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Five Elements of a Winning Search Engine Marketing Strategy

Tom Dahm
BridgePose.com

February 2, 2005

Search engine marketing is the hottest thing in the marketing world, showing 214% growth over the past two years. It was the sizzle in Google's successful IPO and the power behind Yahoo's four straight quarters of profitability.

All this excitement has triggered a rush of companies embracing search engines as a major marketing channel. But these companies risk failure unless they have a coherent search engine marketing strategy that understands this new advertising medium. This article will outline five critical elements of such a strategy.

Measurement

Measurement is essential to a successful search engine marketing strategy. Good search engine marketers have a strong desire to track every aspect of their ad campaign.

Yet according to SEMPO's recent survey, many advertisers are still not looking beyond the most basic performance measures. Over 30% of advertisers don't track conversion rates and almost 40% are not calculating their return on investment (ROI).

That means an astonishing number of people are bidding for placement without knowing if their ads pay for themselves. That's doubly unfortunate, because SEMPO's survey also found that bid prices rose by an average of 26% over the past year.

Do rising bid prices scare you away from search engine marketing? They shouldn't if you know which of your ads are winning customers and which are simply burning your budget. Measurement can tell you that.

Flexibility

The success of your search engine marketing strategy ultimately depends on your keyword selection. A good strategy recognizes that you will achieve the best ROI when you are pragmatic in choosing your keywords.

Don't lock onto on a few "must have" keywords. Many other people have also locked onto those words, so you'll pay dearly for them. It's better to switch keywords than to fight a bidding war for a #1 ranking.

If you study your web site's referrer logs, you'll seen a surprising pattern: the top five search terms sending traffic to your site often make up less than half of your total search engine traffic. In other words, much of your search traffic comes from little words that receive only a handful of searches each month.

A good search engine marketing strategy targets a broad range of keywords, going after the little words as well as the big ones. Overture and Google have made it easy to add keywords to your campaign. It's much better to look for small bargains than to fight for one or two big words. The conversion statistics tell you which keywords are working. And note that, while broad matching is a quick way to target a wide range of words, it's rarely your best long-term option.

Curiosity

You're ads are doing well, but could they do better? What if you just made one little change to the ad text? Could you squeeze just a little more juice out of that lemon?

Optimizing your creatives should be a core part of your search engine marketing strategy. I've seen small text changes to an ad double its click-through rate.

Compared to other forms of advertising, it's easy to change your search engine creatives. Since they're text-only ads, there's no need to work through a graphic artist or TV producer.

Run A/B tests using different ad creatives and see which performs best. Google even lets you run multiple ads simultaneously and optimizes ad serving to favor your strongest creatives.

Try it, just to see what happens. It won't ruin your budget and might just put you at the top of your game.

Persistence

The success of your search engine marketing strategy depends on follow-through. Search engine campaigns are easy to set up. Sadly, that tempts a lot of advertisers to neglect their campaigns after the first few weeks.

Search engine advertising campaigns aren't "fire and forget." You'll get more value from your campaign if you stay on top of it, tracking performance and keeping abreast of the competition.

Plus, the engines often introduce new features that can help you, if you know how to take advantage of them. Do contextual ads work for you? Do you like broad matching? Neglect your campaign for a while, and you might find that you've been automatically opted-into new features that you may or may not want.

Balance

While paid search engine advertising is great by itself, you'll get the most value from a balanced search engine marketing strategy that also uses organic search engine optimization and link building.

Search engine advertising is a wonderful marketing channel. It's targeted, effective and easy to set up. There's only won downside: you have to pay for every click. Wouldn't it be a good long-term investment to optimize your web site so that it also ranks at the top of the organic search results?

At some point you'll also want to grow your search engine marketing channel. Several studies show that organic listings are chosen first by 70% of the people viewing search results, while sponsored listings receive about 24.6% of clicks. That means you can sharply increase your search engine traffic by appearing in the organic results.

The Bottom Line

Your unique search engine marketing strategy will likely include other aspects based on your industry. But these five elements are the common denominator among top-performing campaigns. If your current search engine campaign lacks one or more of these, then think seriously about how you could incorporate them. The results are worth the effort.

Tom Dahm is the President ofBridgePose Search Engine Keyword Marketing. He has been optimizing web sites since 1998.

 

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