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Why Search Marketing Is Important . . . and Difficult

If you're just getting started with search marketing, then read this chapter, which covers web basics, integrating search into your marketing mix, and the challenges of search marketing.
This chapter is from the book

Search marketing. Perhaps you've heard this term kicked around, but you don't know what it means. Or, if you do know, you don't know where to start. As with anything new, if you take it step by step, you can learn it. A systematic approach can lead to search marketing success in any organization.

When a searcher types a word into Google, finds your home page, and clicks through to your site, you have attracted a visitor from a search site. If you do nothing at all, searchers will still find your site—sometimes. To maximize the number of searchers coming to your site, however, you must take specific actions to attract visitors to your site from search sites. That's search marketing. This book shows you how to become a search marketer. This chapter covers the following topics:

  • Web search basics. What do we mean when we talk about "Web search"? You might think you know the basics already, but it is important that you thoroughly understand search fundamentals as you start your search marketing career. The advanced topics you need to learn will come more easily if you do not skip over the basics. In this chapter, we describe several different types of search, we introduce the leading search sites on the Web, and we talk about what makes them successful.
  • Search and your marketing mix. You are probably not reading this book as an academic exercise—you want to know how to get more visitors to your Web site. You already spend your marketing budget on other ways to entice people to visit. How do you reallocate some of that budget to fit search into the mix? In this chapter, we demonstrate the huge opportunity of search marketing and show why you need to make room for it in your company's marketing mix.
  • The challenge of search marketing. Attracting searchers to your site is appealing, but it's harder to do than you might think. And the larger your Web site is, the more difficult it can be. In this chapter, we explain why so many Web sites struggle to attract search visitors. But don't worry. The rest of this book shows you how to overcome these challenges.

Before examining the promise and the challenges of search marketing, we need to explore what we mean by Web search.

Web Search Basics

You know search is important. You want to attract search visitors to your site. You are reading this book because you expect to learn what you need to know so your site succeeds at search marketing. And the most fundamental fact behind what you already know is that more and more Web users are searching.

Congratulations on spotting the trend! Your intuition that search usage is growing is correct. Seventy-six percent of all Web users performed at least one search in January 2004, totalling 114 million Web visitors to search sites. Fully 64 percent of Web users employ search as their primary method of finding things and 59 percent of U.S. users employ search daily. The top five U.S. search engines processed close to 11 billion searches in March 2008!

Beyond the numbers, search is becoming a cultural phenomenon. If you have never "Googled yourself" (searched for your own name in Google), I bet you are going to do so now. Even people who do not use the Web have heard of Google and Yahoo! The Web is growing in popularity every year, and search is growing right along with it. And younger market segments cannot be reached as easily through traditional advertising, because teens and young adults now spend more time online than watching television. When you add it all up, your Web site cannot ignore the increasing importance of search to your visitors.

But that does not make you an expert in how to do search marketing. You might not know the first thing about how to get your site into the top search results. Maybe you heard that your competitors are succeeding at search marketing—and one of your customers told you that your site cannot be found. You want to fix it, but how?

Despite how little you might know, you need to learn just two things to get started:

  • The kinds of search results. When a search site responds to a searcher, different kinds of search results display. To begin your search education, we explain each type of display.
  • Where searchers go. You might have a favorite search site, but not all searchers use what you do. Some search sites are even specific to a particular region or country. You need to understand which search engines are the most popular so that you can focus on them in your marketing efforts.

Let's begin with an overview of Web search results.

Kinds of Search Results

When we talk about search, we are actually referring to two distinct ways that search results land on the screen, as shown in Figure 1-1:

  • Organic results. Also known as natural results, organic results are what made Google famous. Organic results are the "best" pages found for the words the searcher entered. When people refer to search engine optimization (SEO), they are talking about how you get your site's pages to be shown in organic search results. Organic search is what most people think of when they talk about Web search, and searchers click organic results between 60 and 80 percent of the time. Searchers trust organic results, and therefore organic search must be part of your search marketing program. It can take time to succeed at organic search, but your time investment will pay off in the long run.
  • Paid results. This term refers to a variety of revenue-generating activities by search sites, encompassing both paid inclusion and paid placement. Paid inclusion guarantees that a site's pages have been catalogued by the search site, so that they can be returned when they closely match an organic search. Paid placement allows a Web site to pay to have its page shown in response to a particular search word entered, regardless of how closely the page matches what the searcher entered. Paid search programs are the quick fix to attracting searchers to your Web site, and search marketers are responding. The paid search market exceeded $5 billion in 2005 and is expected to rise to over $11 billion by 2011.
Figure 1-1

Figure 1-1 Types of search results. Google's results page has always separated paid from organic results, but other sites have at times combined them.

