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How Search Marketing Works

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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 chapter from Search Engine Marketing, Inc.: Driving Search Traffic to Your Company's Website, 3rd Edition explains why search marketing is important, why it is difficult, what search marketing is, and how to get started.
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 someone types a word into Google (or another search engine), sees a page listed from your site, and clicks through to visit your site, you have attracted a searcher. 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 engine marketing (or search marketing, for short). This book shows you how to become a search marketer. This chapter covers the following topics:

  • Why search marketing is important: You are probably not reading this book as an academic exercise; instead, you want to know how to get more visitors to your website. You already spend your marketing budget on other ways to entice people to visit. This chapter explains why search marketing in many ways is the best kind of marketing there is. And some of it is free.
  • Why search marketing is difficult: Attracting searchers to your site is appealing, but it’s harder to do than you might think. As search marketing becomes more and more widespread, your competition is increasing. What’s more, small companies have different challenges than big companies—and it isn’t easy for either one. This chapter explains why so many websites struggle to attract search visitors. But don’t worry. The rest of this book shows you how to overcome these challenges.
  • What search marketing is: When a search site responds to a searcher, many types of search results show up on that screen. We explain where those results come from and how Google and Bing decide what to show.
  • How to get started in search marketing: When a search site responds to a searcher, many types of search results show up on that screen. We explain where those results come from and how you, as a search marketer, can influence your content to show up on that result screen. You can get started today if you just know how to approach search marketing. And you’ll learn more and more as you move deeper into this book.

Let’s get started now! First up, we’ll look at why search marketing is so important to any marketer with a website.

Why Search Marketing Is Important

Unless you’ve been under a rock since the late 1990s (and maybe even then), you know that search marketing is important, even if you might not have done much about it up until now. You know it’s important because you likely use search yourself, probably every day, and you’re not alone; 91% of online adults used search engines to find information on the web in 2012, up from 84% in 2004. But you might not be focusing on all of the reasons that search marketing can be critically important to your marketing mix.

Searchers Are Highly Qualified Prospects

You know that potential customers are out there that you want to reach and that search is one important way to do it. But it goes deeper than that.

Any form of marketing can reach potential customers; that’s why marketing exists. Search marketing is unique among marketing techniques in that searchers are out there raising their hands saying, “Please sell to me now!” When searchers belly up to Google and type something into the search box, they are begging to receive marketing messages. Now, not every search revolves around a potential purchase, but many do, and your company can be in the middle of those sales possibilities.

But it’s even better than that.

Not only are many searchers potential customers, but the very words that they type into the search box reveal where they are in their purchase process. Someone who enters hair loss remedy is not ready to buy, but someone who enters rogaine might be. You’ll want two very different marketing messages in response to these two different searches, with the first one focusing on alternative treatments for baldness and the second maybe offering a coupon. What other form of marketing is so tuned to the customer’s readiness to buy?

That readiness to buy is one of the most basic reasons to spend your scarce marketing budget on search: 89% of those online use search engines to look for information about brands and products. Lest you think that not enough people are online for search marketing to be worth your while, note that total Internet users passed the seven billion mark worldwide in 2012. As simple as it sounds, your customers are online, and they use search to buy. Your site must be found by these searchers who are ready to buy.

Think about the new way that people purchase products. They no longer call your company to have you mail them a brochure. They “Google” your offering (verizon wireless). Or maybe they look for your competitor’s (sprint). Or they search for its generic name (cell phone service).

If your company’s website is not listed in the first few search results for these searches, you’re out! You are out of the customer’s consideration set—the group of companies that will be considered for the customer’s purchase. If you are not in the customer’s consideration set, you have no chance to make the sale to that customer.

Even if the goal of your website is not online purchase, your customers must find you to learn about your offerings, download information, or find the location of a retail store. Searchers are far more qualified visitors to your site than someone who clicks a banner ad, for example, so attracting search visitors is just good business.

And search volume is growing dramatically, due to the explosion in the use of mobile devices. If you stop to think about it, these small screens with ubiquitous wireless access to the web are tailor-made for a more search-centered user experience. There is no room to look at long web pages with lots of links to navigate; searching using the keyboard or voice recognition is much easier. There’s always enough room for a search box.

The main reason to make search part of your marketing mix is that that’s where your customers are, but there are other reasons.

Search Marketing Is Cost-Effective

Beyond your customers’ use of search, the case for including search in your marketing mix is compelling for another reason: Search marketing expenditures are a good value compared to other forms of marketing. We’ve already talked about how searchers are more qualified than others you market to, because the act of searching is an expression of interest. That alone saves money wasted in other forms of marketing. But there are more reasons that search is a good buy.

Some search tactics require no payment to the search engine for traffic, so it can be among the most cost-effective forms of marketing, especially if your website is already well designed with high-quality content. Even with the costs of search advertising, you pay only for the people who actually click through to your site, unlike other forms of advertising where you pay for each ad impression shown. Marketing software company HubSpot has found that search engine optimization (SEO) has the highest lead-to-customer close rate of any form of generation marketing at one-third lower cost than outbound marketing tactics, such as advertising and direct mail.

Why is this important? Because if you want to start spending money on search, you need to stop spending on something else. When you understand that search is the most effective way to spend your scarce marketing dollars, you should be able to easily reduce some existing budgets (direct mail, perhaps?) to find the money for your new search expenditures. An Advertising.com survey found over 35% of marketers indicated paid search is their most cost-effective lead generation method, nearly twice as effective as other forms of marketing.

Search Marketing Is Big Business

You can tell a new marketing technique is taking off by noticing the number of consultants who hang out their shingles to help you do it! Several kinds of firms are involved in search marketing:

  • Search consultants: A brand new kind of consultancy has sprung up in the past several years; these new firms handle search marketing and nothing else.
  • Traditional advertising agencies: At the other end of the spectrum are the old-line advertising agencies that have been around for years. Just as firms such as Young & Rubicam and Ogilvy & Mather handle TV, radio, and print advertising, in recent years they have taken on web advertising. Starting with banner ads, they have now moved into search marketing, too.
  • Interactive advertising agencies: In between the two extremes, interactive agencies handle anything online, ranging from search marketing to social media to email campaigns. Sometimes these agencies are subsidiaries of the traditional ad agencies, whereas others are smaller, independent firms.

All of these firms are competing for your growing interactive marketing budget. Your organization might already work with one of these companies, or might be looking for a search marketing partner. What is most important at this point is your interest in allocating part of your marketing budget to search, because you will soon see that achieving success is rather challenging.

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