By Bob DeStefano
Right now, somewhere, a potential customer is searching for your products. But, who will they find first – your company or your competitor?
Search engine marketing is all about getting in front of customers at the very moment they are searching for your products on Google and the other engines. But how do you take full advantage of search engine marketing and outshine your competition? The following seven steps will put you on the right path to search engine marketing success.
Step 1 – Define an Effective Strategy
All too often, companies dive into search engine marketing without a coherent strategy. Don’t fall into this trap. Get off on the right foot by thoroughly defining your target audience(s), identifying their needs and motivations and highlighting how your products can serve these needs. Next, review your company’s position in the marketplace. Identify your top competitors and your company’s competitive advantage. Finally, identify specific goals and benchmarks, such as search rankings, Website traffic increases, sales lead volume and other ROI metrics, to allow you to measure the success of your search engine marketing campaign. This strategy will form the foundation of your campaign and put you on the path to search engine marketing success.
Step 2 – Choose the Best Keywords
The most critical step in search engine marketing is to strategically select the most important keyword phrases for your company. If you do not perform this step properly, your search engine marketing campaign is destined for failure. When choosing the best keywords, it is critical to choose phrases that are not only relevant to your business, but also ones that are searched most often by your target customers. Begin by getting inside the heads of your customers and brainstorm about potential terms your customers use when thinking about your products and capabilities. Ask your salespeople and customer service people what phrases they think are most important. You may even want to ask your best customers. Then, turn to keyword research tools provided by Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery and Google Adwords to create a list of highly searched terms that will drive targeted traffic to your Website.
Step 3 – Optimize Your Website’s Content
Now that we know your most important keywords, let’s put them to work. You need to make sure your Website content is optimized to take advantage of these important phrases. Begin with your Website copy – the information people can read on your Website. Make sure you skillfully write your Website copy to effectively market your company, while using your important keyword phrases in a relevant fashion. Next, focus on your Website structure – the code under the hood of your Website that search engines see when they visit your Website. Use your keyword phrases relevantly in page title tags, heading tags, director names, file names, alt tags and meta tags. Please note: while the ‘keywords’ meta tag has been exploited over the years, the ‘description’ meta tag is very important. This description will show up in the search results below your link, providing a great opportunity for you to entice the searcher to visit your Website.
Step 4 – Get Your Site Indexed by the Top Three
To be found online, you must make certain that all pages on your Website are fully indexed by the top three search engines: Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Live Search. I recommend you start by focusing on Google since it handles over 55% of all searches, and it makes the process easy for site owners. While all search engines allow you to submit your Website directly for consideration, Google also provides you with a backdoor to get your site indexed quicker. Google allows you to create a Google Sitemap, which essentially serves as an ongoing invitation for Google to visit your site and a roadmap detailing the pages it should index. To speed up the process of getting indexed by the other engines, submit your Website to the DMOZ.org Open Directory Project. Once your Website is accepted by DMOZ, Yahoo and Microsoft should have no problem indexing your Website.
Step 5 – Attract Quality Links to Your Website
Link building involves gaining links to your Website from other Websites that are frequented by your targeted visitors. The more quality inbound links you have, the more popular your Website is in the eyes of Google and other engines. And, these links can have a dramatic effect on your search ranking. A good place to start your link building efforts is to make your Website content link-worthy. Good content attracts links, so fill your Website with interesting and informative content such as a library of best practices articles, a blog about developments and trends in your industry, etc. Next, get your Website listed in online directories and portals. Look first to important online destinations within your industry, then focus on general purpose directories like Yahoo Directory and Business.com. You can also garner links from vendors, customers, business partners and trade associations. Finally, you should leverage online public relations and distribute press releases and articles online. By consistently applying these link building strategies, you will dramatically impact your ranking on Google and boost your online popularity.
Step 6 – Manage an ROI-driven Paid Search Campaign
Pay-per-click advertising (PPC) in the sponsored links search results offers a compelling ROI-driven marketing opportunity. Unlike traditional advertising, where you ‘pay for exposure’ regardless of the results, with PPC you are not paying to be listed in the search results. You only pay if someone clicks on your ad and visits your Website, providing a compelling ‘pay for performance’ mode of advertising. To manage an ROI-driven paid search campaign, first, bid on the most relevant keywords. Don’t pick terms based on popularity alone. Make sure your product offering will be of interest to the searcher. Second, tie your bidding strategy to business results. Think cost-per-lead and cost-per-sale, instead of just cost-per-click. In many cases a lower ad position will produce a higher ROI. Finally, include a compelling ‘call to action’ in the ad and send traffic to a relevant landing page tied to the ad. A compelling and relevant offer will help lift response and boost your ROI.
Step 7 – Measure Success
As with all marketing activities, you must measure success to see how well you performed in the past, as well as identify actionable strategies to improve your results in the future. Since search engine marketing is all about attracting targeted traffic, begin by leveraging Web analytics to monitor traffic increases from search, as well as what search engines and phrases peoples are using to visit your Website. To make sure the volume of targeted visitors continues to increase, you should also monitor your position or ranking in the search results. On a regular basis, check your position in the top three search engines for your most important keyword phrases to see how well you are trending upward toward a top 10 ranking. Finally, to measure success of your pay-per-click advertising efforts, harness the measurable nature of the Web to track the cost-per-visit, cost-per-lead, and cost-per-sale for all of your pay-per-click ads.