Search Engine Results You Can Control

If you work at a full-service interactive agency, chances are one of the services you provide for your clients is search engine optimization (SEO), also known search engine marketing (SEM). As a media buyer, you may not concern yourself too much with this complex process, defined as “increasing the amount of visitors to a Web site by ranking high in the search results of a search engine.”

Assorted submission rules and policies, erratic protocol for updating databases, and varied techniques for optimizing a Web site to increase your client’s chances of getting listed can all be overwhelming — even for the most up-to-date SEO specialist. Yet, SEO remains a common method of increasing site traffic and exposure online. You’ve probably encountered plenty of advertisers who like the idea of getting their businesses listed on the top search engines on the Web. But how many of them are willing to wait for results?

Here’s where media buying comes into play. Achieving rankings of any kind on popular search engines takes time, and top search results aren’t a certainty — but there are certainly ways to get your eager clients listed, and these methods can achieve a similar traffic — and brand-building — effect.

Where search engines are concerned, and when the objective is to garner immediate results, paid listings are a great alternative to submitting a Web site for listing the old-fashioned way. These placements have come to be considered part of “search engine marketing,” the term SEO expert and ClickZ columnist Danny Sullivan often uses to embrace all methods of marketing involving search engine sites and directories.

The main difference between this and the more traditional method (which involves submitting your client’s site and awaiting eventual rankings) is paid listings can be bought, giving you much more control over your results. Paid listings may not be the real deal — and that surely affects their validity and value in the eyes of some Internet users — but they’ll give you the power to assure your client that his company name and product description will appear when keywords relevant to his site are typed into a search engine. It can take months to obtain a ranking using straightforward SEO, and the competition for gaining a significant standing under a popular keyword can be fierce. Paid listings allow the advertiser to position herself next to, and even above, her competitor’s results.

When agency clients express an interest in advertising via paid listings on search engines, most buyers immediately recommend pay-per-search placements on properties such as Overture and Google. A slightly different approach utilizes a placement that is widely known as the “keyword text link.” Most every major search engine offers these paid placements in a “sponsored links” or “sponsor matches” section, often on a CPM basis. The links are generally highlighted or visibly separated from the “genuine” results, indicating these listings were purchased.

Now that Overture and Google combined provide paid search results for the bulk of the other major search engines, arguing the benefits of a keyword text link over a pay-per-search placement can be challenging. With pay-per-search listings, you can get vast exposure while paying only when an Internet user clicks on your search result.

But for some, top placement is everything, making investigating keyword text links worthwhile. Many of the search engines offering keyword text links position their advertisers above other search results, including those derived from a pay-per-search engine. Just as a high ranking on a search engine can lead to increased clicks, a keyword text link positioned above other listings can significantly build traffic to an advertiser’s site.

From the advertiser’s point of view, the obvious advantages of investing in SEO is you don’t have to pay a set fee each time your search result is viewed, as you do, for example, with a paid listing bought on a CPM basis. The big selling point on paid listings, both pay-per-search and keyword text links, is the position of your listing is guaranteed until your ad contract expires. Search engine listings fluctuate, and advertisers have little control over the position they retain over time. If your client’s competitor is bumped to a higher ranking on a search engine, there isn’t much you can do about it. But if the client is willing to pay, he can be listed under the same keywords as his archrival.

Is it worth the cost? It all depends on how much your client values having a strong Web presence alongside similar businesses that are in a position to swipe potential customers.

In most cases, I would venture to say it’s pretty darn important.

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