Prioritize and Rationalize Search Engine Marketing

When searchers discover many search engine results are actually paid listings and paid inclusion, they become distrustful and take a negative view of search. So found a recent Consumer Web Watch study.

This confirms findings from iProspect. Its study found searchers are six times more likely to click a free, organic listing than a paid one. Before learning listings can be bought and sold, users considered search engines to be unbiased and objective.

There’s a difference between search engine advertising (paid placement) and search engine optimization (SEO). The latter’s focus is achieving higher rankings for organic (unpaid) listings. How? Understand who your audience is, the medium that delivers the message, relevance, and persuasiveness.

Dream Position: Users Find Your Site Every Time

Optimal search return on investment (ROI) would be achieved by reaching all buyers at different stages of the buying cycle. In iProspect’s study, 33 percent of respondents believed top listings were the most important brands. Fifty-six percent say they expect to see top brands in top search engine spots for any relevant query (e.g., CRM software, business intelligence, DVD players), not just branded queries.

Potential buyers include those you already know and those you have yet to meet. In search, your job is to make sure they find you, even if they don’t know or remember your name or the names of your products or services (you could be fooling yourself if you think this group isn’t pretty large).

Amanda Watlington, iProspect’s director of research, explains there are four forces that influence search engine marketing (SEM):

  • Business goals. Clearly define objectives and success metrics.
  • Copy. Remember, search engines don’t read images. Copy must support your site’s objectives (being persuasive) and visitors’ objectives (getting value).
  • Searchers. Understand what people search for and how they search. What keywords do they use in your category? How many listings will they read or click?
  • Search engines. Competition and consolidation in the search industry means every engine has a unique character, value, and audience.

Three SEM Questions Everyone Should Ask

Numerous factors go into the equation when search engines compute algorithms. These can be broken into two categories: on the page (the numerous factors you have complete control of on your site) and off the page (factors beyond your direct influence). At one time anyone with a bit of experience could hack search engines’ algorithms and generate a high-ranking page. The search engines got wise to this and now factor in many off-the-page criteria to determine rank, such as who links to your site and what they say. Search engines better understand what makes a site interesting or relevant.

How can ordinary mortals determine what works?

Author Mike Grehan offers three critical questions:

  • How many search engines should we focus on? (Hint: not 30,000, as that spam message always promises.)
  • How many keywords must we target?
  • How many links must we have to our site? (Not all links are created equal.)

The questions are straightforward. The answers are more complex.

Search Engines

Answer the relatively easy one first. Which search properties do you use? How many pages of results do you scroll? What do you do if you don’t find what you’re looking for? Do you refine the search? Do you try a different search engine or directory? The complexity revolves around the fact that every week, it seems there’s some new search engine deal. In essence, there are three major players: Google, Overture, and Yahoo (and we need to keep an eye on what Microsoft’s up to). Those three basically control the reach and distribution of most search engine traffic.


Are you targeting keywords your customer uses instead of marketing fluff and jargon? What’s the keyword worth over its lifetime? It’s worth a lot if it converts visitors. It’s worthless if a top listing and lots of traffic don’t convert. Site content must address the keywords or key phrases you’re targeting. It must not only meet the search engines’ relevance criteria but must also be relevant to visitors’ needs and your own business goals.


How many people link to your site? Type “link:” in most search engines to find out. This provides a raw number. It won’t necessarily display all links or priority they’re displayed in. Search is not about quantity but the quality of links to your site. In other words, it’s not what you know, but who you know.

Each link carries its own influence weight (a recommendation from the president of the U.S. carries more weight than a recommendation from his dog’s groomer). Search engines determine the value of communities and individual sites. Just 5 links from sites search engines consider valuable means better ROI than 500 meaningless, arbitrary links from anywhere. As’s Ken McGaffin told me, “I recently did an analysis for a major pharmaceutical company. They had over 5,500 links. When we broke this down, only 100 were the type of links they actually wanted and could derive any value from.”

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