DM News' Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing: Treat Search Listings Like Ads

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Companies work hard to get their Web sites listed on search engines and to get positioned for various search terms. However, in the quest for the best keywords and search-engine-friendly content, many firms have lost track of an important fact: as with any form of media, message plays a key role in getting a Web visitor to click. If one equates every search listing with an ad, then the need for calls-to-action, offers and brand building becomes very clear.

Search engines create listings in different ways, pulling from directories, content on pages and meta tags. Even so, all search listings contain a title, a description, the URL (Web address) and additional information provided by each engine, such as the company's stock information. Knowing this, marketers can and should strive to influence search listings to make each one an ad for the organization.

Every page of a site should have a unique title. A page's title is controlled in a meta tag, and is entirely under the site owner's control. Some marketers use titles stuffed with keywords in an attempt to influence positioning, but may confuse searchers with lists of words rather than content. Test different approaches to find the balance between this important natural search tactic and the writing of compelling ads.

[For a PDF of the guide click here or on the cover image]

DM News' Essential Guide to Search Engine Marketing

Be sure to include the name of the site in the page title. Although search engine optimizers often put keywords in the beginning of the tag, the site and brand name should follow and appear in the visible part of the title.

Many site owners don't bother using meta tags to create unique descriptions. This is a mistake. Search engines often display descriptions in their listings, so take advantage of the opportunity to provide compelling marketing copy. Leverage descriptions to serve as ads to drive visitors to relevant Web pages.

If the information in a company's search listings doesn't reflect its current site or business, investigate where the listing is sourced and try to update it. Google uses directory listings from DMOZ.org. Yahoo uses its own directory listings. Marketers should go to these sites to review their own company's listings and update them if they are incorrect.

Web page content provides the basis for many search listings, especially on Google. Google's listings also depend on the keywords used in the search. Try several searches and review the company's listings (and those of its competitors) to identify the content areas that appear, and then adjust the content - incorporating value propositions, for example - to influence listings.

Some search engines change a listing each time they crawl a site, especially if the content changes regularly. If the search engines visit a site often, consider including current offers on the site that may expire, and include value propositions and specific calls to action in the copy.

Finally, marketers should review paid search ads and paid listings side-by-side and ensure that they complement each other and support the brand.

Using these tactics, marketers can influence their search listings, potentially strengthening brands and improving response.

Jeannette Kocsis is vice president of digital marketing at Harte-Hanks, Langhorne, PA. E-mail jeannette_kocsis@harte-hanks.com.

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