Search 'gold' needs better tactics

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Not long ago, the Internet was an open frontier. The most forward-thinking companies bid on the keywords most relevant to their business to capture consumer traffic and leads before their competitors did. Now, the gold rush is over. Virtually all companies have integrated some level of search engine marketing into their marketing mix. So, is there any more gold left to be panned on the Web?

According to a Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization survey, $9.4 billion was spent on SEM in 2006, a 62% increase from 2005. Spending is projected to grow to $18.6 billion by 2011 just in North America. However, money alone will not solve the problems the business community is facing. As SEM grows, it must also mature beyond simply bidding on keywords.

Today, the advantage goes to those firms that adopt the smartest, rather than the most expensive, search campaigns. There are still ways to locate the gold on the Web.

First, it's about ad copy to conversion rate, not ad copy to click-through rate. Clicks makes Yahoo money, but conversion makes you money.

Don't throw content out because it doesn't work - it's not an all-or-nothing situation. It's far more effective to audit which URLs are referring clicks than to throw away content that might still be bringing potential customers to your site. Study the landscape that you want to penetrate, and research the search engine you're using, your target audience and their behavior.

Keywords must be chosen carefully. More and more, the highly searched keywords are becoming expensive and difficult to come across. By being selective, you can reduce the cost of the keyword and set yourself apart from the crowd by avoiding keywords your competition has already bid for.

Like any technology, if it's effective, it will eventually become ubiquitous. The continued and expansive growth of the search engine marketing industry attests to this basic truth. Yet, the past few years have uncovered a clearer understanding of how companies can use the Internet to gain market share. The companies who adopt these methods may find that the gold rush might be over, but there is still gold left to be panned.

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