For decades, companies have strived to find the most effective ways of promoting their goods and services to potential customers. For the most part that has meant advertising, but no matter how well targeted a traditional advertising campaign is, it will still be wasted on large numbers of people who really aren’t in the market for what’s on offer.
Doesn’t it make more sense to only reach out to those customers that are already looking for what you are selling? This is the core principal behind online search marketing.
Right people, right time
Every day around 14 million Australians type tens of millions of queries into online search engines such as Google and Yahoo! Often they are prepared to part with their money if they find what they’re looking for. The goal of search marketing therefore is to place information about your products and services in front of consumers at the time they are looking to make buying decisions. It’s this ability to carry out highly-targeted campaigns to qualified leads that sets search marketing apart from other forms of advertising.
There are two aspects to promoting your business on search engines. The first, called search engine optimisation (SEO), incorporates a series of techniques that give your website the best chance of ranking highly in the so-called ‘natural’ results that are presented in response to a search query. By improving the content and layout of your website, you can help it become more prominent in the search results.
The second, which is commonly called paid search marketing, sees companies paying for the right to appear in prominent areas of the search results web page, above or alongside the natural results. To do so, they bid against other companies for the right for their brand and advertisement to appear when specific words or series of words, called keywords, are entered by the search engine user.
The advertiser bids for the keywords they think are most relevant to the goods and services they are selling, and then creates short written advertisements with more information. The goal is to write advertisements that are so compelling that the web searcher will click on them and be taken through to your website. Because advertisements are only displayed as a direct response to a specific query, there is a much greater chance that the user will be seeing your advertisement at a time when they are predisposed towards making a purchase.
Pay per click
Paid search marketing has many advantages over other forms of advertising. For starters, you only pay for the number of times that a user actually clicks on your advertisement, not the number of times your advertisement is displayed. In this way, you can be sure that you are only paying for qualified leads, not casual browsers. Other forms of advertising usually require you to pay a fixed rate, but you have little knowledge over how many people actually look at them or are persuaded to respond.
You can also take complete control over what you spend by setting limits on the number of times your advertisement is to be displayed.
According to Google Australia’s business marketing manager Deepak Ramanathan, the value of search marketing is that you really get to understand where each dollar goes, and how to get more from your budget. “It’s fully accountable and controllable,” Ramanathan says. “Plus, you are reaching people at the precise moment they’re interested in information about you.”
Cost-effective and accountable
With traditional advertising costs rising and consumers becoming harder to reach, small-to-medium Australian businesses are increasingly turning to search as a cost-effective and accountable means of finding qualified leads. The medical equipment manufacturer and distributor Equimed for instance, has been able to use search marketing to grow its business by 500 percent. Marketing manager Andrew Nutman says that only paying for clicks and being able to track those that convert into sales makes it the most accountable way to reach its target audiences.
This accountability also makes it easier for a business to measure the return that it is getting from its spending, commonly referred to as return-on-investment or ROI. Knowing this ROI means that you can ensure that the maximum amount that you are spending on keywords remains below the profit that you are making from each click, so your campaigns always generate a positive return.
Experiment with flexibility
Search marketing is also highly flexible. There is plenty of scope to experiment with different keywords and bids to see which ones deliver the best results at the best price. You can also raise and lower your bids on the fly should your profits increase or decrease. And because all of the tools for running a campaign are located on the internet, campaigns can be paused or adjusted at any hour of the day.
“Budgets are tight so it’s important that marketing is accountable and measurable,” Ramanathan says. “It’s important to work out how much money you’re actually making from each dollar you put into each marketing activity, and then see if you can make more by putting that dollar somewhere else.”
There are numerous search marketing tools and programs available. Google’s AdWords for instance, places advertisements in prominent locations on its search results pages. Creating an AdWords account can take as little as 30 minutes with a one-off set-up fee of just $10 and no minimum monthly spend.
Various tools are available to make the process simple and effective for new advertisers, including a new Google AdWords online video learning site. Google also provides detailed information on how the campaign has performed, right down to the number of clicks that are actually converted into sales.
This ability to precisely know the result being generated has made search marketing an essential tool for the Cheeky Food Group, a six year-old Sydney-based company that runs corporate team-building sessions based around cooking classes. Company director Leona Watson says that as she became more confident using the tool she began increasing the amount her company was spending. “The more money I put into it, the more leads I get,” Watson says. “Up to 80 percent of our new business is from Google, so something’s working.”
Search marketing has also been essential in the growth of the adventure holiday company Chimu Adventures into a $1 million business. “It’s very, very targeted,” says co-founder Greg Carter. “You get the people straight into your website who want your product; it doesn’t get much better than that in marketing.”
According to Ramanathan, AdWords in particular is well suited to small-to-medium businesses, as they can start with a relatively small budget. “Anyone can do this and get great results,” Ramanathan says. “Take your time, and pace yourself. Start with a couple of ads, a manageable budget, periodically review results, and then improve on the things that work.
Do you know your SEO from your SEM?
A beginner’s guide to online advertising jargon
Search engine: A program that searches the internet for information related to keywords entered by a user. Google.com is a search engine.
Search marketing: This is also known as search engine marketing (SEM) and is a form of online marketing where a text ad appears alongside relevant search results.
Keywords: Search terms that people use to search in search engines. They can be words or phrases. If you are using search marketing, you would bid on a set of keywords that are related to your offerings. When prospective customers enter the same keywords to conduct their searches, your ads may appear alongside search results.
Sponsored link: A text advertisement and URL that promote a website and its products or services. Sponsored links are triggered to appear as paid search results when certain keywords are entered into a search engine. They are part of the cost-per-click advertising model, meaning advertisers only pay when a user clicks on their ads. In Google search, sponsored links are displayed at the top and to the right of organic search result.
Search engine optimization (SEO): The process of making changes to your website so that it becomes more relevant for certain desired keywords and ranks higher in ‘natural’ (or ‘organic’) search results. These changes can be made on the HTML source code of the site, structure and design. They can also involve fixing problems that prevent search engines from fully indexing them. Usually, the higher up a site is in search results, the more likely people are to visit that site.
Pay per click: A method of payment in online marketing where you pay for your advertisements only when potential customers click on your ad. Search marketing uses pay-per-click.
Bid: An amount of money you choose to pay per each click in order for your paid search ads to be able to show when potential customers enter the same keywords you have chosen to search for something.
Relevance: A measure of how closely a search result, or a search ad, matches the a person’s query in a search engine. Relevance is key to harnessing the power of search marketing. The more relevant your ad, the more likely the audience will be motivated to respond to your call-to-action. Irrelevant ads can cause users to ignore advertising altogether.
Conversion: The process during which a visitor or a lead turns into a customer. For example, if someone clicks on a Google AdWords ad and buys something on the website that that ad links to, the click counts as a conversion from a site visit to a site sale i.e. the visitor is converted to a customer. Tracking conversions is crucial for understanding how successful your search marketing efforts are in bringing in actual sales.