What is Search Engine Marketing
If you’re an advertiser, you probably know already that your visibility in search engine results pages (SERP) is of vital importance. What good is a website if nobody knows about it and you’re not getting users visiting it? E-commerce is a numbers game; it’s just a given that if your products and services are worthwhile, you’re going to get a lot better sales (“conversions”) if you have more people actually visiting the site to check you out.
SEM, then, aims to fine-tune your SERP standing by:
- Using search (SEO) strategies)
- Using paid placement and paid inclusion
- Using Mobile Advertising
We’ll discuss all of these ideas one by one.
Back in those long-gone stone-age days of the Internet (the mid- to late-1990s), search engines began to appear, as indexes that would help people find information, products or services quickly. It wasn’t long before business models began to evolve around search engines (as ways to actually finance their presence and services), with the first pay per click programs being developed by Open Text in the mid-90s. Between then and now, pay-per-click (PPC) has proved to be the primary money maker for search engine companies. Search engine marketing, then, has evolved to become an over-arching term that takes in several facets of Internet marketing.
Search Engine Optimization
Google, Yahoo and Bing have a set of 200 or so factors that affect page rank for a website. Much of what goes into their algorithms and the parameters for search engine results is fairly secretive, and the companies keep changing and scrambling some of these factors a few times a year (so that unscrupulous webmasters can’t figure out ways to “game the system” and manipulate the various factors to get page ranks that are unfairly high). What SEO experts do agree on, though, is that the following are all worthwhile for getting better search engine results:
- Use of important keywords that are recognized by search engine spiders
- Use of keywords in the URL itself
- Using keywords in the meta tags for web pages
- Fresh content in the site (a blog, BLOG, updates, etc)
- Cross linking between pages
- Good-quality inbound links from other sites
There is, of course, a lot more to SEO than that, and a certain amount of it still involves educated guesses. These are all, however, factors that go into building prominence in search engines.
“Paid placement” is roughly synonymous with pay-per-click (PPC). With PPC, the idea is to target your ads through some very careful and skilled copywriting; the ads will appear when keywords are recognized that match the keywords in your PPC ad. If a user doesn’t click on your ad, you don’t pay for its placement; you don’t actually pay for anything until users do click. With search engines, you will usually be bidding on keyword phrases that are relevant to your targeted audience. Other sites will generally just charge a fixed price instead of pricing ads through a bidding setup. Sites that just have content (rather than search engines) will often have rate cards that will offer various tiers of advertisements that can give you better visibility on their site. You’ll need to remember, though, that while content sites with fixed rates for advertising may seem like a good deal, they generally have a much lower click-through rate (and lower conversions) than the PPC ads that might appear on search engine result pages. PPC is also susceptible to abuse through “click fraud,” where a competitor tries to exhaust an advertiser’s ad budget by multiple clicks on their ads. Google, however, has recognized this problem and has automated systems to counter click fraud. Although it can be difficult to prove, click fraud is considered an Internet crime and a felony in most jurisdictions.
Contextual advertising scans whatever text is on a screen (or even in an email from Yahoo or gmail.com) and puts up advertisements for your webpage depending on certain keywords in the text. It’s a next logical step after pop-up ads and banner ads, both of which have become extremely unpopular with users. For example, if you’re looking at a site or reading an email about the military, you might see ads for military memorabilia or recruiting ads for the US Army on the page.
A newer refinement along these lines is semantic targeting, which identifies a word in its context and cancels out ads that might not apply when that word has more than one meaning. Semantic targeting can also use synonyms for a word; if you’re looking for pasta, semantic targeting might identify the word “pasta” and send you ads for linguini, macaroni, angel hair, lasagna and ziti. Sentiment analysis is a further evolution of semantic targeting and can be very important to brand management and brand protection. Imagine if you’re reading a story about an airline disaster, and an ad for American Airlines appears onscreen.
One more element of search engine marketing is paid inclusion. IN a paid-inclusion setup, the search engine company charges fees back to websites to bump their page rankings; this is also known as “sponsored listings.” This model is a win-win for the search engine companies, as it brings in revenue for them and protects against superfluous listings. The notable exceptions to the paid inclusion model are Google and Ask.com, who expressly do not let webmasters pay for search engine results; for them, “paid inclusion” is considered to be an advertisement and is labeled that way. Detractors of paid inclusion maintain that it tilts the playing field more towards companies and webmasters with money and ad budgets, and puts other relevant sites at a disadvantage. Others only feature paid inclusion as a hybrid along with PPC advertising. For companies, it’s usually part of testing the waters and seeing which strategy is going to bring the best return on investment (ROI) for their advertising dollars.
A rapidly growing part of the search engine marketing field involves mobile phones. Worldwide, mobile phones now outnumber TV sets by 3 to 1, and they outnumber desktop and laptop computers by 5 to 1. The search engine market for mobile phones is currently dominated hands-down by Google. Mobile advertising accounts for about 1% of all advertising dollars spent globally, but that’s certain to go up in the future. It’s a field that’s evolving so rapidly that by the time you read this, this information will probably be obsolete. Suffice to say that mobile-phone SMS (single message service, like text messages) advertising is now being called the “seventh mass media channel” , after print, recordings, cinema, radio, television and Internet advertising. How this will affect search engine marketing (and what sorts of models will come along) largely remains to be seen, but any advertiser who wants to stay out ahead of the curve would be wise to keep track of what’s happening with mobile advertising and SEM.
Here are some things to remember when you’re planning to lay out a Search Engine Marketing campaign:
With SEM and PPC advertising, your ad copy will “go live” almost immediately. That means you can start analyzing the results and looking into your ROI right away. Google also is happy to help with a whole toolbox full of metrics that you can use towards measuring your results.
You only have a small number of words and a limited amount of space that you can use for your ad. Consider carefully what your target audience and your “typical user” will be, and choose your keywords very carefully.
Think about whether you want fixed-rate advertising on sites that are already full of content, or whether you want to bid on advertising on search engines. Each strategy has its advantages and drawbacks.
The best, most effective SEM campaigns will carefully consider and test-drive SEO, paid placement, paid inclusion and other facets in fine-tuning their efforts. You’ve only got so much money for your ad budget, make sure that you use it wisely.
Remember that what works for SEM today will probably be completely outdated by this time next year; that’s how quickly things are moving ahead. You’d be wise to stay informed and stay up to date on how all this stuff works, and tweak your efforts accordingly.
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