Web marketers have long known that there are two kinds of targeted traffic from search engines: click-throughs from keyword banner buys and click-throughs from search results.
Historically, keyword banner placements have captured only a small percentage of most searchers because of dropping click-through rates, prompting marketers to look for alternative search engine traffic sources.
These marketers turned to their technology departments to see what could be done to increase “findability” of their sites in the search engine results. Things such as meta-tag keyword cramming and hidden text worked well in the mid-1990s. But the search engines quickly adjusted their algorithms to eliminate most blatant “spamdexing.”
In 1996, Did-it.com began offering outsourced search engine optimization. Another solution for targeted search traffic appeared in February 1998: Goto.com started the pay-for-placement (or pay-per-click) search engine and educated both marketers and consumers that pay-for-placement results can serve the needs of the marketer and the searcher simultaneously.
More recently, many new search engines joined Goto’s pay-for-placement model of search results. These newer pay-for-placement engines include rocketlinks.com, searchhound.com, kanoodle.com, hitsgalore.com, findwhat.com, simplesearch.com, ah-ha.com, epilot.com, findit-quick.com and sprinks.com.
One site, www.payperclicksearch-engines.com, reported 37 pay-per-click engines as of mid-September.
Clearly, pay for placement is here to stay. However, all the pay-for-placement engines combined still do not represent much traffic compared with the major search engines and directories, which is why search engine optimization is even more important now. Of the top 10 search properties listed by Media Metrix and Nielsen//NetRatings, goto.com is the only pay-for-placement engine.
Directory portals such as Yahoo and DMOZ are managed by people, and therefore the strategies to increase relevancy in directories are quite different from those for spider-based search engines. The major search engines periodically change their search algorithms, making it harder for Webmasters to optimize their sites. Each search engine spider has different criteria, with external variables playing an ever-increasing role in determining relevancy/position.
Before companies begin any optimization or pay-for-placement campaign, they must develop a well-researched keyword strategy. This process is far more complex than it seems at first glance. The keyword and key phrase development process will determine the success or failure of a search engine campaign, regardless of whether that campaign is a keyword banner buy, PPC or search engine optimization. The framework of a keyword strategy includes:
• Generating a list of overall keywords and search terms that result in a targeted visitor.
• Researching synonyms for the keywords to expand the list.
• Generating phrases from the keywords to reflect the way many surfers query search engines.
• Using search engine data to look for alternative key phrases.
Luckily, there are online resources to assist in preparing the keyword strategy for both the pay-for-placement and search engine optimization processes.
Goto.com has a fantastic search suggestion tool based on the searches being done on that site. The tool is available at inventory.go2.com/inventory/Search_Suggestion.jhtml.
The following engines also list related searches from which one can pick suggested search terms and search phrases: altavista.com, go.com, goto.com (they also list related searches as well as their tool), metacrawler.com, hotbot.lycos.com and directhit.com. Using data from the related search terms or alternative suggested searches allows the marketer to
learn about searcher behavior as it applies to their needs. Search engine optimization companies often have tools to facilitate this keyword and keyword phrase selection process as well.
At Did-it.com, we use custom-developed tools to assist clients in the selection of phrases. However, there is no substitute for common sense and strategic thinking. Each site’s marketing and operational staffs know their target market best (at least they should). One approach we recommend is to have a staff meeting specifically for keyword brainstorming at which all keywords and phrases are added to a master list for review and enhancement. The final list of keywords and keyword phrases can be used for pay-for-placement engine media buys and for the internal or outsourced search engine optimization efforts.
Marketers are investigating and implementing pay-per-click engines and search engine optimization as a source of high-quality traffic. Often, marketers will spring into action only when they find competitors channeling targeted traffic to their site before the surfer has even been exposed to their products, services or content. As the Web gets bigger, search engines and directories play an ever-increasing role in the user’s experience. Reputable search engine optimization companies will assist the marketer in maximizing the use of search engine traffic.
Search engine optimization and pay for placement are now important components of the Web marketing mix, regardless of whether you are a major marketer or a niche marketer with a highly specific target market. Either way, you want the most targeted traffic arriving at your site, and click- throughs as a result of a search are amazingly powerful.
o Kevin Lee is CEO of Did-it.com, Rockville Centre, NY, a search engine optimization service. Reach him at [email protected]