Search engine marketing encompasses a range of marketing techniques and advertising systems to focus business promotion on search engines, which have become the most commonly used tool online and the first port of call for people looking to find all kinds of services and products. Aiming to stand out through search engine optimisation, paid placements and contextual advertising on major sites like Google can be a great way to get your website found, but competition is fierce with billions getting spent on SEM worldwide every year, so you really need to think about what you want to achieve, and how you can do that, especially if you’re a small business without a vast advertising, SEO or web design budget. And to do that, you need to know the essential basics of search engine marketing.
SEM can seem complex to a newcomer and today you can find agencies that specialise in guiding clients and regular marketing agencies through it, but do a little research and take time to understand what's going on and it's possible for anyone to take advantage of it.
Pay per click
Search engine advertising has been around in some form pretty much since there were search engines with pay per click advertising programs. As the name suggests, you only pay for advertising which people actually click on; like those “sponsored results” that pop up at the top and to the side of regular Google results pages. Unsurprisingly Google does dominate the market with its Adwords service but Yahoo and Microsoft also have competitive services available.
PPC is highly flexible allowing you to focus on particular keywords and locations so you can really target the most likely potential customers for your product. It also offers a lot of statistics which help you figure out if you’re using the right keywords and other ways you can improve success rates; a lot more interactive, helpful, targeted and cost-effective than just paying out thousands for a print advert.
Search engine optimisation
SEO is all about getting your site high in the natural search listings, widely considered the most powerful marketing your website can have. Intelligent repetition of key words and phrases on your site communicates to search engines clearly what your site is about, helping it stand out above other websites which haven't balanced their copy as carefully. Things like links from third party websites and the age of your site also come into it.
Whilst top searches like "plumbing installations" are impossibly competitive, localised SEO (for example "plumbing installations Maidstone") can be a powerful tool for small businesses at a very competitive cost such as a few hours work from an SEO expert or multi-skilled web designer, they’ll also be able to provide an ongoing service or give you some pointers on how you can keep building up SEO on your own by link building.
SEM has been a place of rapid change in recent years with a variety of cheats developed and blocked by the key players; huge volumes of money are at stake in a near monopoly so it seems that most developments in this field are likely to continue to centre around Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. SEO has become an absolute must-have to make a website worth setting up but take your time with paid advertising; see if others in the business are using it and try to find out how it has worked for them, if you want to try it go easy at first setting strict limits on how much you want to spend, with some keywords it’s possible to test the market with a small investment of just tens or low hundreds of pounds.
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