Using Searches as a Marketing Tool

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"The CEO searched our company's name, product and services and couldn't find us! And by the way, we need to get the top spot for ..."


You've heard or experienced this before from some point of view. This is a common cry from businesses that want to advance their online initiatives. An estimated 114 million were online in the United States at work or at home in March 2002, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. Of these, 80 percent are estimated to have made some type of search request. If you want your customers to find you online, search marketing cannot be ignored.


Search marketing is the strategies, tactics and programs to reach the searching audience when they are looking for your company, products or services. People search mostly through search engines and directories such as Yahoo, MSN, Google and Overture. Other special-interest or category-specific directories such as shopping and catalog directories, yellow pages and regional sites also may present opportunities.


Determining what approach and programs are best for you requires knowledge and experience in search marketing and online advertising. Here are key steps to search marketing success:


Set the objectives, strategies and metrics. Consider Brand A, a nationwide, multichannel home furnishings retailer with catalog, Internet and store distribution channels. For such a marketer, the objectives, strategies and metrics might be:


o Objective: drive sales across all channels of distribution.


o Strategy: leverage brand recognition. Do this by obtaining key rankings and exposure for the brand name. The success metric would be the number and percentage of top 30 key search rankings and listings.


o Strategy: reach new customers. The tactic to achieve this would be to drive product-specific and category-specific searches to site and internal product-category and product-specific pages. Success metrics would be increased traffic from specific keywords to the site, the number of conversions to sales, and e-mail capture.


o Strategy: advance sales in flagging regional markets. The tactic would be to obtain rankings and listings for selected regionally targeted searches. Success metrics include number of site referrals, database growth for specific regions, and in-creased sales.


Set the baselines. Review traffic logs for current search engine and directory referrals by engine, keyword and conversions if possible.


Search-ready Web site review. Review Web site or plan to identify search indexing barriers and opportunities. Navigation, architecture, content, content delivery system and other site features will affect search indexing, rankings, traffic and conversions.


Index available resources. Index what resources can be applied to the effort including budget, content development and aspects of the site or proposed site that can and cannot be changed and on what schedule.


Competition and keyword analysis. Understanding the competitive landscape and identifying the correct search terms are critical. Considerations include conversion rates for existing keyword placements, terms used by competitors, the search popularity of each term, sites competing under each term and competitors' rankings by keyword and search engine.


Review program options to strategies and objective. This includes:


o Search engine optimization. This is the process and practice of optimizing a site's ability to be found on search engines and directories. It should be an integral part of the Web site design and development process.


However, Web design and SEO are two very distinct disciplines. If considered after a site is built, SEO usually requires some level of site intervention to make the pages readable to search engines and appealing to your audience while emphasizing keywords that will drive traffic. It includes research and consideration into every element of page design and site structure.


o Informational pages. This method adds pages to your site that focus on topics relevant to your business, target additional keywords and provide the consumer with information to make a purchase decision.


o Pay for performance programs. The buzz in search marketing is pay for performance, which drives advertisers predominantly to pay-per-click-type search vehicles such as Overture.


o Paid inclusion programs. These generally guarantee specific pages from a site will be included in a database, but do not guarantee rankings or traffic.


o Paid listings and placements. You can reach the searching audience with banners or links (listings) that appear when a selected keyword is searched.


o Cloaking. This controversial technique delivers a different page to a search engine to index while serving an entirely different page to the searching audience.


One approach or program is not necessarily better than another. It's what works for you. What they find counts because customers count, not clicks.


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