Every day millions of people use search engines such Google, Bing and Yahoo to find information on the web. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is the process of improving a website visibility in Internet Search Engines Result Pages (SERP).
A business that has its website appearing on top of SERP for keywords relevant to its activity will have an edge in attracting potential clients. Position in SERP is vital because customers will inevitably click the first few results rather than view those lower down the page.
Traffic to websites coming from SERP is highly qualified because web users are often looking for commercial information in order to satisfy an immediate or future need and websites found are relevant to these searches. Thus Search Engines are a great source of potential clients.
The base of SEM is to find the keywords that clients will use in finding the service you are selling. This activity called Keyword Research can be done systematically, using tools from the search engines themselves.
A SERP will deliver results like web pages, news, videos, images and maps. These will fall into two categories: Sponsored and Organic results.
With sponsored results, you will pay a fee to the search engine in order to appear in the SERP with an ad, for specific keywords. You will be charged only when the searcher clicks the advert (thus the name ‘pay per click’ or PPC). An automatic real time auction will determine the exact fee. In Google, for example, sponsored results appear on the right side and on the top outlined by a beige background.
Organic results are the non-sponsored pages found by the search engines according to their relevance criteria. The algorithms that search engines are using are rather complex and continuously changing in order to improve the quality of the results.
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the practice to find ways to get a website on top of Organic results for chosen keywords. SEO can be roughly divided in two activities
On-Site SEO: where we tailor the structure and the content of the site.
Off-Site SEO: where we create links and mentions from other websites in order to gather authority in the context of the keywords we choose. This is the most important and long part.
SEO and PPC are not easy and you need competent consultants to manage them. The advantage of SEO over PPC is that SEO overall cost is low. The disadvantage is that it takes time to get results (often several months) while PPC will give immediate returns.
When you are launching a new website, it makes sense to enrol into a PPC program (for example Ad-Words with Google), this way you will get traffic from day one. Later on, when the SEO efforts start to give results it will be possible to lower or cancel the spending in PPC.
It is important to constantly measure the traffic to the site, in order to have a clear understanding of what is happening, how users are interacting with the website and are generating return. The practice of doing this research is called Web Analytics and it will be the subject of the next article.