Search marketing is now widely recognised as a highly effective way of reaching customers online. Last year, over £2 Billion was spent globally in online marketing and the figures are set to soar. More companies with an online presence are turning to search marketing to reach prospective customers, generate traffic to their site and convert them into sales. So, how does it all work? If you’re considering investing a percentage of your hard earned marketing budget on search marketing you should have a basic understanding of where it’s going and how it works. Most search marketing companies talk about improved web site and page ranking but what exactly does that mean? What you want is to increase traffic to your site, improve sales and raise the brand. How does that happen?
SEM or SM?
Search marketing which has now dropped the less glamorous “engine” from its previous industry name of Search Engine Marketing really consists of two disciplines – paid search and organic or natural search. Paid search is of course what keeps Google in hyper-growth or more specifically Google Adwords. In the UK we must not forget Yahoo Search Marketing (Overture), Miva and Mirago. These engines all enable advertisers to Pay-for-Position (PfP) or Pay-per-Click (PPC). It’s important to note that such marketing is a form of advertising and such adverts wherever they appear should be announced as “sponsored” or labelled as advertising.
The PfP networks mentioned above are referred to as networks because, in nearly all cases, their adverts are shown across a network of sites. The sites in the network depend on the relationship that the main ad technology provider has with search portals. For example, if you search for something on Google and look at the Google AdWords shown, you will see the same ads on Aol.co.uk. You may see some differences due to advertisers’ budgets causing fluctuations in impressions, but they are same.
Organic search or natural search results are provided by crawling search engines – more on those later. The important thing to remember is that paid search is advertising and organic search is editorial. Well, that’s the analogy the search marketing industry uses to describe in Newspaper-like terminology the complex world of search. It’s a rather good analogy because it allows us search people to explain Search Engine Optimisation.
Organic Search and PR
So if you wanted to advertise in a national newspaper you could book it directly, use a media buyer, engage a creative agency and possibly a media planner. Well you can do all of that too with paid search. The management of paid search is big business. But what about editorial or those crawled results? Well to influence editorial, you might engage a PR agency. Of course a PR agency’s not going to guarantee front page news but it will devise a strategy and execute on it to get results. Well in the world of search, to try and influence crawling search engines and their organic results, you should consider Search Engine Optimisation and you might consider a Search Engine Optimisation agency. Another point for clarity, Search Engine Optimisation is a really bad term. You don’t and can’t optimise search engines you actually optimise the website you want to perform well in search engines. Unfortunately, we’re stuck with SEO and not a more logical name like “website search optimisation”.
The find, crawl, read, index and rank
At ivantage.co.uk we always think of “ranking” on crawling search engines as just one of four steps in generating traffic and conversions in the process of successful Search Engine Optimisation. Your site, like every other site, needs not only to be ranked by search engines but found, crawled, read, indexed and then ranked by crawling search engines.
The UK’s leading crawling search engines, spiders and robots
Notice I talk about crawling search engines. What on earth are these? Actually you’ll have heard of most of them, there really aren’t that many and certainly the only ones you need to worry about, as far as traffic is concerned, are Google, Yahoo, MSN, (Ask Jeeves) Teoma and Mirago. Each search engine generally has a portal component which is the bit consumers visit to conduct their searches and a crawling component called the robot or spider. So each of the search engines I mentioned above has its own robot, each uniquely named Googlebot, Slurp, MSNbot, Teoma and Henry respectively.
So how does your site get found?
Well, robots work by following links. So getting a link from an established site to your site is vital. You can also see if search engines know about your site already by using the command site:www.yoursite.co.uk in the search box at Google for example. This asks the search engine to retrieve all the pages it has in its database (or index) from your domain. This allows you to see which pages the search engines know about. If you are not listed you need to establish links – ask friends, colleagues and business associates and submit your site at DMOZ and the Yahoo directories (note this is different to the Yahoo search engine) . You can also submit your site for crawling at most search engines, but be aware; submitting for crawling is not as good and being found for crawling!
So, how about being crawled, read and indexed?
Well, again the command site:www.mysite.co.uk on Google and on other search engines can really serve you well. Have a look at what text the search engines are indexing and the see if the links work. This can tell you a lot about how well read and understood your site is. One of the most important things you can do to improve your search engine readability is to use a unique, descriptive HTML Title on every page of your website. Also use a Description and Abstract Meta Tag (information inserted into the “head” area of your web pages) and remember that Title and Meta tags have two purposes. The first purpose is to compel users to click through from a search page to your website. Such Titles and Meta Tags are often displayed to users using search engines and so using promotional text such as “Free Delivery” or real unique selling points entice users to click through. The second purpose is ranking – so use keywords in the Title and Meta tags that have potential to generate the right kind of traffic to your site, but match the content of each page.
So what’s the key to good ranking?
The key to ranking is a great site with great content and an enviable back linking structure that has been established organically because other site owners have felt it important and useful to link to your site. Search engines really look for sites that are part of a thematic community and sites that rank the best are those that demonstrate authority over their subject matter with important, fresh, content, referenced by other websites active in the same community.