The concept behind Search Engine Marketing is quite simple: when a consumer or business person searches the Web through either a text box or by clicking through a directory hierarchy, he or she is in “hunt mode.” This psychological state is unique because it signals to the search engine (and to marketers) that the person is looking for information, often of a direct or indirect commercial nature.
Marketers understand that this “hunt mode” means that the searcher may very well be at the beginning, middle, or end stages of the buying cycle. When someone is researching a product or service to satisfy an immediate or future need they are in an unusual state: they desire relevant information and are open to digesting and acting on the information at their fingertips, all made possible by a search engine. This makes search engine results some of the best sources of targeted traffic, whether this traffic originates from “organic” unpaid search listings or paid advertising listings.
Many marketers think of search engines as delivering the search results or SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in the form of purely textual results. The truth is that search results can be any mix of text, images, video, audio, or other file formats. In the United States, search engines don’t simply include Google, Yahoo and Bing; they also include commerce sites such as eBay and Amazon, as well as specialty search engines such as YouTube and Hulu for video, restaurant search engines, “people” search engines such as LinkedIn, or online business directories for local results, including IYPs (Internet Yellow Pages) and sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and others.
Many countries have general purpose or specialty search engines launched locally to meet the needs of that countries’ population.
Plus, new forms of search are also evolving rapidly, including voice search (voice-driven search), as well as search within app environments.
All search engines use algorithms to attempt to provide the most relevant results to each searcher, taking onto account not only the search keywords used but also the searcher’s location, device, operating system, previous search behavior, and even identity. The better any specific search algorithm for paid or organic (unpaid) results is, the happier the searcher is with the results. Because search engines compete for the attention, eyeballs, and ears of searchers, there is great incentive for constant improvement and innovation.
To leverage the power contained within this targeted traffic source, marketers must understand how to effectively use both paid and organic SEM and have realistic expectations about what they can expect each methodology to achieve.
Search engine traffic is unique in the following ways:
Search engine traffic is a non-intrusive method of marketing. The majority of online and offline advertising intrudes on the audience, interrupting its current activities. Search is unique in tapping a searcher at the exact moment he or she is seeking knowledge or a solution. Searchers are on a mission – its “just-in-time marketing”.
Search engine traffic originates from voluntary, audience-driven search behavior. This means the visitors from a search results link (or otherwise engaged in search results) have not only selected your content (link, image, video or other format) from among your peers, but chose the search query that resulted in your content (ad or organic) being shown.
“Organic” search engine marketing (organic search listings) combines the best practices of creativity, technology, usability, copy, and online promotion / PR. This is because many search engines base their relevancy algorithms on a combination of the text they see on a page, site, video, or image and combine the content information with external elements such as links and user behaviors/preferences demonstrated over time for a domain, content source, or specific content element.
Some marketers believe that there are “tricks” that will improve the relevancy of sites within the search engines that are spider- (crawler-) based. Not only do some of these tricks not work; many of them can result in negative relevance penalties as the engines take measures to punish search marketers seeking to manipulate ranking and relevance. That said, there are still compelling reasons to put legitimate efforts behind organic SEO optimization, particularly efforts in site design, content formatting, content clarity optimization, and server platform adjustments.
Paid search ads and listings have played an ever-increasing role in most marketers’ minds, due to their increasing screen real estate, particularly on mobile devices.
The following types of paid listings are most common:
- Paid placement
- Paid inclusion
- Shopping search
- Video search ads
- Local search ads
- Product listing ads
As new forms of search take hold such as voice search there is an expectation within the industry that ad units will appear within voice search as well.
(See our Glossary for more information on these and other SEM terms.)
Budgeting for search is non-trivial. Correctly allocating resources among paid advertising-based search visibility and investments in SEO or content marketing poses a difficult chore for marketing departments.
Many marketers like to compare organic SEO to public relations or “earned media” because there is no guarantee of success, making the ROI on earned media (including SEO) a challenge to predict and sometimes a challenge to measure. In both SEO and PR, marketers have the option of hiring internal staff, bringing in consultants, or using an outside agency. The same options apply for paid search marketing.
All kinds of marketers can benefit from a dialogue with a searcher; whether this searcher is facing a crisis, is in need of information, or is ready to purchase. If you aren’t in the search results when your customers or prospects are searching, then your competition is. You may lose that customer or prospect forever to any competitors who are present. Sound scary? You bet it is and billions of dollars in services and ad revenue are driven by the importance of search visibility: being in the right place in the search engine results pages at the perfect time.