Another form of paid search is known as paid listings or directories, as shown in Figure 1-2. Directories are manually maintained classification systems that list Web sites according to each subject category that describes them. Directories are maintained by human editors who examine every Web site submitted to them by the site owner and decide under which subject a site should be listed. You can see in Figure 1-2 that Yahoo! offers navigation to a complete directory of subjects, so you can jump from movies to computers in a single click. (Because the results are created manually, search geeks and other technologists do not consider directories to be a kind of search, but Web users do.)

Figure 1-2

Figure 1-2 Directory listings. Yahoo! adds a directory listing showing the subject category that matches the result, giving the searcher one more choice.

Reproduced with permission of Yahoo! Inc. © 2008 by Yahoo! Inc. YAHOO! and the YAHOO! logo are trademarks of Yahoo! Inc.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a broader term than SEO that encompasses any kind of search results. SEM is everything you do to raise your site's visibility in search engines to attract more visitors. Regardless of what term you use, search marketing is a critical way for your site to attract new visitors.

Now that you have learned about the types of search results, we can survey the most popular search sites around the world. In this book, we refer to search sites such as Google and Yahoo! as search engines.

Where Searchers Go

If you have a favorite search engine that you use all the time, you might not realize how many other search engines people use. Some search engines operate in just one country or one region, and others do nothing but help people comparison shop for products. Each search engine is competing vigorously for its share of this growing business, but searchers are beginning to show brand loyalty, as Figure 1-3 shows.

Figure 1-3

Figure 1-3 Searcher loyalty. Google leads in the percentage of searchers who do not switch to a different search site.

Sources: OneStat (May 2004) and iProspect (April 2004)

Among worldwide search engines, Google and Yahoo! are currently the two top competitors, but the landscape can change quickly. Yahoo! and Google were partners until 2004, and as we write this, they might become partners again, or Yahoo! might be purchased by Microsoft®. Let's look closely at the worldwide leaders in search and at leaders within particular countries and regions.


A googol is a mathematical term for a 1 digit followed by one hundred 0s, and served as the inspiration for the Google search engine name, signifying the immense size of the search index it searches. Founded in 1998 by Stanford graduate students Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google (www.google.com) has become so well known that "Googling" (searching for) someone's name has even been mentioned on popular TV shows.

Like many Web businesses of the 1990s, Google started small and grew as the Web exploded. Unlike many of the dotcom companies of that era, Google resisted going public until 2004, and eschewed advertising, preferring to grow through word of mouth. Google has been such a wonderful search engine that this strategy has worked. Google is used by more searchers than any other search engine, with more than a 50 percent U.S. market share. Google is one of the most visited Web sites in the world, offering results in over 40 languages—with more than half of its visitors from outside the United States.

Google started by offering the most relevant organic results that the Web had ever seen, which is still its most striking feature. The I'm Feeling Lucky button that takes you directly to the first search result testifies to the confidence Google has in its organic search capability. Google claims to have three times more pages in its search index than its competitors, but still seems to find the right one for each search.

Unlike some competitors, Google initially kept its business focused on search, only recently straying into the territory of a portal, the way Yahoo! and others have offered news, weather, shopping, and other services. Google has always made its money through forms of paid search, allowing advertisers to purchase space on the results page based on what search words were entered. Over the years, Google has grown into one of the largest paid search companies in the world.

For the search marketer, Google is the 800-pound gorilla of the industry. You cannot ignore Google in your search strategy for organic or paid campaigns. But Google is not the only search engine in town. Google is the most popular search engine in the world, receiving more than half of all searches, as shown in Figure 1-4. But you must include other search engines in your plan to maximize the benefits of search marketing.

Figure 1-4

Figure 1-4 Google is the leader with more than half the total share of U.S. searches.

Source: comScore Media Metrix (March 2008)


Yahoo! (www.yahoo.com) is one of the most-visited sites on the Internet, but its visitors do a lot more than search. Yahoo! is a leading portal, offering news, e-mail, shopping, and many other functions to visitors who register. The Yahoo! search engine is the #2 search engine, with more than one-fifth of all searches, but Figure 1-5 shows the difference in focus for Yahoo! and Google.

Figure 1-5

Figure 1-5 Yahoo! and Google home page focus. Google is "all search, all the time," whereas Yahoo! is a "full-service portal."

Reproduced with permission of Yahoo! Inc. © 2008 by Yahoo! Inc. YAHOO! and the YAHOO! logo are trademarks of Yahoo! Inc.

