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Senior Money Memos

SEO ++ PPC FOR MORE SALES

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

With a selling-effective website, sales can grow markedly if website traffic is boosted with a strong search engine marketing program. This is likely to be the most cost-effective element in the total marketing budget. Such a program should include both Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising since a strong synergy can be developed between them. Google provides strong support for such a marketing program through its Adwords service.

INTRODUCTION

Most companies are looking for sales growth or seek to maintain their market share against what is now often international competition. The Internet is a good example of what has been called a transformational technology. In other words, the Internet will dramatically change the way people do things and run their lives. That puts it in the same league as the wheel, the printing press, television and so on. Such a transformational technology creates new opportunities but it also creates new threats for entities that rely on the existing order. Just look what is happening to the traditional print media.

To operate effectively in this new world requires a website that can help move prospects to purchase. The company must also ensure that sufficient prospects who are seeking the products or services will visit the website. This newsletter describes what must be done to bring those prospects to the website and thus create more sales.

SELLING-EFFECTIVE WEBSITES

Before getting to how to bring the visitor traffic to the website, it is important to check that the website has been designed and built so that it can be selling effective. In other words it must be able to move prospects in a positive direction towards the purchasing decision. This is covered in the article on Website Planning and in more detail in Newsletter 32, Make Your Website Your Most Powerful Sales Representative. In summary this involves the following:

  • Saleability - the products or services should be attractive to potential customers and outshine the competition
  • Usability - a first-time visitor should be able to move around the website easily and confidently and find what he or she is looking for
  • Credibility - the visitor should develop the confidence that buying the product or service will be a good experience

Of course the website alone rarely creates sales. There must be a coherent Internet marketing strategy that builds on this asset and makes it perform in producing sales. However if the website has been poorly designed and executed, then it may be impossible to generate sales using it. Unfortunately far too many websites are like this. Too many companies accept too easily that their website is non-performing. Like the sales brochure that sits in the company stationery store, it's there if it's needed.

This newsletter is not for such a company. Rather it is written for companies who want to benefit from the Internet either because the competition is doing better on the Internet (therefore as a defensive move) or because they realize the enormous potential that can be harvested through the Internet. The first step in this process is to design a selling-effective website.

INTERNET MARKETING

Internet Marketing deals with all activities related to creating sales through the Internet. These can be characterized as either Push Marketing activities or Pull Marketing activities. Push Marketing is involved when the seller takes actions to put their message in front of potential customers. The seller is in control of the message and when and how it comes before the prospect. It could be an e-mail advice about a new product that is broadcast to a database of e-mail addresses. Or it could be a pop-up message that suddenly intrudes when you visit a web page, perhaps even unrelated to the substance of the pop-up message. It was most often the way marketing used to be done until Seth Godin suggested there were better ways in his book in 1999 called Permission Marketing.

Permission Marketing acknowledges that most of us don't like Push Marketing. We prefer to be in control of what publicity materials we may see. So a company should only present us with information we have given them permission to send us. We as purchasers stay in control. A company must be very much more astute to determine how it can encourage prospects to ask for information. This is what Pull Marketing is all about.

Luckily this is now being discussed in a context where the Internet is a reality. Since the Internet is a powerful medium through which connections can be made, it lends itself to this type of Pull Marketing. Purchasers can search for potential suppliers since there are now search engines, such as Google, Yahoo! and Live/MSN, that attempt to catalogue all the websites they can find.

The company can of course try to make sure that its website is very visible to the search engines, when prospects come a-searching. That is what Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is all about. SEM covers two major activities. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) attempts to get higher rankings in the natural keyword search results. You will find these natural keyword search results are sometime referred to as organic search results. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) covers advertising using the sponsored ads that appear usually at the head and to the right hand side of the natural keyword search results.

