An SEM Diet for the New Year?

  |  January 18, 2006   |  Comments

Get ready to exercise your mind (and potentially eat your words) to balance SEO and PPC for a healthy Web marketing mix.

SEO (define) is the process of improving Web pages to rank higher in organic search engine results for targeted keywords and keyword phrases. The ultimate goal is to generate more revenue for the business that operates the Web site.

PPC (define) advertising is the process of paying for traffic sent to specific Web pages placed in search engine results for targeted keywords and keyword phrases. The ultimate goal is to generate more revenue for the business that paid for the ads.

New Year’s resolutions, at least in here the U.S., typically include exercising more and eating less to attain or maintain a healthy weight. If you apply similar goals to marketing your business online, you’re probably focusing on optimizing more and spending less on PPC advertising to maintain and grow a healthy business.

Going on a diet and balancing your Web marketing mix are a lot alike. If you achieve a balance between the two priorities, you’re almost guaranteed positive results.

How can you determine if your Web site is optimized to make the most of organic search referrals and is visible when paid placement is required? If you’re the DIY sort, get ready to exercise your mind and potentially eat your words. The balancing act begins by doing some intensive keyword research.

Off to the Log Files

It’s important to know which keywords and keyword phrases send significant search engine traffic to your site before you pay for clicks that send visitors to your site or you optimize pages within your site. These traffic-generating words and phrases reside in your site’s log files.

A multitude of log file analyzers is available. Some log file analysis tools are free; others can be custom built. Almost every commercial Web host provider offers some type of log file analysis service. Which tool you use depends on your site’s complexity and the level of detail you need to know about your site.

Keyword research should always start with your site’s log files. Prepare a list of the keywords and keyword phrases that generate search-engine-referred traffic to your site. Note the destinations, page by page, and analyze the number of search engine referrals over time, particularly if your business is affected by seasonal shifts.

You’ll end up with a master list of keywords and keyword phrases that’s already generating search traffic for your site, which could be further and more deeply optimized. The words and phrases relevant to your business but missing from the list remain potential cost-effective targets for PPC advertising. At least, until your site earns its way toward heightened visibility of those words and phrases.

Fill in the Gaps

Take the time to evaluate your list of keywords and keyword phrases by using a subscription-based tool such as Wordtracker. Are your top-performing phrases in line with potential search engine traffic? Are there opportunities for you to incorporate other popular keywords and keyword phrases into your site? Now’s the time to expand your list of popular keywords and keyword phrases that are relevant to your business.

You can also use Yahoo’s free Term Suggestion Tool. But understand Yahoo’s paid search tool inflates its results by aggregating singular and plural keywords, along with popular misspellings, which can be misleading. Despite the numerical popularity of individual keywords, it’s usually best to target two- or three-word phrases.

Once you’ve collected a list of additional relevant keywords and keyword phrases, consider the words’ semantic nature. Wordtracker will provide some semantic, clustered recommendations for alternative keywords. Another way to seek out popular semantic phrasing for specific keywords is to use the tilde (˜) search operator.

A tilde search in Google, for example, uses fuzzy logic to reveal synonyms preceding or following the word specific to the keyword. The tilde search operator takes the word immediately before or after it and searches both for that specific word and for the word’s synonyms. A tilde search will also reveal phrases with alternative beginnings or endings.

The tilde operator works best when applied to single search terms, general words with multiple synonyms, and diverse usage. As with all search operators, it’s important you place the tilde next to the word, with no spaces between it and its associated word. For example, "˜clay flowerpot," not "˜ clay flowerpot."


You must incorporate popular keywords and keyword phrases into your site if you want to increase natural search traffic to your site. Just don’t overdo it. Like a healthy diet, moderation is in order when it comes to keyword use in organic optimization.

Next, we’ll look at how to use your keyword list to increase search-referred traffic to your site, as well as guidelines for on-the-page and behind-the-page optimization techniques.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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P.J. Fusco

P.J. Fusco has been working in the Internet industry since 1996 when she developed her first SEM service while acting as general manager for a regional ISP. She was the SEO manager for Jupitermedia and has performed as the SEM manager for an international health and beauty dot-com corporation generating more than $1 billion a year in e-commerce sales. Today, she is director for natural search for Netconcepts, a cutting-edge SEO firm with offices in Madison, WI, and Auckland, New Zealand.

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