Yahoo! is one of the oldest Web companies around, founded in 1994 by Stanford Ph.D. students David Filo and Jerry Yang. Yahoo! began as a Web directory—initially free to any company in its list—but later Yahoo! began charging a fee for each listing. Yahoo! quickly became a popular destination as its editors catalogued the growing Web, site by site, into its subject hierarchy. Yahoo! visitors believed they could find every Web site about any subject in just a few clicks.

When Yahoo! began offering organic search capability, it licensed the technology from other companies—at one time licensing Google's search technology. In 2003, Yahoo! shifted gears, acquiring several organic and paid search companies so that it could control its own technology. At first, Yahoo! suffered no major drop-off in popularity, but with each passing year, Google has turned a close race in market share into a rout, with Yahoo! now a distant second.

Google leads Yahoo! in total searches each month, especially outside the United States. Yahoo! Search has made strides in recent years to match Google in the number of languages supported, but Yahoo! frequently lags far behind Google in popularity in countries where they go head to head.


Yahoo! is a force within the United States, but its share of searches varies widely in other countries. U.S. search marketers must target Yahoo! as part of their plans, but marketers elsewhere should analyze the leading search engines in their country before finalizing their plans. Yahoo! should be targeted in countries where it handles a high percentage of total queries, but that needs to be decided on a country-by-country basis.

Although Google and Yahoo! get the lion's share of attention, other excellent worldwide search engines should also be targeted by search marketers in their plans. Although you will get less traffic from these engines than from Google and Yahoo!, it all adds up.

Microsoft Live Search

Microsoft Live Search was long known as MSN Search. The Microsoft Network (MSN), Microsoft's answer to America Online's service, was launched in conjunction with the Windows® 95 operating system, but has steadily trailed AOL in popularity despite Microsoft's dominance of the PC software business.

Live Search (www.live.com) is ranked third in the search race by most counts, with around 10 percent of U.S. searches, but Microsoft has long tried to increase its share of searches. Microsoft introduced new technology for MSN Search in early 2005 and is rumored to be developing a new search facility built into a future version of the Windows operating system. Windows users would then be able to search their own computer, their company's servers, and the Internet within the same search. Today's Live Search, in contrast, looks a lot like the others, as Figure 1-6 shows.

Figure 1-6

Figure 1-6 Live Search results. Like most competitors, Live Search returns both organic results as well as variations of paid listings.

Worldwide search marketers must focus on Live Search because of the sizable number of visits you can attract to your site. Live Search uses its own technology for organic search and is migrating to its own paid search facility as well. Microsoft adCenter handles the paid results in the United States and many other countries while still syndicating Yahoo!'s Precision Match for others. Microsoft's latest initiative offers cash back to searchers on purchases—it's resulted in a 15 percent increase in traffic in its initial stages.

AOL Search

Now part of media giant Time Warner, America Online (founded as Quantum Systems in 1985) was an online company before most people knew what the Internet was. AOL was the original portal, gradually making its proprietary service more and more Web-oriented over the years. Still notable for its ease of use, AOL is the world's largest Internet service provider (connecting people to the Internet), at one time offering online access to more than 30 million people.

AOL Search (search.aol.com) is used mostly by AOL users, but that is still a lot of people—adding up to over 4 percent of U.S. searches, good enough for fourth or fifth place, depending on who's counting. AOL has a partnership with Google, so organic search results on AOL Search are "enhanced by Google" as you can see in Figure 1-7.

Figure 1-7

Figure 1-7 AOL Search. Still enhanced with Google search results, in recent years AOL Search has moved away from its old status as a Google clone.

© 2008 AOL LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

It's in paid search that AOL is making big changes. Until recently, AOL used Google AdWords for all of its paid search ads. But in early 2007, AOL announced that it was providing its own interface to Google AdWords that allows advertisers to customize Google ads that are being presented to AOL searchers.

Later in 2007, AOL began making a series of announcements that brought together the capabilities of several acquired companies into a brand new advertising network, called Platform A. The nascent network promises banner advertising, behavioral targeting, video advertising, and mobile phone advertising across all Time Warner properties, not just AOL.


Founded as Ask Jeeves in 1996 as a 'natural language' search engine, Ask.com allows searchers to ask a question ("What is the population of India?") and get an answer, not just a list of documents containing the words. This approach yields good answers to popular questions; because it depends on human editors selecting the best answers, however, it does not work well for more esoteric subjects the editors did not handle. In recent years, Ask.com has acquired several organic search engine companies and built a search engine many believe is the closest rival to Google in quality. Figure 1-8 shows a sample results page from Ask.com with a wide range of content as part of its organic search results.

Figure 1-8

Figure 1-8 Ask.com search. Ask.com treats Katmandu as a location, returning links to related topics in addition to regular search results.

