Don't Understand Search Engine Marketing? You're Not Alone

While many companies utilize SEM (search engine marketing), I'm continually astonished at the number of executives who don't really understand it and aren't using it yet. If you are secretly confused about how to leverage Google and Yahoo! to improve your marketing effectiveness, then this blog entry is for you. If you have some expertise in this area, you can skip this article, as it is too basic for you.

"Search Engine Marketing," or SEM, encompasses everything to do with using search engines to advertise your business. There are three main categories within SEM:

• Search Engine Optimization, or SEO is also called "organic" or "natural" search. This means that you don't pay Google, Yahoo! or anyone else to promote your Website. You simply have terrific content, large amounts of Web traffic on your site and many, many other Websites linking back to yours. The search engines recognize that your Website is a highly popular and authoritative source of information on whatever topic you cover and they make sure you come up high in the listings whenever someone searches with words relevant to you. The upside is that this is the most powerful type of search engine marketing. These "organic" search results come up in the middle of the page and many people rely exclusively on these links. The downside is that it's extremely difficult to succeed in this area. Many companies worked very hard to be listed first in organic response for your industry and if you aren't already there, it's tough to dislodge the incumbents.

• Pay Per Click, or PPC, includes those situations where you're basically paying Google or Yahoo! to display your "ads" in response to specific search terms. This is done through a modified auction process where you agree to pay the search engine a certain amount of money every time someone clicks on your ad. The good news: you don't pay anything to come up high in the paid search links unless someone clicks on your link. Also, you can be at the top of whatever category you want almost immediately - provided you bid enough per click to beat competitors who do PPC. The downside is that a lot of people don't look at the "Sponsored Links" at all and rely exclusively on the organic search results. Also, if you don't know what you're doing, you can spend a lot of money on PPC without getting a good return. Here are some terms you need to know about PPC:

a. "AdWord" or "Keyword." These are the words or phrases that people type into their search engines that result in your ads appearing in response. For example, if you go to Google and search the term, "strategic planning consultant," you will probably see an ad for Real Results Marketing appear in the "Sponsored Links" that extend across the top and down the right side of the page. Since I want people interested in finding a strategic planning consultant to find my Website, I bid to be on the first page of results, and I usually am. Most SEM advertisers have a long list of "keywords" that result in their ads being shown.

b. "Ads." These are what you see in the "Sponsored Links" sections of results whenever you search for something. Each ad is usually three lines of text plus a link to a Website. I have several different ads that I rotate; if you click Google's "Search" button again (if you did the search above), you will likely see a different ad appear for Real Results Marketing. That's because I constantly test and modify ads to improve performance.

c. "Landing page." This is the destination you bring people to when they click on your ad. Lots of advertisers used to bring searchers to their home page, but frankly, that's usually a waste of money. Whatever content is in your ad should be continued on the landing page you choose for that ad. Ideally, the landing page should have some kind of an offer for customers to respond to. I can't do that since I don't sell pre-packaged items or services, so anyone who clicks on one of my ads about strategic planning goes to the strategic planning section of my Website -where they can watch videos or download a whitepaper.

d. "Clicks." A click occurs when someone literally mouse-clicks on your ad. So, continuing with my Website as an example, if you click on one of my ads, two things happen: 1. Your browser takes you to the strategic planning section of my Website. 2. I get charged a certain amount of money, which varies depending on the popularity of the keyword and what competitors are willing to pay for clicks. My average click cost is currently about $6.25.

• Content Match or Content Network advertising is when you pay a search engine to show your ads on affiliated Websites. For example, if you sell office equipment, in addition to your search-related advertising, you can have Google place your ads on and other business-oriented sites. Your ads will appear when people are reading those Websites and if they click on your ads, you will be charged.

From a marketer's perspective, SEM is a dream come true. Finally, we have an extremely measurable advertising methodology that literally puts your products or services in front of customers actively seeking them. However, there is still lots of competition for the attention of Web users and getting a good ROI is not a sure thing. Here are some common pitfalls:

• Spending countless hours on SEO efforts for a Website that doesn't deserve the attention. No matter how hard you try to promote your Website through organic search, if it isn't loaded with great, unique content, the search engines won't rank it very high.

• Choosing PPC keywords that are too generic. If you sell bookkeeping services, but you choose to have your ads appear in response to terms like, "accounting, bookkeeping, financial accounting, debits and credits, etc.," then you are going to get a lot of clicks from people who are searching for general information about your topic - not just people seeking to hire a bookkeeper. This can cost you a lot of money but give you no leads. You're better off optimizing around terms like, "bookkeeping services," or "contract bookkeeping," etc., so that your ads come up in response to people actually seeking to hire someone like you.

• Writing boring ads. Using the bookkeeper example again, which ad do you think is more likely get the attention of a prospective client?

A1 Bookkeeping. Full charge.

Available by the hour.


Stay ahead of the IRS!

Top service, great rates-free quote

Most people are going to prefer the second ad - remember that even if your ad comes up near the top of the search results, you still need to get people to click on it.

• Building poor landing pages. There is no point in getting people to visit your site if you don't get sales out of it - or sales leads, depending on your business model. If many people are clicking on your ads and visiting your site but aren't staying around very long and aren't purchasing or asking for more information, then your landing pages are ineffective.

So that's a brief overview of search engine marketing. While Real Results Marketing doesn't offer consulting service for SEM, SEO, etc., we're always happy to help steer you in the right direction. We suggest you start by signing up for a Google adwords account and following their tutorials. You can also find relevant training materials online, including many video lessons on YouTube.

Ian G. Heller is the founder and senior partner at Real Results Marketing, Inc. With senior executive experience at companies like GE Capital and Grainger, CEO experience at a private-equity owned firm and countless consulting engagements, Ian brings a realistic and bottom-line focus to marketing and strategic planning. Please visit for engaging videos and articles on marketing, strategic planning, leadership and more.

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