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Search Engine Marketing: A Quick and Easy Overview

Ron Brauner, Sitesurfer Publishing

What Exactly is Search Engine Marketing Anyway?

"So what exactly is SEM anyway?" was a question I recently overheard being debated between two rather seasoned clients. And while each had some grasp of search engine marketing, our following conversation revealed a considerable amount of confusion and misinformation about the topic. Perhaps it was due to acronym-overload -- we love those TLAs (three-letter acronyms) in the Web businesses -- or simply the ever-evolving nature of search technology, its practices and products. Whatever the cause, our discussion was enlightening for us all. So I wanted to share a brief overview of search engine marketing with others who may also be asking: "So what exactly is SEM anyway?"

Search engine marketing (SEM), or simply search marketing, is the strategy of promoting your Web site via search engines. The objective is to improve your Web site's rank within the search engine results pages (SERPs) so when someone searches on a specific keyword or phrase relevant to your business, your site is among those prominently displayed. The two basic tactics employed to achieve this objective are search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search.

Search Engine Optimization aka Organic Search, Natural Search

Search engine optimization (SEO), organic search or natural search is the art and science of organizing, constructing and writing quality Web pages that can be easily parsed and retrieved by search spiders -- the programs used by search engines to crawl the Web and index pages. In fact, each search engine issues specific guidelines for SEO. Generally, the algorithms used by search engine spiders give significant preference to sites that are content rich, regularly updated, built to WC3 (World Wide Web Consortium) standards, and recognized as an authority site within their industry. Authority sites are distinguished by the number of inbound links from other quality Web sites within an industry or peer group.

Although search engine spiders are constantly scouring the Web for new pages and content it can take months before search spiders find your site and index it. Registering your site with the search engines can help expedite the process. In addition to registering with the major search engines like Google and Yahoo, be sure to identify and register with vertical search engines that specialized in specific industries and market segments pertinent to your business. Vertical search engines and industry-specific directories can offer a more targeted search audience and far less clutter.

Despite the buzz and rumor about fiendishly clever webmasters who have found new ways to dupe the search engines into affording their sites top rankings -- there simply aren't any quick fixes to search engine optimization. And if you're caught employing such practices on your site, you can actually get your Web site banned from the search engines' listings altogether. Search engine optimization is more about constructing well-built and informative Web pages than looking for ways to exploit search engine technology. In addition to the advantage of higher organic SERP listings, SEO also affords the benefits of more efficient, standards-compliant code that delivers greater audience accessibility and lower long-term maintenance costs for your Web site.

Sponsored Search aka Paid Search, Pay Per Click

Where SEO is concerned with the construction and content of the Web site itself, sponsored search takes a more proactive approach by allowing advertisers to buy ads within the SERPs and on partner web sites based on the keywords searched.

Sponsored search is also known as paid search or pay per click (PPC) because you pay a fee to the search engine every time someone clicks on your ad via a bidding system. The higher your bid, the higher rank you ad receives. But you only pay when someone clicks on you ad. Bidding on keywords starts at a few cents for the least sought after keywords to reported bids of over $100 for keywords such as "Mesothelioma" -- a disease related to class-action asbestos litigation. The bidding process itself affords advertisers a considerable amount of control over their campaigns allowing advertisers to set limits and tweak with word combinations in order to find the ideal mix of cost and response. Tested and well-managed sponsored search campaigns can pay for themselves many times over by ensuring a high conversion rate of qualified leads. But loosely managed campaigns targeting too broad a selection of keywords can generate clicks high click through rates (CTRs) without any return on your sponsored search investment. Two other common sponsored fee models include cost per lead (CPL) based on the generation of a qualified lead and cost per action (CPA) based on the searcher taking some action beyond a click such as completing a form to request more information or signing up for a newsletter.

The ads that appear directly in the results page when you conduct a search are called sponsored links. On Google these are actually labeled "sponsored links" and appear in a blue tinted box at the top of the results page listing and in a column on the right side of the page. In Yahoo they a displayed in much the same way and are labeled "sponsor links." Contextual ads are ads that placed on partner Web sites by the search engine. This provides webmasters with a percentage of the advertising revenue by publishing content-related on their own sites. Using the Google example, these are groups of ads that appear on various Web sites in a box labeled "Ads by Goooooogle."

Sitesurfer Publishing is an award-winning Internet development and electronic publishing agency serving regional, national, and international clientele. For more information, contact Ron Brauner at or at 321.574.5004.

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