Search Engine Marketing: What Does It Take to Get Found?
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Search Engine Marketing: What Does It Take to Get Found?

By Jim Grinney

By now you have heard of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and you know the goal: to improve a website's positioning in search engines and directories. If you're not doing it, you may be wondering if it should be on your radar and if so where to start.

Why Marketers Care: Audience Usage and ROI
Across industries, SEM has quickly approached the top of marketers' to do lists for two reasons. First, it's where target audiences are. Whether B2B or B2C, consumers are using search engines for the efficient, self-directed purchase decision research they've always wanted to do.

Second, SEM is cost effective. Using a B2B example, online "push" tactics like e-newsletter advertisements and white paper listings can produce high quality sales leads at 10-20% of the cost of offline advertising. But adding search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising to enable motivated prospects to "pull" themselves into a solution-focused website even further decreases cost per lead and increases sales conversion.

So just what does SEM include? What does someone need to do to make a website show up when a prospect does a relevant search?

The SEM Toolkit

A marketer can take three approaches to SEM:
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - designing and adjusting a site to improve organic, "free" listings (the results listed in the main body of the search engine results page);
  • Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC) - bidding on targeted keyword search results in the sponsored section of a search engine; or
  • Integrated Search Engine Marketing - incorporating both SEO and PPC, and in some cases adding tactics like paid inclusion.
Each approach has its merits and drawbacks. PPC works almost immediately; but you need to watch results carefully since each click to your website costs money. Because your positioning is based on a bid model, competitors with deep pockets can knock you off the first page of results. And when your budget is spent, your visibility is gone.

SEO takes patience. You may implement every optimization best practice and still wait weeks or even months before the engines add your site to their databases and rank it in their search results. The advantage is that once this happens you're on your way and the clicks don't cost a thing - except your service costs to keep the site optimized, stay ahead of the competitors and change your keyword focus as your business strategy evolves. One argument for SEO is that 77% of searchers' clicks are on organic rather than paid listings (according to "Balancing SEM for Success" by Paul Bruemmer, Search Engine Guide Website, Oct. 18, 2005).

If you have the time and the budget, the best SEM approach is a strategic combination of SEO and PPC. But how do you do it? Start by assembling a knowledgeable team, then focus these resources on strategic keyword (search term) prioritization. From that point SEO and PPC methodologies diverge. Countless tactics exist, and they change frequently as the search engines refine their algorithms. However, below are some of the keys to an effective SEO program:

1) Search Term Selection (Keywords)
The goal of every search engine is to determine the main themes of your website and rank its relevancy compared to other similarly themed sites. It is extremely difficult to achieve premium search visibility for numerous different search terms using one webpage. Therefore, try to create separate pages pertaining to different aspects of your organization's offerings. Focus on only a handful of search terms on any one page.

2) Site Design
SEO efforts should begin with a look at the overall design of your website. One key is ensuring that your site contains HTML text, since search engines cannot discern content formatted in Flash or other graphics.

3) Linking
Look at both internal and external links. Internal links are those that point to other areas of your site. They allow search engines to index more of your pages, resulting in better search engine visibility. Use a site map with text links to each page to provide the search engines a path through your entire site. External links - links pointing to your site from another site - also help search engines determine relevancy. The best links are those originating from a reputable site, preferably within your industry. Strengthen the description text of these incoming links with top tier search terms. For example, "click here" is less powerful than a term specific to your products/services, like "used auto parts." Other linking tips include:
  • Be careful with sites that promote reciprocal links. Many are irrelevant and will provide no benefit.
  • Research your competitors' links (one way to do this is to type "" into Google).
  • Leverage your online PR to build relevant incoming links to your site.
4) Page Copy and Code
A webpage's copy and code are critical. Try to have at least 200 words of copy per page, and use your most critical search terms in the first paragraph. The most important piece of code is the Title Tag. This is the text that is displayed at the top of a browser window and is also used by search engines as the title of a search listing. While this is a very basic piece of meta data within a website, it is a significant factor of most engines' ranking algorithms. The Description Tag is the second most important piece of code on a page. This meta tag provides a summary of the page to someone conducting a query. If a description tag is not provided, the search engines may display a random paragraph from the page text as the summary, potentially confusing the searcher.

If you consider all of these elements, your website has a good chance of being indexed by the search engines and getting found by prospects. To sustain these results, an SEO or PPC program needs to be maintained. Stay on top of the engines' changing algorithms and your competitive positioning; monitor your results (not just visibility but traffic and conversions); and keep your target keywords tied to your evolving business strategy.

Recently, there has been a significant split in search engine marketing approaches. Seeing rising target audience usage and increased competition for positioning, organizations for which strategic search marketing is a critical marketing tactic are finding success by hiring a dedicated team of experts. 90octane's strategic SEM programs have helped organizations worldwide gain visibility, targeted traffic and revenue since 2000. Companies that rely less on SEM and have the time and expertise are bringing this function in-house. 90octane has recently developed a search engine marketing seminar series for organizations looking for ways to keep in-house resources educated on the evolving search engine landscape and best practices in both SEO and PPC. This seminar series includes hands-on guidance from industry experts and online tools for participants to use when marketing websites via the search engines. For more information, please contact Jim Grinney at or 720.904.8169.

Jim Grinney is a partner of 90octane, a Denver-based interactive marketing agency that specializes in search engine marketing and online lead generation.

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