Search engine marketing can be broken down into a number of components. Know what you're shopping for before you buy search marketing services.
One of the most widespread beliefs about search engine marketing (SEM) is search engine advertising equals search marketing. If your online marketing firm runs advertising campaigns on Overture, the firm must specialize in SEM, right?
Although this belief is common, it's hardly accurate. Advertising is only one component of the marketing process. Marketing campaigns involve branding, sales, customer service, distribution, trade shows, radio, TV, direct mail, and so forth. And advertising, too. So when hiring an SEM company, be sure it provides a variety of services, not just advertising.
Below, summaries of the different types of SEM services.
Search Engine Advertising
Search engine advertising includes sponsorships, pay-for-placement (PFP) advertising, and contextual advertising. Search engine advertising generally follows a PFP model. Pay and you're guaranteed top placement in a search engine's results both on the search site and within its distribution network.
Successful PFP advertising campaigns depend on five main factors:
Search Engine Optimization
"Natural," or "organic," search engine optimization (SEO) is designing, writing, and HTML-coding a Web site to maximize the chance its pages will appear at the top of spider-based search engine results for selected keywords and phrases.
The fundamental building blocks of a natural SEO campaign include:
For your target audience to find your site on the search engines, pages must contain keyword phrases that match the phrases your target audience types into search queries. Keyword phrases must be carefully selected and placed strategically throughout your site.
All the major search engines emphasize page title, visible HTML text, text placed "above the fold," and text placed in and around hypertext links. Most search engines don't use meta-tag content to determine relevancy.
Search engines must be able to find that text. How pages are linked to each other, and the way sites are linked to other sites, has considerable impact on search engine visibility.
If crawler-based search engines are unable to spider a Web site due to the URL structure or other technical reasons, that site can participate in paid-inclusion programs. With a paid-inclusion program, a URL is guaranteed to be included in the search engine index. The search engine will refresh the content very quickly, generally every two to seven days.
What a paid-inclusion program does not guarantee is placement. Sites submitted through a paid-inclusion program must be properly optimized for high rank.
The last component of a successful SEO campaign is link popularity. That's the number and quality of links that point to your Web site. Link quality (links from popular, highly trafficked and/or respected sites) carries far more weight than link quantity.
Paid Submission and Directory Enhancement
Currently, paid submission applies specifically to human-based search engines, also known as directories. In a paid-submission search marketing program, Web site owners pay to have their sites reviewed by human editors. There's no guarantee the site will be accepted into the directory.
A successful directory enhancement campaign rests on:
Yahoo and Business.com are examples of directories offering a paid-submission program.
If you want your site listed in the Yahoo directory, you'll have to pay an annual fee (currently $299). This fee does not guarantee your site will be listed in the Yahoo directory nor that it will be listed in the category you selected. The fee pays a Yahoo editor, called a surfer, to review your submission.
Directories require Web site owners to select the most appropriate directory categories for their sites. Write descriptions that concisely and accurately describe the content.
Editors will modify a directory listing if the company name, description, or Web address is no longer accurate. Since it's very difficult to modify a directory listing after the initial submission, a professional search engine marketer will always emphasize the importance of getting it right the first time.
Some directories, such as Open Directory and Zeal, still accept free submissions. How long will free submission last? No one knows.
Shopping search engines make it easy for people to find information about products for sale online. DealTime, PriceGrabber.com, Froogle, and Yahoo Shopping are examples.
Shopping search engines commonly provide specialized features that allow people to compare product types, pricing, availability, and online stores across the Web. A successful shopping search campaign depends on the following factors:
Certain e-commerce sites perform better in shopping search engines than others. A computer store, for example, might perform well in a shopping search engine for cost and peripherals.
Many companies don't offer a full range of SEM services. Some firms may specialize in search engine advertising. Others might focus on SEO. Some firms might do both but not offer shopping search services.
To find the SEM firm that's best for your business, analyze your site's needs. If you're unwilling to modify the site design and copy, a search engine advertising campaign is your most viable option. You'll only need to find an SEM firm that specializes in search engine advertising. If you're in the process of redesigning and rewriting your site, a firm that specializes in SEO is probably your best choice. Shop around for the firm that suits the needs of your online presence.
Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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