Most of the professionals reading this article will need very little convincing that search engine optimization is a necessary part of any website trying to make money or attract attention online. But there’s a good chance that you work for, or with, people who either haven’t heard of SEO, or don’t understand why they need to optimize their website. Maybe they’ve invested money in all of the more conventional advertising methods, and even placed banner ads or other paid ads online. Why do they need to spend more time and money to achieve a high ranking in the search engines?
You might start by asking them where they think the traffic for their website is coming from. Despite what they might think, the majority of web traffic is driven by the major commercial search engines: Yahoo!, MSN, Google, and AskJeeves. (As of this writing, AOL’s search engine uses Google for its search results). According to various studies, most people prefer to click on organic search results rather than sponsored results, by a very wide margin.
This doesn’t mean that ads placed with search engine programs (like Google’s AdSense) are worthless, but it does mean that they shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of a company’s website marketing campaign. Search engine users tend to trust organic results more than paid ads, which means that they’re more likely to click on them – and more likely to convert. There is a catch, though: they have to see you in the results to click on you. A good position in the search engines can’t be bought in the same way as a banner ad or a sponsored listing.
Studies have shown that most search engine users don’t click past the first three pages of search results; many don’t even click past the first page if they find what they’re looking for. Your own experience using search engines probably confirms this. What does this mean? It doesn’t matter how many search engines spider your site; if it isn’t listed in the first three pages, it might as well be invisible. Indeed, getting on the first page, among the top three results, is even better.
Here is a thought that should really give them something to chew on. They might not be doing SEO for their website, but it’s an even bet that their competitors are. In that case, their rivals are getting all that lovely website traffic that they should be getting for themselves. That should make them sit up and take notice if nothing else will.
Search engine optimization, and search engine marketing in general, can serve a number of different purposes. It can generate sales, both online and offline. It can generate leads. It can convince search engine users to take the actions you desire, such as signing up for your newsletter, downloading white papers from your site, registering for a seminar, and so on. And while it is doing all this, your website’s prominent position on the search engine results pages (SERPs) contributes to branding and name recognition.
When done correctly, search engine optimization can bring people to your site that are actually looking for what you are offering. You know they’re looking for it because they typed in a key word or phrase that is directly related to your content. Most consumers are really tired of being inundated with marketing everywhere they look, but are still receptive to the kind of “just-in-time” marketing represented by a high placement in search engine results.
You may be thinking that a search engine should be able to give you a good place in its results without you having to do anything special to your website. It’s true that search engines are constantly working on their technology to make sure they deliver the most relevant results, but there will always be a limit to how well they can operate. Also, the way you have set up your site (title, headers, META tags, and so on) may end up hiding your site too deep in the search results, where hardly anybody looks. Even worse, you might not be targeting relevant keywords. A professional SEO can help you target the right keywords and make sure users actually see you – and that the ones that see you really are looking for what you have to offer.
The truth is, search engine traffic can make (or break) an organization’s success. Targeted visitors to a website can provide publicity, revenue, and exposure like no other form of marketing. Given this, investing in SEO, whether through spending money to have a professional do it, or spending time doing it yourself, can provide an exceptional rate of return.
Search engine optimization these days is just one of many flavors of search engine marketing. A good SEO company will go over your options with you, taking your budget into account. Nowadays, search engine marketing can include SEO, pay-per-click, paid inclusion, search contextual ads, and pay-per-call.
SEO, as already mentioned, involves altering your website structure and content to make it easier for the search engine spiders to index. A well-optimized site will get you a higher rank in the search engines. A good SEO will make sure you are optimized for the right terms, and avoid practices that could get your site banned from the search engines. He or she will also make sure that your site is friendly to visitors – after all, the whole point of this exercise is to attract customers, so it doesn’t help if they don’t enjoy their visit!
Pay-per-click is a popular advertising model. You purchase search listing text ads that are ranked based on keyword bid price. These ads show up in the sponsored listing section of the search results. You pay the bid amount when users click on your ad. The click takes them to a landing page. Pay-per-click ads need to be closely monitored for how effective the keyword is; you might need to adjust your bid or change your keyword. Pay-per-click users need to watch their budget closely, and guard against click fraud.
Paid inclusion calls for the website owner to pay for guaranteed, fast inclusion and frequent visits from a search engine spider. Note that this approach only gets you into the database quickly; it does not guarantee that you will achieve a high ranking in the SERPs. A site owner might want to use this approach if the site is new or very dynamic.
Search contextual ads are ads that are placed on relevant publisher sites and distributed through the major search engines. For example, if you sell fishing poles, and you advertise with Google AdSense, your ad might show up on a page on a website devoted to fishing hobbyists. The ads rotate, so your ad might not be in the same place all the time. Google, Yahoo! and MSN have distribution networks of approved publishers that display these ads and split revenue with the search engines. For many, it can be a useful stream of income. As with pay-per-click ads, you are reaching an audience that is already interested in what you have to offer.
You may have heard of all the services I mentioned above. But search engines are constantly changing; they have to, to keep up with the Internet itself. As a consequence, not only do their listings change, but they frequently come up with ideas for new services to offer. Some of these include new advertising options. You might not be aware of them, but it is the job of a good SEO to be on top of what the search engines are offering.
For example, take pay-per-call. This fairly new service was started by Ingenio very early in 2005; AOL began offering the service in April 2005. Google began limited testing of a pay-per-call service in late November. The premise behind pay-per-call is that some “high touch” products and services benefit from personal contact. Advertisers bid for phone call leads. With the Google service, searchers see a phone icon next to the company’s sponsored listing. A click on that icon lets them enter a phone number and click a “Connect for Free” button to be linked with the other party. At this point, Google calls the search user, then dials the company and connects the two.
As you might expect, pay-per-call is more expensive than pay-per-click. But there is a lot of room for growth here, and the potential that companies who wouldn’t normally think of advertising with search engines might consider it. It emphasizes local search and is supposed to help small businesses. Some think that eBay might start to offer pay-per-call advertising, thanks to its recent purchase of Skype.
And then there’s the behavioral approach, revisited. In the last few months, Yahoo! made a change to one of its advertising programs. The change widens the time window during which advertisers can drop behaviorally targeted banners after a search term is entered from one hour to two days. This change was made after some research Yahoo! did indicated that the purchase window was longer than the company previously thought. It reflects the fact that people are using the Internet differently from the way they were using it three or four years ago. As Yahoo! continues to work on better understanding online behavior, it’s likely that the search engine will come up with more ways to make advertising work smarter to reach its target audience.
Which of these approaches, or combination of approaches, would be best for your business? It can be hard to sort out. But this is the sort of thing that an SEO does every day, for a large number of businesses, many of them similar to yours.