AMONG WEB MARKETERS, it is the big debate: SEM versus SEO. Sound like just a bunch of letters to you?
If you owned a web site, you wouldn’t think so. SEO stands for search engine optimization, a process that seeks to boost a site’s traffic by helping it rise within a search engine’s organic, or un-paid, search results. It is often seen as the Holy Grail for Internet marketers, as people tend to click those links over their paid counterparts. However, the conversion rate — that is, the number of shoppers that turn from browsers to buyers — tends to be lower in organic search listings.
Search engine marketing (SEM), popularly referred to as pay-per-click, on the other hand, is a form of Internet marketing that promotes websites on search engine result pages through paid placement (In search engines, these links appear on the right side of the screen or they’re highlighted at the top of organic search results.) The conversion rate from these paid links is 2.03% versus 1.26% from organic links, according a 2009 study from Engine Ready, an Internet marketing company in San Diego. What’s more, those clicking over from sponsored links also tend to spend more. According to the study, those who clicked through a paid link spent on average $11 more, or $117.06 versus $106.64, than those who traveled to sites via un-paid links.
The reason for the differential: Conversion rates tend to improve as shoppers progress through the buying cycle, says Alhan Keser, an SEM specialist at Blue Fountain Media, a boutique web site development and online marketing firm in New York. Although search engine users typically troll organic results to conduct online research, they start favoring sponsored links when they’re ready to buy, he says. “Most people who click on ads are ready to be sold to; they are at the buying stage,” Keser says.
Still, SEM can be expensive — especially for resource-strapped small businesses. Business owners normally set the price they’re willing to pay for keywords — the words or phrases that Internet users type into search engines — which may be purchased daily from search engines like Google’s Adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCenter. However, broader keywords and phrases are often pricier. Also, setting up an SEM campaign usually costs more initially, as marketers or owners may wind up choosing keywords that don’t pan out.
Despite these potential pitfalls, here are seven tips for getting the most out of pay-per-click:
Don’t pick your own keywords
Picking the keywords that will attract shoppers to your site can be tricky. While you’ll want to select your company’s name, as well as the name of your competitors, the key in determining other keywords is to keep an open mind, says Keser. “Talk to customers; see what words they use when they search for your products,” he says. Note that the broader the search phrases, the pricier those keywords will be. To reduce your costs, consider opting for focused, relevant keywords.
In 2001, Ian MacDonald launched a pay-per-click campaign for Century Novelty, a Detroit party supplies company that had just gone entirely online. Although MacDonald started out bidding on broad keywords such as “party supplies,” over time, he started to get more specific in his keyword selections — choosing phrases such as “luau party supplies” or “Hawaiian party leis,” for example.