Launching an SEM Initiative

Ideally, an SEM program would begin at the time a Website is being built, since the architecture of a Website carries a lot of weight in how automated search engines view the site. However, a search marketing initiative often follows the construction of a site. Due to the specialized disciplines required for SEM, the firm that administers a search program is often a separate entity from the site designer.

According to eMarketer, search marketing aligns three perceptions of a company or brand:

  1. Which keywords or search terms potential and existing customers would use to find the company’s site, or sections of the site.
  2. Which keywords the company believes best describes what it does, what it sells and how it might be viewed by outsiders.
  3. Which keywords receive high rankings from the various search engines.

Effectively optimizing a site and using paid listing programs are the subjects of volumes of text and industry conjecture. Ultimately, getting started in search marketing requires an understanding of those three perceptions and how the dynamics of the different types of search marketing apply to your marketing objectives and budget.

Principles of Search Marketing

Search marketing today is often erroneously defined in just two ways: paid or unpaid. However, the advent of performance-based search marketing now allows search marketers to apply a click-cost metric to all types of SEM. The world of search is bifurcated for the most part, but there are many formats available to search marketers. The Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organization (SEMPO), a non-profit organization formed to “help spread the good news about search engine marketing,” offers the following definitions for these types of search marketing:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The act of altering a Website so that it does well in the organic, crawler-based listings of search engines.

  • About SEO: This was the first form garnering search positioning for user-initiated queries on the Web. SEO speaks to enhancing the architecture of a Website to be “seen” by automated search engines that use algorithms to determine relevancy based on search queries. Large companies often hire specialized firms to administer SEO programs. The easiest, most efficient means of achieving good SEO results would be to follow the guidelines set forth by search sites rather than attempt to circumvent them.

Paid Inclusion: An advertising program in which pages are guaranteed to be included in a search engine's index in exchange for payment.

  • About Paid Inclusion: Providers offer this form of SEM in either a flat fee based structure for URLs or on a Cost Per Click (CPC) basis. Paid inclusion directories offer no guarantee of positioning, and paid inclusion listings are often category based and therefore less targeted than Pay For Placement SEM, but lower click costs often compensate for that. Paid inclusion listings often reside in between Pay For Placement and organic results. The future of paid inclusion listings is at best uncertain, given the difficulty many advertisers have in understanding it, the lack of advertiser labeling, and the popularity of Pay For Placement.

Pay For Placement (PFP): An advertising program in which listings are guaranteed to appear in response to particular search terms, with higher ranking typically obtained by paying more than other advertisers. Paid placement listings can be purchased from a portal or a search network. Search networks are often set up in an auction environment where keywords and phrases are associated with a CPC fee. Overture and Google are the largest networks, but MSN and other portals sometimes sell paid placement listings directly as well. Portal sponsorships are also a type of paid placement.

  • About PFP: Paid search is the performance-based version of SEO. Paid listings are often syndicated to other search sites along with destination and information pages and even placed in email (called contextual search). Pay For Placement listings also exist on shopping sites and other vertical sites. Most often, site vendors offer a self-service advertising platform. 

Graphic Representation: These are banners and other types of advertising units that can be synchronized to search keywords. They can be pop-ups, browser toolbars and rich media as well.

  • About Graphic Search: Arguably the most artistic or creative form of Internet marketing, graphic representations in search results have been removed by many top portals in favor of paid listings. Other portals have reengineered traditional ad formats to create hybrid paid listing graphic representations. These ad units are most frequently sold on an impression-based Cost Per Thousand (CPM) basis.

Measuring Your Search Investment

The most important aspect of any search marketing effort is developing an understanding of its performance. In the early days of search marketing, simple traffic source information or keyword positioning reports were the only measure available to marketers. Those tools are still important but today there are a plethora of devices to help site owners in managing the search marketing expectation level. All measurement and analytics boil down to knowing the answer to one key question. What is a click worth?

The first question initiates several others. What is the desired action of a site visitor? Do you want the user to make a purchase on the site? How about fill out a registration form? Maybe the goal of generating traffic is simply to build awareness of a new product. In any of these instances, search marketers can apply one or more of the following metrics to search marketing.

In the quick and dirty method of analyzing traffic, if a hundred people click into your site and ten of them execute a desired activity your “conversion rate” is 10%. Calculations such as this help you determine your ROI or Return On Investment, which is the foundation of other calculations like Return On Advertising Spending, or ROAS. ROAS, like ROI, is a simple mathematical calculation of revenue generated for every dollar spent. Other popular metrics include variations of weighing the actual expense of a user making a purchase such as the Cost Per Activity (CPA).

If your search marketing initiative is intended to help lift awareness (branding), traditional means of measuring the impact of this effort may not be relevant to search marketers who need to understand the value or impact of search positions. However, by combining purchase statistics with specifically designed site interfaces such as a request for information or location page visits, an advertiser can apply a brand-related search marketing goal.

Paid search has enabled marketers to apply the same metrics to search marketing as other online marketing campaigns through allowing the use of special URLs. In SEO, marketers are often confined to server-based sourcing reports that measure traffic from specific portals. However, by using either a simple source code attached to a URL in paid search, an advertiser can track click activity for a specific listing. A third party served URL can add the dimension of tracking a user’s post click activity, even to the point of purchase. Third parties can also help manage paid search programs and apply metrics as well. 

About the author: iMedia search columnist Kevin Ryan’s current and former client roster reads like a “who’s who” in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services, and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. He is currently Director Market Development of IPG’s Wahlstrom Interactive where he provides guidance in directional online marketing to Wahlstrom’s prestigious list of clients and sister agency brands.

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