To gain market share, Ask.com also acquired Excite, one of the original Internet portals and still a popular search site. Today, Ask.com attracts more than 4 percent of U.S. searches, when you add up visits to all of its properties, ranking fourth or fifth depending on who's doing the counting. Ask.com is not the most popular search engine, but it is one of the most innovative.

Metasearch Engines

Metasearch engines provide a way of searching multiple search engines, with the expectation that searching several different engines will provide better results than any one alone. Unfortunately, it does not, and relatively few searchers use metasearch engines.

Some metasearch engines, such as HotBot (www.hotbot.com), merely show a search input box and ask the searcher to choose which engine to search with.

More complex metasearch engines actually search multiple search engines at the same time and mix the results together on the same results page. InfoSpace owns several metasearch engines that work that way, including WebCrawler (www.webcrawler.com) and Dogpile (www.dogpile.com). Both of these metasearch engines search Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, Ask.com, and other search engines, but neither draws many searchers.

Search marketers do not need to concern themselves with metasearch engines—if you are listed in the worldwide search engines, the few searchers who use metasearch engines will find your site, too.

Local Search Engines


Until now, this discussion has focused on search engines that cover the whole world, but many popular search engines attract searchers from a local area—just one country or region. If your site attracts visitors from several countries, you might want to include local search engines in your plans. But before we look at a few local search engines, keep in mind that often a worldwide search engine is also the local search engine leader. For example, Google is the #1 search engine in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Australia.

Beyond search engines that operate in just one country or region, local search also refers to searches that operate within a geographic area—even inside a city. Yellow Pages sites, such as Yahoo! Yellow Pages, are the most common U.S. examples of local search engines. But worldwide search engines, including Yahoo! and Google, also use local search technology that detects the use of geographic terms in searches and finds results related to that area. So, a search for "Newark electrician" might find contractors in that city. But because not all searchers use geographic terms, and because those terms are frequently ambiguous (Newark, New Jersey or Newark, Delaware?), search engines are beginning to automatically detect the physical location of the searcher (using knowledge of the Internet's physical layout) and use that information in the searches.

Shopping Search Engines

One of the fastest-growing areas of search marketing is shopping search. Shopping search engines allow comparison of features and prices for a wide variety of products, and customers are flocking to them. Visits to U.S. shopping search sites are increasing markedly—51 percent between 2006 and 2007 according to Matt Tatham of HitWise.

Consumers like comparison shopping search engines because they allow simultaneous comparison of similar products across many purchasing factors, such as price, reviews, and availability, as shown in Figure 1-9. Shopping search engines cover a wide range of consumer products, including electronics, office supplies, DVDs, toys, and many others. Internet users who visit shopping sites already have a good idea of what they are looking for, with price and availability often determining from whom they buy.

Figure 1-9

Figure 1-9 Shopping search engines. Become.com shows the typical feature drilldown of shopping search engines with added twists such as color selection.

To take advantage of shopping search engines, search marketers should ensure that no data is missing for products. For example, make sure you provide availability data (in stock, ship within two weeks, and so on) for your products. If you do not, when shoppers sort the product list by availability, your products will fall to the bottom of the list. Figure 1-10 shows the leading shopping search engines. If your site sells products available in shopping search engines, do not ignore this opportunity. We review specific strategies in more detail in Chapter 14, "Optimize Your Paid Search Program."

Figure 1-10

Figure 1-10 Shopping search market share. Yahoo! Shopping and BizRate are the leaders.

Source: Hitwise (October 2007)

Specialty Search Engines

Whereas shopping search engines locate a wide range of products, specialty search engines focus on just one or two product categories, or a certain type of content. Figure 1-11 shows a great example of a specialty search engine that focuses on information technology solutions. Because the content is limited to pages on a certain subject, the searcher retrieves more relevant results. Similarly, Technorati (www.technorati.com), which limits itself to blogs, and PODZINGER (www.podzinger.com), focusing on audio, may find more relevant information within those content types.

Figure 1-11

Figure 1-11 A specialty search engine. IT.com carefully limits its search results to IT solutions, providing more relevance to its niche market than Google can.

Most industries have at least one of these specialty engines, but consumer marketing has specialties, too. For example, the search facility at CNET (www.cnet.com), the computer and electronics site, shows products (as shopping search engines do), but also shows subject category matches and matching Web pages. So, searchers for "digital cameras" get a list of cameras along with their CNET reviews. This blend of product content, reviews, and comparison shopping is a near-perfect environment for electronics product marketers.

Search marketers should research the specialty search engines that cover their product lines, because specialty searchers are ready to buy.

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