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SEARCH ENGINE MARKET SHARES

There are a large number of search engines attempting to catalogue all the web pages on the Internet. Any of them may provide answers to those who are searching. However a handful of majors cover much of the total search market as the following figures show. (Nielsen//NetRatings September 2006)

Google 49.6%
Yahoo! 23.9%
MSN/Live 8.8%
AOL 6.2%
Ask 2.8%
My Way 2.2%

Since AOL is powered by Google and My Way is an Ask affiliate, the numbers can be simplified to Google 56%, Yahoo! 24%, MSN/Live 9% and Ask 5%. Google commands the lion's share of the market and that will be the principal focus of this newsletter.

GAINING SEARCH ENGINE MARKET ACCESS THROUGH GOOGLE

There are a number of important reasons why we will concentrate on search engine marketing through Google:

  • Google has the lion's share of the market as we have seen.
  • For many of the readers of these newsletters (e.g. companies in the industrial manufacturing sector), the demographic group using the Google Search Engine will be more appropriate than the demographic groups using the other search engines.
  • As will be explained in detail later, the Google Pay-per-Click (PPC) program, Adwords, now rewards effective PPC advertising
  • It is also possible to better target SEO efforts by using Adwords results.

Even though we are suggesting concentrating on Google, this does not mean that performance with the other search engines will be inferior. All search engines have somewhat similar search algorithms and what works for one will usually have a comparable effect in the others.

SEO

In this newsletter, we will not go into details on the methods of Search Engine Optimization for Google. These are covered elsewhere on this website in an article entitled SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Key. In summary, most of the effort of SEO should go into the actual design phase of the website. Trying to make major SEO corrections after the website is launched may be either very difficult or impossible.

SEO is then an ongoing activity of reacting to and adjusting for what is learnt by examining the traffic to the website. In addition it is important to be creating inlinks to the website (back links in Google-ese) since these are weighted heavily in the Google algorithm. A watch should be maintained of competitive activity to learn from their successes and avoid their mistakes. This all requires significant skilled effort to be successful.

One interesting aspect of the website visitors who come via search engines is that usually there is an enormous number of keyword combinations that searchers have used to access the web pages. Only a small fraction will have searched on the obvious keywords. Many others will have typed in all kinds of variants of these words, including misspellings. This is what is called the Long Tail of Search. Despite this multitude of different somewhat related keyword searches, Google attempts to deliver relevant web pages for every one of these searches. The converse of this is that it is often difficult to determine exactly why a given web page performs well in the regular or organic results for a given keyword phrase. To an extent, SEO involves flying somewhat in the dark.

SEO PLUSES AND MINUSES

The following provides a quick rundown of the major factors with respect to SEO.

PLUSES

  • Partial success comes through good web design
  • Greater click-through rates from organic listings.
  • Greater credibility attached to organic listings
  • Does not require 'advertising' cash outlays

MINUSES

  • Must maintain current knowledge by staff effort or by hiring outside resources
  • Requires effort and skilled knowledge to perform well
  • Requires effort and skilled knowledge to monitor and improve based on results
  • May need paid links and directory submissions
  • Difficult in very competitive markets
  • Different Search Engines use different algorithms
  • Difficult to maintain stability

PPC

PPC (Pay-Per-Click) involves the placement of small text advertisements, identified as sponsored ads, above and to the right of the natural or organic results. The Google Adwords program is a very user-friendly way of doing PPC advertising.

PPC PLUSES AND MINUSES

The following provides a quick rundown of the major factors with respect to PPC.

PLUSES

  • Not affected by search engine algorithm changes
  • Get more targeted traffic
  • Can target point of entry to your website
  • You only pay for visitors
  • Brand awareness may build with others who do not click on the ads
  • Can easily test alternatives
  • Search engines provide support for better ad placement

MINUSES

  • Cost per click is rising as more use this medium
  • Must have higher quality content to get higher placements
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SEO OR PPC OR BOTH

There have been several recent papers (see References at the end of this newsletter) that discuss whether SEO or PPC is better. It's presented as if it's an either one or the other choice. The better way of looking at this is that both should be considered. The staff effort and cash that are put into each will be determined by available resources and the sales that result from each.

