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Search Engine Marketing Exposed
By Dan Kurani, Founder, Kurani Multimedia

As much an art as it is a science "Search Engine Marketing" has frustrated even the most technically savvy marketers. This necessary component to the online marketing arena (including affiliate programs, email marketing, online placement, and sponsorships) requires that the astute marketer not only thoroughly understand business objectives but then accurately apply them to the two major components of Search Engine Marketing, Pay Per Placement (PPP) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Okay, you are here for one of four reasons:

  1. Your position/title entitles you to that special privilege of finding a firm to handle your company's Search Engine Marketing and you need a primer
  2. You either own or are in charge of a website and need to find ways to drive traffic and Search Engine Marketing is the primary option
  3. You are in an advertising agency or marketing firm that has clients that are begging for an integrated marketing plan that includes interactive
  4. Instead of people watching, you really enjoy reading dry white papers on your coffee break at Starbucks

All right, one of three reasons. If you did happen to pick number four, at least your lobotomy will make this somewhat bearable. For the rest of you, every effort will be made to keep things light while keeping educational integrity. Hopefully, this white paper will feel a little less like your last visit to the dentist than did your last white paper.

Overview

As much an art as it is a science "Search Engine Marketing" has frustrated even the most technically savvy marketers. This necessary component to the online marketing arena (including affiliate programs, email marketing, online placement, and sponsorships) requires that the astute marketer not only thoroughly understand business objectives but then accurately apply them to the two major components of Search Engine Marketing, Pay Per Placement (PPP) and Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

To make matters more challenging the marketer needs to stay on top of search engine trends, algorithm changes, analysis software, blackball campaigns, and submission procedures for SEO and industry consolidations, bidding wars, and strict listing guidelines for Pay Per Placement. Throw in that all too real "measurable ROI" and you have a scary check sheet with phrases like click to conversion, tracking urls, and code structure analysis.

Now that you have been primed with just enough fear to get your attention we can begin to paint a much better landscape. In famous artist's words, lets paint a happy search engine optimization plan over here and a happy Pay Per Placement Plan over there.

The paper is broken down as follows:

  • Business Objectives
  • Site Readiness
  • Pay Per Placement (PPP) Plan
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Plan
  • How much does it cost?
  • What do I do now?

Business Objectives

Before jumping into a SEO or PPP a thorough review of a company's online business objectives is highly recommended. Driving traffic is just a component of a valid Search Engine Marketing plan, understanding why you are driving traffic is just as important.

What is the purpose of the company's online presence?

Is the website serving as an afterthought?

If using the website merely as a defensive option, search engine marketing may not be the right fit. Building a web presence just so you have an address to give people when they ask is what many of us in this industry refer to as brochure ware. If you do have brochure ware, don't worry, although Tupperware has more functionality, quite often minor adjustments can be made to your existing site to help its marketability.

However, if your company is content with brochure ware, you should carefully consider why you would send traffic to a site that is incapable of producing results.

Is the website being used in concert with traditional (tv, radio, or print) advertising or marketing, otherwise known as an integrated approach? Is it a sustained campaign? Is it a short-term concentrated direct response effort?

If you need to send traffic to a particular site pronto, PPP is the only realistic option. However, a sustained campaign may require ongoing SEO along with continuing analysis. Answers to these questions will determine whether traffic should be sent to landing pages with a heavy PPP campaign or to a microsite with SEO and PPP backup.

Is the site being utilized to educate distributors, affiliates, and employees?

Do you have 10 distributors/affiliates or 1000s? If you have 10, a short email or a phone call would save a ton of headaches. However, if you have 1000s without strong existing channels of communication, a few highly targeted terms using SEO may be the right fit.

If you already have strong existing channels of communication and the site is purely focused on these targets, Search Engine Marketing may not be the right avenue.

Is the website revenue or lead generating? Is it through the sale of product directly to consumers or serving as a B to B procurement option? Is the site producing leads for your sales force, or at least is the site built to produce leads for your sales force?

Revenue and lead generating sites are generally the best candidates for Search Engine Marketing. These sites benefit from increased targeted traffic with a measurable ROI.

Each of these questions along with about 100 others should be asked before determining not only what resources should be allocated toward SEO and PPP but "if" resources should be allocated toward search engine marketing of any type.

If you are still reading you have either determined that Search Engine Marketing fits into your business goals or you insist on torturing yourself.

Site Readiness

Many companies realize too late that merely driving more traffic is not the answer. Before even thinking about generating traffic, the site needs to be ready for the target audience. Would you have dinner guests over without enough chairs at the table? Even worse, imagine the dinner guests getting lost once they get into the house and can't even find the table.

Everyone has heard the words usability and functionality thrown around at will, yet many websites actually still drive traffic "Away".

Site readiness is a balance of marketing, usability, functionality, and the ability to determine key metrics. In a nutshell, marketing gets the user to the pages that hold the functionality while usability ensures that they don't get annoyed or lost on the way there. Having tracking and analysis tools in place before beginning the optimization process ensures that key metrics are available to optimize both the campaign and the site for peak performance.

Marketability

Marketing doesn't end when the visitor gets to the website. In fact, slightly turning up the intensity of the message on the website may compel the user to become a lead or that coveted customer. Key content should be within 1 to 2 clicks of the homepage and having a shopping cart or lead harvesting form within 1 to 3 clicks only improves the odds of the user taking action.

Usability

Usability is the ability for user to perform actions in an efficient manner. Whether it is navigating the website for research, filling out a form to request information, or making a purchase the user should be able complete their task with ease. Choosing an experienced firm to review and adjust your current site will prevent the unnecessary costs of focus groups and customer complaints.

