Monday, June 27, 2011

Lesson #53: Search Engine Marketing Strategies

Posted By: George Deeb - 6/27/2011


& Comment

As a startup, there is no more cost effective, targetable and trackable marketing tactic than marketing through the search engines (e.g., Google, Bing, Yahoo).  So, driving search engine traffic should rank very high as a  priority within your overall marketing budget.  Today, we are going to discuss the two primary search marketing tactics: (i) search engine optimization (SEO) for organic search; and (ii) search engine marketing (SEM) on a pay-per-click (PPC) basis.

But, before we jump into that, you first need to do a little bit of research as to what specific keywords are most important for driving traffic for your business.  Some businesses are very simple to market for, with only a handful of keywords they need to optimize for.  And, some businesses are very complicated to market for, with millions of keywords they need to optimize for based on the breadth of their product offering (e.g., think about every SKU available for sale at Amazon or eBay).  And, to make matters worse, you need to think through all the numerous variations and typical misspellings of the keywords, and include those in your efforts, as well (e.g., "startup consultant" different than "startup consulting", "Israel travel agent" different than "Isreal travel agent").

A great place to research all the various keyword options is the Google Search Term Suggestion Tool.   Here, you type is a keyword for your business, and it estimates the monthly traffic for that search term, and suggests other keywords that are similar to your keyword, that you may not have even thought about.  So, prioritize your keyword efforts around the highest trafficked keywords for your business.  Also, be sure to research which keywords your competitors are optimizing for at sites like Open Site Explorer (for organic traffic) and SpyFu (for paid traffic), to see if any interesting learnings there.

Now that we have decided what words we want to optimize for, we are ready to start our SEO and SEM efforts.  In terms of SEO for organic traffic, there are several things that the search engines are looking for when deciding what links to push to the top of their search algorithms.  This includes: (i) age of the site; (ii) size/reputation of the site; (iii) amount of backlinks pointing to the site, with your desired anchor key words; (iv) content density (e.g., amount of times that word is on the page); and (v) title tags, image tags and meta tags using your desired keywords.  This is just a few to mention, with content density on the page and backlinks from third party sites carrying a lot of weight.  So, all of this needs to be considered when writing the content and coding the pages of your website.

And, worth mentioning, although there are many services which can help you grow your backlinks, and there are many "black hat" tactics your developers can consider when coding your pages (e.g., content stuffing with hidden white text), you should avoid these efforts.  As the last thing you want is to end up blacklisted by Google and de-indexed from the results by trying to game the system.  Google is very smart to know when companies are trying to game them (e.g,. can see when backlinks are adding too quickly), so don't even go down that road.  Always use a very reputable SEO expert.

In terms of PPC traffic from SEM, there are many things you need to optimize for besides the list of keywords.  This includes: (i) your cost per click objectives for driving ROI; (ii) where the ads will display (e.g., in search only, or in related content pages too); (iii) what variations of the keywords (e.g., exact match or broad match); (iv) the copy used in the ads (e.g., title/descriptions/offers); (v) the landing pages used for the inbound traffic (e.g., to targeted/unique pages matching the keywords); (vi) any geographic targeting (e.g, users in specific cities or countries); (vii) any dayparting (e.g., display ads on specific days, or during specific time ranges) and (viii) your budget (e.g,. unlimited or capped each day).  So, as you can see, there are a lot of moving pieces to PPC that you need to optimize for to ensure a healthy and profitable campaign.  Here too, there are many reputable services and technologies you can use to assist you with your campaign design, management and optimization.

The most important thing for PPC marketing is to make sure you have a clear understanding of the relationship between paid clicks and the resulting leads/sales, to ensure you are driving a good ROI from your efforts.  So, don't spend full force out of the gate.  Do a bunch of testing to start, at various ranking positions, various CPCs, with various creatives, with various landing pages until you get the right mix for your business.  Therefore, it is critical you have a way to track all inbound leads/sales activity from this campaign (e.g., inbound tracking links on e-commerce bookings or email leads or call center surveys), so you know exactly how much revenue is coming from your PPC spend, to ensure you are covering your costs.

And, worth mentioning, certain keywords are highly competitive and are nearly impossible to drive an ROI (e.g., "travel" that is used for branding objectives, not ROI objectives, by Expedia and others).  So, you will either need to sacrifice rank (below #1, #2 or #3 position) for these types of words, or you will need to focus on more targeted words with much less competition (e.g., "Morocco hiking trip"), where you can profitably achieve a top three position within your desired CPC/ROI objectives.  And, there is no one right answer for all businesses.  A $1.00 CPC could be suicidal for one business and drive a wild profit for the other, depending on the industry and resulting sale economics.  So test, test and test again, until you get the campaign optimized for your specific business.

It makes sense to engage an employee or firm to help you with these efforts.  One, because you will not have enough time/focus to do this justice on your own.  And, two, because the "rules of engagement" are constantly changing, with the search engines updating their search algorithms all the time, requiring you to change your tactics over time.  Also, unless proven otherwise, it could make sense to engage two employees/firms for your search work, as the skills required for good SEO (e.g., tech coding and copy writing) are very different than the skills required for good SEM (e.g., online marketing testing and analytics).  It is very difficult to find both skills in one solution.

It is tough to summarize all the moving pieces around search marketing in one short lesson, but hopefully this high level tutorial was enough to point you in the right direction.  Good luck!

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