Now is the time to explain the somewhat provocative title of this newsletter, SEO ++ PPC. The '++' was inserted to indicate that we are not just talking about using both SEO and PPC in a straight addition of effort. There can be a genuine synergy between the two, which has become more apparent since July of this year. The word synergy is used to indicate that the combination delivers more than the straight addition of the two working separately. Synergy means that 2 + 2 can be 5.

PPC AS PULL MARKETING

It might be thought that the sponsored ads (Adwords) that Google puts at the top of the keyword search results and in a column to the right are examples of Push Marketing. However most of us can tune them out fairly easily and they are unlikely to be irritating to searchers, given that the search process is a free service.

Google sees such ads in a different light since this is the way they derive returns for all their efforts. Google are publishers and they want to create the best experiences for their readers. As a result, they would like the ads to be as attractive as possible. They want them to provide as good a user experience as the regular search results. For this reason, they position the ads not only based on what someone is willing to pay but on how often people click on them. This is the so-called Click-Through-Rate (CTR). If your ads enjoy a higher CTR then you will get a better placement for the same amount spent. This approach to improve the quality of ads has been in place since the beginning of the Adwords program.

Since last December, Google has adopted a more proactive stance in improving the quality of ads. It now has Google AdWords Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines. These are intended to enhance the user experience with Adwords ads. Just look at what they set down as part of this.

Starting with your ad, each interaction you have with your potential customers and customers should be geared towards building a trusting relationship. To avoid leading users astray:

  • Users should be able to easily find what your ad promises.
  • Openly share information about your business. Clearly define what your business is or does.
  • Honor the deals and offers you promote in your ad.
  • Deliver products, goods, and services as promised.

Since July of this year, Google has been applying these guidelines more firmly such that some advertisers whose ads no longer appeared dubbed the move the Google Slap. Nevertheless with this amount of increased effort by Google and its advertisers, this should ensure that Adwords ads become a Pull Marketing activity, which benefits everyone. At the same time, Adwords advertisers who are proficient will find their ROI (Return on Investment) much improved. This is a strong reason for keeping PPC as part of the marketing mix.

PPC, THE RIFLE SCOPE FOR SEO

The '++' factor is an even stronger reason why PPC should be part of the marketing mix. SEO can be somewhat of a blunderbuss in generating sales. Web pages typically have a great deal of content and are somewhat optimized for relevant keyword phrases. However the search engine algorithms have their own definition of relevancy with respect to keyword phrases and may choose to show somewhat unexpected web pages. In addition the results may sometimes now be personalized based on the searcher's past preferences. What really counts is resulting sales or leads generated but this is often difficult to quantify.

An Adwords ad is a very much more precise communication than a web page. It has the following format:

  • The Headline has a maximum of 25 characters including spaces.
  • The three other lines each have a maximum of 35 characters including spaces.

The ad is conceived to appeal to someone who is searching for a particular keyword phrase or group of phrases. It could even be considered as a micro-web page that is being used as a market research tool to see if the concept sells strongly.

The Adwords program provides a great deal of help in optimizing these ads and also provides a great deal of information on how well they perform. If the website owner chooses, the statistics on resultant sales or leads generated (conversions) can even be measured.

The whole is thus a very precise measuring device on how effectively a particular group of 130 characters and spaces at a maximum will generate sales or leads in this market place. It's almost like a rifle scope in helping to aim the message at the prospects. The results can be used in the ongoing task of optimizing the whole website to generate the best sales growth.

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SUMMARY CONCLUSION

In this Internet era, effective search engine marketing is an essential part of the marketing mix. Both SEO and PPC can be important and complementary parts of that mix. They may well be the most cost-effective elements in the sales that can be generated by the marketing budget.

If you require help with this, then SMM will be happy to help you figure out your best approach. Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience and creativity can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

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