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4 Steps to Improving Your Search Engine Marketing Strategy

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Search engine marketing can be a complex and scary topic. Endless opportunities to advertise and market, constantly changing trends and technologies, and overly complex solutions all come with the territory. So, what you don't need when you're evaluating or creating your search engine marketing strategy is lengthy explanations about how different techniques work. Instead, seek advisors who can guide you with straightforward answers and results-based methods. That's precisely what the following article is about. It's a simple list of four things business owners can use in creating or evaluating their search engine marketing strategy.

1. Establish Your Internet Marketing Strategy Goal

Many consultants will tell you to set goals about what you want to achieve with your website. Forget it. Those are distractions from the real question you need to ask yourself, which is

"What is THE purpose of my website?"

Once you answer that question, all other aspects of search engine marketing strategy can be leveraged to help you achieve that purpose. Typically, people use their websites for many different purposes. Regardless, it would help if you still answered this question. The focus you will get from it will help you create a more effective strategy.

Here are the top three most common answers to the question "What is THE purpose of my website?"

1. To sell things

2. To generate leads for my sales team

3. To educate my target audience

It can be this simple! Just decide which of the three answers above suits you best (or create your own), and then move on to step 2.

2. Establish a Search Engine Marketing Plan

There's a reason why search engine marketing is so hot. It works. It consistently generates leads, sales, etc., at a lower cost-per-lead or cost-per-sale than traditional mediums like TV or direct mail advertising. It makes sense when you think about it: when people want to find something online, they go to Google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc., and search for it.

Search engine marketing is about SHOWING UP when people search for what you sell, offer, or have on your website. There is a growing body of knowledge (books, articles, etc.) on how to do this. And like anything else, it has become overanalyzed and too complex. To further complicate things, some search engine marketing techniques are ethical and legitimate, while some are not. The best approach is to create a search engine marketing plan that focuses on two aspects:

1. Search engine optimization - showing up in the "free" area of the search engine's results

2. Pay-per-click advertising - showing up in the "paid" area of the search engine's results

For search engine optimization, first, realize there is no "silver bullet." There isn't a way to quickly get ranked consistently high in the search engines. It is a combination of factors that always come down to one underlying truth: build your website according to web standards, focusing on accessibility for all.

Like search engine optimization, there is no "silver bullet" for pay-per-click advertising. Instead, the formula for PPC success is well-placed bids (what you will pay to have your ad appear) and meaningful landing pages (where people go when they click on your ad).

3. Conduct Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization aims to make changes to your website to get higher rankings in search engines. Yet, search engine optimization is a confusing sector. On the one hand, "snake oil salesmen" are ready to get you a #1 ranking with their latest trick. On the other hand, the things that do work are straightforward and, frankly, just not very "sexy."

The best strategy to take is a common-sense approach to SEO: develop standards for your website that ALL pages must adhere to. If you enforce this, you can branch out to some of the other "niche" aspects of SEO.

Here's a sample list of SEO standards to enforce on your website:

1. Write descriptive HTML page titles that describe the page it is on (in 255 characters or less)

2. Write a summary sentence that describes the page it is on (in 255 characters or less)

3. Write page content that is focused on

4. Write descriptive ALT text for all images that describes the concept the picture illustrates, and never use images for text

5. Build all pages to comply with current web standards observed by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)

Once your web pages comply with the above standards, you should start more advanced SEO techniques, including keyword targeting, 301 redirects, link building (getting more links to your site), RSS news feeds, blogs, and SEO-specific metrics and tracking.

4. Leverage Pay-Per-Click Advertising

Pay-per-click advertising helps you get more traffic from search engines through advertising in search engine results. You pick terms that people search on. You bid a price per click on your ad that you are willing to pay. Your ad shows up when someone searches on that term, and, if you're lucky, they click on your ad and come to your website.

So, pay-per-click advertising boils down to 3 components:

1. Picking keywords to advertise on (i.e., target keywords)

2. Determining what to bid for those target keywords

3. Writing copy for the ads that show up when people search

Picking keywords is about knowing what terms your customers, clients, etc., would use when searching for your product or service. There are several tools to help you generate ideas. The best tools also check your target keywords receive how many searches per month. You typically want to find keywords that generate a lot of searches every month but are focused enough for your business. For example, a company that sells Keen high-performance outdoor sandals probably would be best served to bid on "keen sandals" versus "sandals," which could include searches for the all-inclusive resort, Sandals.

Determining what to bid for your keywords can be highly scientific, sometimes managed by complex software and several key metrics. To keep it simple, let a tool like Google Adwords Traffic Estimator recommend what to bid at first. Start there, and start small. Your best bet is to lock in a low daily budget limit until you are comfortable with the impressions your ads are getting, the flow of traffic from the ads to your website, and what those people do once they get to your website.

Writing ad copy comes down to writing a headline that people will click on and creating compelling copy below that headline/link that will get people to click.

Headlines are best created by following what magazine covers do: focus on getting attention through eye-catching, short phrases. Using words like best (i.e., "Best Tips for a Summer Barbeque"), ultimate (i.e., "Ultimate National Park Vacations"), and number-based lists (i.e., "Top 5 Hybrid Cars for 2006") have all been proven to work.

Writing compelling ad copy below the title/link reinforces the search for the term(s). This means using the keywords in the ad copy and starting the document with an action verb.

By following the approach above, you can create or evaluate your search engine marketing strategy, focus on what matters most when executing your plans, and more effectively achieve your goals.