SEM 101 for Noobs

SunAnt InteractiveSEM 101 for Noobs

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) incorporates all aspects of building a web site’s exposure in the search engines. This includes both “Organic Ranking” and “Pay-Per-Click” advertising. Organic Ranking is achieved through Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to acquire natural positioning in the search result pages (SERP’s). Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising refers to the ‘sponsored-links’ fields of the search pages, which enables anyone to purchase clicks/traffic, with front page ad exposure, for any keyword.

Organic vs PPC

All the search engines follow similar strategies for ranking sites in the organic results, and all offer PPC advertising. It is estimated that 80% or more of online queries and sales begin with one of the top 5 engines (Forrester Research, 2007). Therefore, SEM is an absolute necessity for online marketing success and should be afforded more importance and budget in the overall marketing strategy, than all other forms of online advertising.

We are all well aware that the internet has single-handedly revolutionized the way commerce happens. Regardless of your product or service – regardless of your target audience, the internet has become everyone’s research tool of choice (with the exception of the elderly). For the foreseeable future, the search engines have established themselves as the dominant interface for pursuing the online research process. Search engines are the gateway for 80-90% of global user interaction with the web. Just ask yourself, when you want to find something where do you look?

Some Hard Cold SEO Facts:

  • Depending on your Target Demographic, Google is the solution for +60% of the market.
  • Yahoo is currently managing to hold onto about 25%.
  • ‘Eye Tracking’ and Search Usability studies, performed by MarketingSherpa®, indicate that approximately:
  • 80% of users find what they are searching for ‘above the fold’ of the very first page. In other words, in the top 5 organic or PPC results for any given search.
  • 90% of users rarely leave the first page of results, and less than 1-2% goes beyond the second.
  • The top 3 organic positions receive the most attention

Moral of the story – If your website is not ranked in the top 20 results on Google or Yahoo, organically or through advertisements, you are virtually invisible to almost everyone online.

Keyword Analysis

Keyword Analysis is the backbone of any SEM campaign, allowing the researcher to discover exactly what the public is searching for in relation to product and service offerings. Keyword preferences will change across geographical locations, genders, demographics, and are unique for all industry verticals. Without this information, it is next to impossible to get a meaningful SEM campaign underway.

We use the best keyword tools and software suites available, and coupled with our experience, we can determine the best phrases to target. Keyword analysis is not just about words, it’s a window into the mindset of the public, and provides guidance for establishing and/or promoting your brand online.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the implementation of keywords, content and links to clearly define your products and services to search engines and users alike, in order to achieve top ranking positions in the SERPS. Keep in mind that you are dealing with an algorithm, a computer with set limitations and parameters of evaluation. There is nothing intuitive about it, with little to no comparative capabilities. In essence this means that targeting “shoes” will not help your rankings for “sandals”.

There are numerous strategies to achieve top organic rankings, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. The bad SEO is referred to as ‘Black Hat’ and should be avoided at all costs; punishment is a one way ticket to the void – your site will be removed from the search index entirely. We do not advocate, teach or use black hat practices. ‘White Hat SEO’ is, for the most part accepted by the search engines, utilizing a simple logic – what is good for the user is good for the search. Done correctly, SEO can provide the highest marketing ROI available today. However, putting keywords onto your site is just the beginning, and is often not enough to drive a successful rank building campaign. There are dozens of alterations to be made for every page of a site, which often require ongoing refinement to improve results.

There are two primary aspects to SEO: Onsite and Offsite.

Onsite SEO, as the name implies, is specifically concerned with the proper presentation of information on a website. Keyword content considerations necessarily include:

  • Headers
  • Page Titles and Meta Data
  • Site Platform and Coding concerns and requirements
  • Content Visibility – just because you see it, does not mean the SE can
  • Site Navigation/Menu naming conventions
  • Internal linking opportunities from every page
  • Graphics and layout considerations
  • Image naming conventions
  • The inclusion of a sitemap

Offsite SEO is alternately concerned with obtaining keyword optimized links to appropriate pages on the website. These links act as highly effective flags that attract the SE’s attention. They are used to both confirm and establish the relevance of your webpage content. Industry experts agree that offsite optimization is critical for SEM. Offsite optimization equates to what are commonly referred to as “Backlinks” or Textlinks”. These are links obtainable from a variety of online sources, such as directory listings, press releases, blog posts, etc. Google revolutionized the search marketplace by including a website’s interconnectedness to the rest of the web as a primary factor for determining rank. Therefore, your website’s ranking is determined by the effective implementation of keywords both on your site and as dispersed across the internet as possible. The object is to appear as a credible source of information, product and/or service, in relation to your keywords. The SE’s determine this by the quantity and quality of links to your site.

Quantity is simply the number of links – in most cases the more the better. Quality is a bit harder to define as it is primarily a factor of relevance and importance. Links from a site that is relevant to your industry will have a greater impact than one that is not. Furthermore, a link from an important website (as identified by Page Rank) will also maximize the impact.

Pay-per-Click Advertising

PPC (Google’s “AdWords” and Yahoo’s “Sponsored Search” systems, etc.) is the Search Engine’s way of leveling the playing field, and generating a sizeable income in the process. It is in fact, Google’s only source of income.

PPC lets anyone willing to purchase website traffic the opportunity to bid for keyword searches. The client gets the needed front page exposure without the difficulties of SEO, and because of the bidding system, the market sets the value of that placement.

Costs are accrued on a per click basis, as the name implies – not on a pay per display basis, as banner ads usually are. One click through might cost the advertiser $0.10 or $30.00, it primarily depends on how much the competition is willing to spend. This does not mean you have to spend yourself into the poor house to get results. The engines offer customizable restraints into the system so that daily spending limits can be set for each ad group and campaign, to fit any budget. Keep in mind though, there are other factors involved with how the SE’s determine the cost of a click through.

