Advertise Your Business Online with Search Engine Marketing

by Eric Moyer on May 19, 2010
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After you build your website and optimize it for organic search results, you can drive additional traffic to your site through search engine marketing. SEM generates visibility in the paid advertising section of search engine results. Unlike SEO, SEM works instantly, sending visitors to your site as soon as you start advertising. The trade-off is that SEM costs money.

SEM effectiveness is measured as “pay per click”; you only pay when someone using a search engine (like Google, Yahoo, or Bing) clicks on your ad. This can be a very effective way to control costs and adjust your ad spending according to the season, inventory levels, or your appetite for growing the business.

Both SEM and SEO work effectively on websites that have good content and engagement with customers. Therefore, it is important to build a quality website with appropriate content that includes keywords and “calls to action.”

Here are three questions to help you clarify how paid search advertising may fit into your business’s online marketing efforts.

  1. How will you convert increased traffic to your site into increased revenue? In short, SEM allows you to pay for increased traffic from search engines to your website. You will receive immediate value from this investment only if your website helps convert traffic into revenue, whether it is through generating qualified leads or online sales. One way to increase conversions is to develop special incentives and messaging, with each paid ad pointing to a unique offer on its own “landing page” on your website. This creates a more targeted experience than a generic ad that points to your home page.
  2. How much is it worth to build traffic quickly? The key advantage of SEM is that you have greater, more immediate control over making your website easier to find in search engines. Investing in paid search results may make more sense if you want to increase visibility quickly, especially if your “unpaid” (organic) search results are not yet as visible as you would like, or if you want to boost awareness of an offering, such as a special event or sale, at a certain point in time.
  3. How do customers search for and find businesses like yours? SEM, like SEO, can make it easier for customers to find you online, so it’s worth talking to prospects and existing customers to understand how they search for businesses like yours. As you evaluate target keywords or phrases, you can also see which competitors appear in the paid search results. Make note of these keywords and the subject lines and body copy for these paid ads, and then think about the words you could use in your ad to set your business apart — and to improve upon the best ideas of your competitors.

Getting Started with Search Engine Marketing

If you already have a website and know how well you convert online visitors into leads or paying customers, purchasing SEM advertising is a good option for your business. Here are a few suggested steps for you to manage your SEM campaigns effectively:

  • Set a realistic goal and budget. Successful SEM campaigns can generate sales worth many times their cost. If you are just getting started, though, it might make sense to aim for modest returns. Start with a small test (fewer keywords, hours of the day, and geographies) and spend as little money as necessary to be able to measure the results.
  • Test, learn, and repeat. As with SEO, you should work to improve the results in your SEM campaigns by testing different targeting methods, especially in your choice of keywords. As you collect results, try to understand why certain keywords did better than others, so you can decide how much to invest in your best-performing keywords (and which new keywords are worth a test). Repeat the process to refine your keyword selection.
  • Investigate different SEM solutions. If you are willing to dedicate time to setting up and managing your paid search campaigns, you can work directly with the leading search engine companies. If you would like to save time and use the expertise of others, there are also full-service options.

There is no “one size fits all” SEM solution. Each business or website has its own economics. Figure out what you are trying to accomplish and test your way through different creative ads and content on the webpage. Here are some additional resources and tools to help get you started:

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