few ads, or even show up on the first page of the results, where users tend to click most frequently.
Search Engine Optimization
Just as the web is constantly evolving, so, too, is your company’s standing within the millions of pages that can be generated for a single search. SEO is a process that should be modified and monitored on an ongoing basis in order to achieve the best results.
At the heart of SEO lies your choice of keywords that appear in the text of your site and in each page’s header. These words or phrases describe in broad terms what your business does, and the specific products or services you offer. The first step in your company’s foray into search techniques should be to make a list of the keywords that are most relevant to your business.
How to Choose Keywords
Start with generic terms and then hone in on some more specific words that are related; consider alternative terms that mean the same thing.
Aim for about fifty words and phrases that describe your product or service from every angle.
If you’re selling replica model Gipsy Moth biplanes, then “replica model Gipsy Moth” is a better key phrase than “planes” or “model planes.”
Once you’ve selected between ten to fifteen keywords, they need to be coded into your web pages’ meta tags. These are special commands that describe the content of a particular page. They are invisible to the regular web browser, but are picked up by search engines as they travel around the web looking for pages to return in search results.
Zingerman's provides a good example of keywords in action. In order to view the meta tags any other site, you can select “Source” from the “View” column of your toolbar when you have a particular webpage open. Here’s how the meta tag for the Zingerman’s homepage appears:
meta name="description" content="Send great food anywhere in America. Gift boxes of bread, cheese, pastry, olive oil, vinegar and more. You really can taste the difference."
meta name="Keywords" content = "zingermans, deli, food, cooking, gourmet, gifts, olive oil, vinegar, bread, cheese, pastries, gift baskets, sauce, pasta, spices, olives, european, italian, french, spanish, flavor, ann arbor"
In addition to keywords, search engines consider the viewable text of your site, relative to other sites, in order to determine its position in the results. There are a few key points to consider when trying to make your site’s content more attractive to search engines.
Tips for Well-Optimized Site Pages
Search engines like information – and information can be found through links. Make sure your pages have plenty of links to other relevant content on your site. This makes for a better user experience, too.
Where appropriate, point your users to relevant, high-quality pages on other sites. Make sure the link opens in another window so that your visitors can easily return to your site.
The more sites that link to you, and the more traffic your site generates on its own, the more popular it will be with the search engines. In turn, the more popular your site is with search engines, the more traffic you will attract.
Add new content
This gives the search engines more to draw from and gives your visitors a reason to come back.
Use text wisely
Search engines analyze words coded in HTML, but not those that are embedded in graphics or images. However, it is not recommended to make your pages too text-heavy in the name of SEO, as this will be off-putting for visitors.
There isn’t a set of rules that will guarantee good results every time – the search engines tend to change their scoring methodologies in order to keep sites from tricking them into playing favorites.
Paid search works via an auction system. You select and bid for search terms to your product or service. Once you have paid for the term, the price of which is set by the top bidder, you develop a text-based advertisement for posting alongside the natural results, and then pay-per-click when users click on your ad and land on your website. The advantage to this type of marketing on the search engines is, with an effective buy, your ad can appear near the top of the results. Additionally, you can set a budget that, when met via the pay-per-click system, will automatically remove your ad from the rankings.
Major search engines offer exercises to help you select search terms and phrases that might be worth a bid. If you’ve brainstormed words to use for your SEO efforts, these can be a good starting point. Once you’ve selected search terms to bid on, you need to choose a geographical range in which you’d like your ads to appear.
Then, you need to consider two budgets – how much you’re prepared to spend over a period of time, and how much you’d be willing to allocate for each click through to your site. The more you’ll pay for a click through, the higher you’ll likely rank – until the pay-per-click budget you allocated is depleted. Then your ad won’t appear again until the next billing period begins.
Bear in mind that when it comes to more generic terms, you are likely to be outbid by larger organizations with bigger budgets. If you do have the budget, bidding on keywords can be a successful strategy for increasing your brand presence online, although it may not generate qualified leads.
Consider your realm of specialization and choose keywords that reflect these niche offerings. For Zingerman’s, bidding a premium on “anchovy sauce” never yielded a strong ROI because the term was too broad to bring in qualified leads. But when they bid on a unique term for a particular Italian anchovy sauce, “Colatura”, it was a more targeted term. This meant it cost less than other words, and resulted in a higher conversion rate, since the person typing that term into a browser is more likely to be a pre-qualified lead.
Given that your ad will stop appearing in the sponsored links as soon as your budget runs out, the impact of Paid Search can be more short-term or transient than an SEO strategy which can result in a longer-term presence higher up in the natural search results with no associated cost – once you get there. It’s worth investing in a combined strategy. Then, you can create a longer-term plan and budget for weighting your resources according to the results you achieve.
Hiring a Search-Engine-Marketing Firm
Contributed by: Jon Rognerud, Author of The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization
Knowing where to turn once you’ve decided to outsource your search-engine-marketing campaigns can be daunting. Just as with any other vendor, knowledge base, cost efficiency, and results are among the most important factors when selecting a trustworthy firm. And, as the search engines are continuously updating their algorithms, it's just as important to find a search-marketing agency that is up-to-date on the latest tactics.
The best referrals for a search agency can come via a colleague or trade organization. Regardless, completing a proper and thorough interview process is the key in finding the best firm for you. Categories for consideration include the firm’s technical prowess and general SEM tactics, their ability to provide a full analysis of the results of your investment, expertise in your industry, and general marketing experience.
Source: Multilingual Search Worldwide