Any business can be helped or hindered by its marketing campaigns. A good quality campaign can lead to new customers, new streams of revenue and a growth in the business; conversely, a poor quality marketing campaign is simply wasted money. In fact the worst quality campaigns – those with irritating or offensive advertisements – can actually damage a brand.
Search Engine Marketing
In a lot of ways, search engine marketing (otherwise called SEM) is similar in nature to any other type of marketing: You have a target audience to which you need to promote your products or services. You accomplish this by designing ads that will make potential customers think about choosing your company for whatever need it is that it fulfills.
There is a major difference, however, with search marketing: Everything moves extremely quickly. With pay-per-click advertising, for example, you can have your ads showing to a world-wide target audience within minutes and potential customers arriving at your site minutes later. Played correctly, this can help you to grow the business quickly; but if the campaigns are poorly thought-out, there is a potential to lose a significant amount of money.
With this in mind, there are two main stages to the search engine marketing puzzle. One is advertising, which has just been touched upon – it requires a lot of analysis of conversion rates etc., and there is always some associated risk. The second is what is referred to as search engine optimization (or SEO for short). SEO can be further divided into “on site” and “off site” tasks, which are discussed below.
Search Engine Optimization and Keyword Research
There are a multitude of ways how to do SEO. However, as with anything in business, the first stage should always be the research – in this case, what we call keyword research. Search engines rank sites according to their popularity and what keywords the site contains. If a site is about lawnmowers, it would be illogical for a search engine to send a user who had searched for teapots. However, even if your business sells lawnmowers, there needs to be a range of other related keywords on the site.
When choosing keywords you should look at both how many users search for the word each month and how competitive the search term is. The search volume is self explanatory – by targeting words with a high number of searches each month, there is a greater chance of attracting a larger number of potential customers. To check for search volumes, it is advisable to use Google’s free keyword tool, which is available on their Adwords site.
Judging Your Competition
The competitiveness of the word is related to how many other sites also contain the keyword, and of those, how many are highly “optimized”. If there are too many highly optimized sites, it will be hard to compete at first. There are a number of ways to check competitiveness. One is to enter your keyword term into a search engine (really, as Google is the biggest by a large margin, it is the one you should use) and look at the first four of five results. These are your real competition, so you should perform a brief analysis of how well optimized their pages are.
The algorithms search engines use are complex, regularly being updated, and contain hundreds of different variables to help them to rank pages. However, the most important factor that influences rank is the amount of links that are pointing to a site; and more specifically, the amount of “high quality” links. What this means is that the search engines consider that a site with lots of links pointing to it must be popular in the eyes of other website owners, and if there are high quality links (or links from popular pages) the link is worth even more.
Yahoo provide a free online tool called “Site Explorer” where you can see what links are pointing to different sites. Another – potentially easier – way to check is to use an online “Pagerank” checker. Pagerank is a measure that Google uses to rank websites. There are a number of factors that influence it, but inbound links is a large part of that. If the top four competing sites have Pagerank 3 or less, then you can consider targeting the term in question. If any of the pages are Pagerank 4 or more, the work required to beat them may be disproportionate to the profit potential.
Using Your Keywords
If performing your own DIY SEO, you should include your chosen keyword terms on your site. Put them in header tags, in the meta data and throughout the body of your text. However, it is important not to overuse keywords. If a word is repeated over and over, this is a sure sign to a search engine that you may be trying to game the system – in this circumstance, their algorithms may impose a penalty to keep your site from rising through the ranks. As a general rule of thumb, ensure your keyword terms do not appear any more often than 1 to 1.5% of the time.
As a site with more inbound links will be thought of as more popular by Google, Bing etc., it is widely agreed that the single most important part of the SEO puzzle is ensuring lots of sites link to yours.
There are a multitude of ways to do this, but three of the most popular are:
1. Approach other webmasters by email and ask for them to link to one of your sites in exchange for a link back to theirs;
2. Submit articles to free online article directories, which include links pointing to your site; or
3. Buy a link package from a specialist SEO company.
Timing Is Important
If you set up a brand new site and immediately buy a link package from a search engine optimization company that points 300 low quality links at your site, the site will quickly be flagged as SPAM by Google. Their system will then respond by ensuring your site never rises through the search ranks.
Instead of this, you need to start slowly. Send one or two links to your site each day. As the weeks pass, you can become more confident and send more and more links. This is a somewhat slow process, but it is a safe way to grow your online business and if completed consistently, over time it can be an almost guaranteed way to drive traffic – and hence potential customers – to your site.
In short, SEO and SEM can be complicated practices and can seem confusing to the SEO newbie; this article really only scratches the surface. However, in its most basic form, the process is simple: Slowly but consistently build links to a site with well chosen keywords, and traffic will ensue.