Rising To The Top Of The Search

Understanding Search Marketing is the first step in driving traffic to your business’ web site

search engine marketingCongratulations. After months of blood, sweat and tears, your new company, Jane’s Designer Clothing, has launched its new web site. Naturally, you’re excited to see what happens when someone tries to search for your company, so you launch your favorite search engine, type “Jane’s Designer Clothing” into the query box and hit the Search button. Within seconds, the search engine has sifted through millions of web pages and given you a list of web sites that it thinks you’ll be interested to know about.

But wait. Your site isn’t listed in the top ten results. It’s not even in the top 50 results. In fact, the list of web sites isn’t exactly what you were expecting to see at all. OK, some of them should be there, but what’s with those ads on the right hand side? The ones that say Designer Clothing at Zappos, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom: Official Site. How did they get in there?

The answer is simple. Someone paid to put those ads in your search results.

Welcome to the world of Search Marketing.

In the days before Google, search engines did one thing: They sorted through millions of web sites and presented a list of web pages that matched as closely as possible the keywords in your search query. And then the guys at Google realized that there was money to be made by offering Marketers the ability to buy advertising on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERP) and the Search Marketing industry was born.

Search Marketing is divided into two groups or disciplines: SEM (Search Engine Marketing) companies create the advertising that appears in the Sponsored (paid) Listings at the top and to the right hand side of a Search Engine Result Page. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) companies specialize in getting your web page to appear high up in the Organic (natural) Listings which are on the left side of the page, below the Sponsored Listings.

SEM Companies and Sponsored Listings

SEM companies function much like traditional advertising agencies, except that the ads they create go into the Sponsored Listings section of a Search Engine Result Page and not a TV or print campaign. The SEM company gets paid by charging a fee to create and manage the campaign, usually between 8% and 20% of the total media spend.

SEM campaigns have four components: The title or headline of the ad, the detail, the URL of your web site and the keywords you’ve chosen as “triggers”. Whether or not your ad appears in the Sponsored Listings section depends on whether the keywords you chose as triggers matched keywords in the user’s search query as well as how much you bid for the keyword or phrase in the query and whether or not you’ve maxed out your budget for the day. The position of any individual ad is determined by which Marketer bid the highest price for the keyword(s) in the search query. The search engine gets paid only when someone clicks on an ad – the reason this is referred to as PPC or pay-per-click advertising.

PPC campaigns often consist of hundreds, or even thousands, of keywords. PPC campaigns will start sending traffic to your web site as soon as you have created your ads and put money into your account and for this reason, they are ideal for Brand Building or time sensitive product launches. The downside is that the traffic stops when you turn off the financial faucet. Also, even though you are only charged when someone actually clicks on an ad, if the campaign has a few high volume keywords, a PPC campaign can be an expensive proposition. If you’re running your campaign as part of a broader Brand building exercise, this may not matter. But if you’re trying to drive traffic to the web site to sell products, or you’re running a customer acquisition strategy, you have to run the numbers.

For example, let’s say your web site is selling $10 widgets. You’ve bid $.50 per click on a specific keyword, your ad is shown 10,000 times (in a day) and the ad has a 3% CTR (click-through rate). That means 150 people a day clicked on your ad and, at $.50 per click, you’re spending $75 a day or about $2,200 a month. If your web site has a 2% conversion rate – the number of people who come to your web site and actually buy something – your campaign is costing you $45 per day more than you’re making on widget sales. In this scenario, $.50 per click is too much to bid – your bid price should be less than $.20 for that keyword. Of course, if you do that, your ad may not be shown as many times.

SEO Companies and Organic Search Listings

SEO companies take a different approach to getting a web site to show up on a Search Engine Result Page. SEO companies focus on getting your company’s web site to appear towards the top of the Search Engine Result Page by making the structure of the web site as relevant as possible to the search query.

In broad strokes, a search engine measures relevancy by using an algorithm (or formula) that looks at multiple types of data about your web site. It then scores your site against the search query, with the sites having the highest relevancy score presented at the top of the Search Engine Result Pages. But not all search engines use the same algorithm and for that reason, relevancy is subjective.

In an effort to make the web site as relevant as possible, a good SEO company will start by looking at the things that all search engines focus on:

  • The TITLE of your web page and how closely it matches the keyword or phrase being searched for
  • The DOMAIN NAME of your web site and how closely it matches the keyword or phrase being searched for
  • The META Description of your web page how closely it matches the keyword or phrase being searched for
  • The QUALITY and AMOUNT of the content on your web page and how relevant it is to the keyword or phrase being searched for
  • The STRUCTURE of the HTML code used to create your web page
  • The NUMBER, QUALITY and RELEVANCY of links into your web page from other sources

These are not in order and there are other factors. But these are the most basic.

Unlike PPC advertising where you pay for placement and almost immediate visibility on Search Engine Results Pages, there are two minor problems with relying on natural search engine optimization. First, any changes you make to your site will take between 60 and 90 days to show up and second, any changes your competition makes to their web sites might cause your web site to move up or down in the rankings in response. Even so, it’s well worth the time and effort to do.

Let’s go back to the $10 widgets example. Assume you paid $5,000 to an SEO company for your web site to be optimized. For the first and second month, there isn’t much traffic, but after the third month, your web site is getting 1,000 visits a day from natural search, or about 30,000 visits a month. If your web site has the same 2% conversion rate as in PPC example, then 600 people every month are buying your $10 widget and you’ve paid for the cost of the SEO work in no time at all.

Which one is best for you?

Ideally, you should include money in your marketing budget for both PPC and SEO. While there’s no substitute for the ROI that comes from having a well optimized web site over the long term, if your plan relies solely on SEO to get people to your web site, at least in the short term, you’re going to be disappointed. The best Search Marketing campaigns concentrate on a PPC campaign to prime the pump for three to six months, with decreasing PPC expenditures when the SEO efforts begin to kick in

About Eric Richmond

Eric Richmond is the Head of Audience Development at Complex Media. He is also Founder and Engagement Director of Expert SEO Consulting, a Search Marketing and Social Media Agency located in Norwalk, CT as well as a Co-Founder of career-intelligence.com. Prior to working at Complex Media, Eric was Vice President, SEO and Social Media for TechMediaNetwork, Vice President of SEO & Technology for 360i, OMMA's 2007 Search Marketing Agency of the Year and before that, Chief Technology Officer of Grey Interactive | Worldwide. He has also spoken at Search Engine Strategies conferences in New York and Chicago.

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