Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a hot topic among those who have business Web sites. And for good reason. The majority of Internet users use a search engine to find what they want. For most businesses, search engines are the biggest and most valuable sources of traffic to their Web sites. When your site appears in a user’s search results, it’s free advertising for you.
There are two parts to search engine marketing: search engine optimization and paid search. Search engine optimization, or SEO, comprises all the tactics you should use to make sure that your business Web site appears on the first page of search results — or, at least, as high up in the search results as possible. (If you have a lot of competition, this can be an everlasting, cutthroat battle.) For paid search, you pay to have your ad show up when someone’s search includes a particular word.
Search Engine Optimization
Search engines regularly crawl the Internet, building an index of every page they find. When a crawler comes to your site, it will use proprietary formulas to determine what your site is about and how valuable its content is compared to other sites. These formulas are the source of endless speculation among search marketers. Your goal is to optimize the crawler’s ability to understand your site structure and content. Here are some simple rules of thumb:
- Make it keyword-rich.Keywords are the most important element of SEO and paid search. Simply, they’re a few words that are most central to what you do. If you’re a plumber, your keywords might be “plumber,” “plumbing” and “plumbing repair.” When you create your Web pages, make sure to repeat these keywords in a natural way in the headlines and copy.
- Provide a site map. This is helpful for your visitors, as a tool to help them quickly find what they’re looking for. It’s also used by search engine crawlers.
- Get other sites to link to you. Such “inbound links” help improve your rank in search engine results. Provide information about your business, with a link to your Web site, to consumer review sites. Participate in forums where consumers ask for advice, and comment on blogs, always including a link to your business Web site.
- Keep your site fresh. Search engines give higher rankings to sites that grow and change. Add new pages and kinds of content to your site as often as once a week, and no less often than once every couple of months. Photos and video, if appropriate, are good ways to enrich your site — and to get the notice of search engines.
Buying keywords and managing campaigns can seem confusing and overwhelming. Just start small and keep it simple at first. Try buying one or two keywords on one search engine. You can add keywords and search engines as your experience grows. When you start making serious money and want to extend your search advertising, you can hire a search marketing agency.
Paid search has become the ad vehicle of choice for many small business for good reason:
- You can try out paid keyword search for as little as $20.
- It’s easy to get started — all you need is a credit card. Fill out the application on the search engine’s site and start experimenting and learning.
- Feedback is very fast, so you can test your ads and keep testing until you hit that buyer hot button that generates the sales you need.
- Search providers provide easy, free analytics tools to help you track the response to your ads and calculate your return on investment.
- You only pay when it works — that is, you pay only when somebody clicks on your ad. So if your first keyword tests are a disaster, and nobody clicks, it doesn’t cost you anything. It only costs you a fortune when you’re making a fortune.
Paid search lets you advertise to people who have searched on a term that is in some way relevant to your business. If somebody who works in an auto repair shop searches for “Honda Bumper Pullers,” and you sell Honda Bumper Pullers, your ad may show up on that search results page — maybe in addition to your site showing up in the regular search results listing.
If somebody searches not for Honda Bumper Pullers, but for something less specific but still relevant, like Honda Specialty Tools, you can pay to have your ad show up on those results pages too.
Search providers offer a variety of placements for paid search ads, but in general, they show up as small text boxes to one side of the search results.
There’s a twist to paid search ads: There’s no guarantee that your ad will appear. When you place an ad in a newspaper, the publisher guarantees that your ad will show up exactly where you want it. In return, you pay a flat rate for the ad, whether or not anyone looks at it.
The magic — and the conundrum — of paid search is that the search engine uses a complicated algorithm to decide which ads to show when someone searches. It may reject your ad for a variety of unknown reasons. On the other hand, you don’t have to pay when your ad is shown. You only pay when someone clicks on it.
For an overview of the complexities of buying search keywords, read Search Engine Marketing: What Is Your Cost Per Click?