The PPC price is also determined by the relevance of the target keywords, the ad copy and the content of the page the ad points to. This is particularly true with Google, whose revenue lifeline depends on their ability to provide the best results for searches. If they allow their SERPs to become cluttered with garbage, people will turn to another engine. To maintain their dominance in the search market by providing the best results, they have established a very effective system to weed out the chaff in the PPC market. Once again, it is a factor of relevance. Creating ad campaigns for keywords not directly reflected in the content of your website will exponentially increase your PPC costs. Thus, SEO becomes increasingly important for your site as even basic onsite SEO will have a direct impact on your PPC campaign costs.

Effective PPC Strategies

  • Only target keywords your website content can support
  • While being in the first position can be important, it is often not cost effective
  • Negative keywords are extremely important for weeding out irrelevant traffic
  • Long tail/obscure keywords can be extremely effective at driving quality traffic & minimizing click through costs

An often overlooked value of running a PPC campaign is that it can be the best approach for determining keyword effectiveness and ranking strategies for SEO. Knowing that “Manhattan Real Estate” is not the same as “Manhattan Townhomes for Sale”, figuring out which is more relevant to your target audience, in addition to know which will be easier to target, can be of critical importance. PPC lets you find out within weeks what that difference will be, before committing to a long and expensive SEO process. Test the market with PPC before engaging in SEO. Within a few days, anyone can have a top positioned marketing campaign underway.

National vs. Local

An increasingly important function of SEM is the local versus national search opportunities available for businesses that service geo specific areas. Local search is now integrated into PPC management systems so that businesses have the option to display their ads by zip code, state, region, country, internationally, and even be multilingual. In regards to SEO, integrating your geo keywords is critical if location matters. In most cases, it will be easier and more affordable to target your customers on a local basis.

Additionally, the major search engines provide opportunities to integrate your business location into their mapping tools. In the example below, you will see that the top section of the SERP is dominated by the map with 10 results that include name, website, and phone number. To ensure placement and the display or your correct information, you will need to login to each of the search engines and provide that data directly.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics Google has provided their free tool, Google Analytics, for many years now. It is extremely powerful and effective, and provides sufficient metrics for most businesses.

Analytics is a core requirement to successful online marketing. Analytics allows us to do what nothing else has done in the past – have instant visibility into everything realting to a website: where traffic is coming from, how well a site is performing, what percentage of traffic is converting to leads, and how much revenue is generated – and that just for starters.

This is important because we can queue off of this information, instantly and effectively evaluating variations in sales or leads, and make real-time improvements within days, hours, even minutes.

Today, all analytics systems collect data from web users in the same manner – through javascript tracking code snippets attached to the web browser, a.k.a. “cookies”. In the past, this tracking was accomplished through server logs, which proved to be tedious to manage and unreliable.

SEO vs. PPC and PPC vs. SEO

Advantages of SEO vs PPC:

  • Organically ranked pages generally receive the highest click through ratios
  • As Page Rank grows, a site will appear higher in search results, directly increasing legitimacy
  • SEO has long term benefit.
  • Once solidly ranked, the cost of maintaining/increasing rank will be substantially less than a comparable PPC campaign.
  • SEO, if done correctly, will simultaneously improve the user experience of your site.
  • SEO will benefit your customers because your content will be efficiently cataloged and easier to use.
  • At this time, SEO has a direct impact on PPC costs by increasing keyword relevance. The reverse is not true.

Disadvantages of SEO vs PPC

Patience is a factor! Building ranking is a slow process and requires dedication. It may take 2 months, or 2 years, there is no way to exactly delineate how long it will take to reach your ranking objectives. It is dependent upon how aggressive you are, the skills of your SEO provider, and the amount of competition.

Did I mention that it takes time to build rank? This is especially true in a competitive marketplace!

An Exception to the Rule: Yahoo’s “Paid Inclusion” allows website owners to purchase Organic Ranking, in a PPC format. Sites will appear in the normal search field as an organically ranked site, but all traffic is paid for each click through to the site.

Advantages of PPC vs SEO

  • Immediate Results!
  • Allows anyone to get top ranking exposure.
  • Customizable daily spending limits per keyword.
  • Real Time Tracking: Click Through/Spending Stats.
  • Easy to use and control
  • Allows user to set and compete for unlimited keyword fields.
  • Provides invaluable conversion feedback on keyword targets

Disadvantages of PPC vs SEO

Talk about potentially expensive – just imagine a retailer paying $10 cash to everyone who walked into their store!

Requires daily/weekly/monthly maintenance in most cases.

Provides no long term benefit to your site or SEO efforts.

As more and more people every day are utilizing search engines as their primary shopping and purchasing medium, the internet provides a business marketing field unlike any other. Your product can be viewed by a larger audience than is afforded by any other form of advertising – an indisputable fact. Therefore, it can be easily argued that a savvy business will dedicate the largest portion of its marketing budget to the internet, with the majority going to SEO and/or PPC campaigns.

As with any marketing strategy, a sufficient budget is a must, the question is one of priority: immediate or long term results? The best campaign will encompass both. A 50/50 approach is recommended, or something close to it; half to SEO, half to PPC. Assuming your budget is sufficient for your industry, then you are assured exposure now, and for the foreseeable future.

Once organic ranking has been established, and the website/page is in the top 5 or 10 results for your keyword, the PPC budget can be directed to new keyword targets to expand your scope and exposure. Or you can reduce or eliminate it if desired. However, as competition grows, continued vigilance will be required to ensure those rankings are maintained, providing efficient ROI, and sufficient results. Many companies with top organic rankings are still maintaining PPC budgets to guarantee top placement in both fields, for maximum exposure.”

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