Building an SEM Program From Scratch

Like all business functions, the time comes when it becomes beneficial in search marketing to move some expertise from an out-sourced third party to in-house, or to build an SEM (define) program from scratch. Search engine marketing is no exception. Bringing SEM in-house should be a question of balance – to what degree can we do this ourselves, and what should best be left to out-sourced specialists? Regardless of whether SEM is done in-house or is out sourced, decision makers must understand the basics so they can make informed decisions on what to look for and how to build an effective SEM team.

Search Engine Marketing From 30,000 Feet

Let’s take the bird’s eye view of SEM. Five key areas can be taken in-house either in part, or wholly: keyword research, on-page SEO (define), link building, paid search, and social media. Each is inherently interconnected, so it’s important to have a grasp of SEM as a whole and how each area interacts with others. At the “Introduction to Search Engine Marketing” session at SES New York this month, I will talk about SEM as a whole, so that attendees know what it takes to run a successful, multifaceted SEM program.

  • Search engine advertising (often called paid search, pay-per-click, PPC, and SEM): Paid SEM is when you pay to appear in the search results page. These appear at the top of a search engine results page (also known as SERP) and to the right of the page. Paid search and search engine marketing work best together. Besides bringing traffic, analytics from paid search offers great insight and data for keyword research. Paid search is both an art and a science.
  • Search engine optimization (often called SEO and organic search marketing): Search engine optimization is when you modify attributes of your site so that search engine robots can crawl the site, understand what it is about, and list you in the main 10 listings on page one of the search engine results pages, without charging you a fee. Because of this, it is often called “Free,” but the “ad spend” is spent in optimizing your site so that search engines can crawl it (making the site search engine friendly, something your IT department needs to do) and making it relevant to what people are searching for by optimizing the content for what people type into search engines and getting links from other Web sites.
  • Keyword research: This is at the core of SEM; the foundation that drives many decisions across the other important areas. What are people looking for and what terms are bringing the most relevant and profitable visitors? Where should you put your efforts to get the best return? There are varying degrees of difficulty and profitability between keywords, and analytics and keyword research will help answer these important questions so that you can put your efforts in the most important search terms. This is one aspect of SEM that few companies get right without the direction of a seasoned search marketer. Doing keyword research for PPC (define) is quite easy, but SEO is much more in-depth.
  • On-page optimization: This is all about accessibility and communication, both with human users and search engines. Can search engines find your pages and do they understand what they’re about? Are human users getting a good experience? How are you performing in local and mobile search? If search engines can’t find your pages or know what they’re about, they won’t return your site for targeted keywords in the search results. At the same time, if people can’t find what they’re looking for or are getting a bad experience, even the best search results won’t help your cause.
  • Link building: Link building has a two-fold effect. It’s most important for building trust and authority with the search engines, which results in better organic ranking. It also helps a search engine understand what your page is about, because of what they say about your site in the link text and the text on the page linking to you. But, when done right, it also brings new traffic to a site. Link building is accomplished directly and also indirectly through involvement in social media.
  • Social media: Social media is the online socializing and Web site recommendations happening at places such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, and StumbleUpon. Your business is involved in social media, like it or not. People are discussing your business and industry online, and those companies that find an effective way to include social media will have a much easier time reacting and contributing to what’s being said. When it comes to SEM, social media is expected to become part of search engine ranking formulas, and it can help get the word out about your site and content so that you can attract links. In fact, social media is the only type of link building recommended by Google.

It’s important to remember that none of these five areas have simple solutions or are one-time activities. Successful Web sites need to continuously work on each of these areas to stay ahead of the competition. Further, a misstep in any of these areas can be catastrophic, so tread carefully and be well-informed. There is no shortage of examples of social media campaigns gone wrong, or Web sites falling out of the search rankings because of bad SEO practices.

Finally, the First Step

Get informed. Search engine marketing has become such an important part of business that every decision-maker and stakeholder of your Web site should have a solid grasp of the basics. While you don’t need to become an expert in any one field, you should be familiar with all five.

Meet Jessica Bowman at SES New York, which takes place March 22-26, 2010, at the Hilton New York. SES and ClickZ are part of Incisive Media.

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