Functionality

Functionality is the ability for the site to allow users to act. Whether it is sign up for a newsletter, purchase an item, login as a member, or perform a search, functionality is the difference between a site that sucks up marketing dollars or one that produces the potential for revenue.

Tracking

Tracking is a key component in your PPP plan. Building a site that supports tracking urls will ensure that key metrics, such as conversion rate, are logged. Effective tracking will allow the firm or marketing person to remove or refine keywords that don't generate an action and adjust descriptions to pull more traffic on the best performers.

Analysis

Like any marketing endeavor SEO and PPP need to be analyzed carefully. Proper tracking and robust site statistics ensures that metrics will be available for analysis. Ensuring that a large enough sample size is gathered before scrutiny will prevent premature changes to the search engine strategy.

Pay Per Placement (PPP) Plan

Each engine has specific criteria and options for paid placement, including editorial guidelines. In some cases you can choose to have searches listed on 3rd party sites based on material context, otherwise know as contextual search results. It is highly recommended that all steps of site readiness are complete before implementing your campaign. When it comes to a PPP Plan it is important to understand your listing will show up in a sponsored section. The jury is out on whether this hurts or helps as many users bypass the sponsored listings favoring the web matches (those listings are the target of the SEO program). However, some believe that serious buyers will actually go toward the sponsored matches as they prove that the companies listed are actual businesses. Driving additional clicks per listing is in the engines best interest and you can be assured that throughout the sign-up process you will be given many recommendations on listing optimization for maximum traffic.

The following screenshot shows Overture's feed in Yahoo's sponsored section.

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Search engines and directories covered include:

Yahoo

MSN

AOL

AltaVista

Excite

Infoseek

Google

About.com

Looksmart

Netscape

Concerns about overlapping sponsorship should be low as these results are based on click-through charges. Unless, a user searches Yahoo and clicks your sponsored listing and then goes to search MSN, it is unlikely the user will click your listing again unless they are serious about your company.

The following screenshot shows Looksmart's and Overture's feed in both MSN's sponsored section and web matches section.

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Overture

Overture is the 800 pound gorilla when it comes to pay per placement. If you place as one of the top 3 bidders, Overture's pay per click results will appear as sponsored links in over 80% of all search engines including MSN, AOL, AltaVista, Yahoo, Earthlink and Infoseek. If you are within the top 10 your listings will also appear across a number of tier II and tier III partner's sites. At the time of this writing the average cost per click was hovering at .24 per click, with the lowest cost per click at .10 and highs in the area of $5-8 per click for extremely competitive terms.

Yahoo

Contrary to popular belief Yahoo is not a search engine, it is a massive human edited directory. If you do a search in Yahoo and it does not find your keyword or phrase in its directory listings it will use the results of Inktomi which was bought by Yahoo in 2003. Previously Yahoo was partnered with Google to provide these results. A standard Yahoo directory listing requires registration fee of approximately $300. It is highly recommended you get the listing right the first time. Yahoo has additional sponsored listing options, however, if you are placing top 3 on overture for the same terms, your sponsored listings may be redundant.

LookSmart

LookSmart's system, considered less robust than that of Overture and Google's Adwords, allows companies with smaller budgets to get traffic from MSN, About.com, Netscape, and Road Runner directly to their homepage. Companies with healthier budgets will get priority support and targeting to individual pages.

Google

Google's Adwords and sponsored text listing compliment listings with competitors Overture, Yahoo, and Looksmart. After recent consolidations and partner swapping Google, although they have partners, still seems to exist as an island. Google's Adwords have a similar cost per click bid based model as overture, however, placement is weighted along with actual click through % rather than just the highest bidder, a model that overture may be picking up on to increase revenue.

The following screenshots show Google's paid listing options.

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There are a number of other options for paid placement including industry specific portals, B to B specific paid placement like Business.com, and other paid feeds like Mamma.com, Ah-ha.com and Findwhat.com

When used properly and in conjunction with SEO, your PPP Plan should fill in the gaps of your Search Engine Marketing plan.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Plan

It is important that a distinction is made between PPP and SEO at this point. PPP means that you are paying for your listing and you are at the mercy of the PPP engines listing guidelines, your responsibility beyond that point is to pay your listing fees and make sure that your site readiness is up to snuff. SEO is the process of optimizing and submitting your site to the search. SEO is an ever-changing art that requires attentive engineers that will scour the engines for algorithm changes and policy changes.

Search engines and directories covered include:

Yahoo, MSN, AOL, AltaVista, Excite, Hotbot, Infoseek, Google, About.com, Looksmart, Netscape, Fast, Ask Jeeves, DMOZ & All the Web

The following screenshot is a ranked term showing up on AOL Search at number 15.

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Although it is recommended that you use a professional firm to handle your optimization, it is understood that there will be a few do-it-yourselfers that are looking for something to sink their teeth into. As a learning tool we are providing ôsome


Dan Kurani is the founder and visionary for Kurani Multimedia. His intuitive business acumen, belief in the future of technology, and love for advertising are a perfect fit within the interactive marketing space. With over 10 years of entrepreneurial business experience, Dan has served in every imaginable marketing, advertising, sales, and technical roll necessary to grow his client's businesses.

No matter what category you fall into, Kurani Multimedia would be glad to point you in the right direction. Visit our website at http://www.kuranimultimedia.com or feel free to call us at 800.889.7676 with any questions.

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