As you finish your planning for 2010, there’s no better time than now to take a deep look at your search marketing options. A good search marketing strategy enables you to attract more people to your website, translating into increased profitability, which also means greater opportunities to brand your company and products. Optimizing your search marketing strategy requires a multi-faceted approach and an understanding of several different aspects of search engine traffic and search-related services. The following describes the important areas in search and why you should be aware of them.


Where Does Site Traffic Typically Come From?


Organic. The most desirable traffic comes from “organic” search. These site visits occur when users click on text/listings in the unpaid, non-advertisement section of the search engine results pages. Users enter a search term and the top listings that appear are as a result of their high relevance to the search term. Professional search engine optimization can help increase your site’s ability to rank highly for organic search terms that closely relate to your site’s products and services.

Paid Advertising/PPC.

Pay-per-click visits are the result of users clicking on advertisements. In this model, ads are created that appear above and next to organic results when users search for certain words and phrases related to applicable products and services. A charge is applied only when the ad is clicked and you follow the link. PPC advertising can be an effective way to increase both the number of visitors to your site and when combined with a solid SEO strategy, can lead to a significant increase in a site’s return on investment.

Direct. In a direct search, a user isn’t using the search engine because they want a variety of results to choose from; they already know what they want and are going right to it. For instance, rather than using Google to search for car parts, they enter the URL https://www.carparts.com to go directly to the site. Naturally they have to know the URL beforehand so this type of visit usually happens with repeat customers, or people that you have otherwise built a relationship with.

Product Feed. A product feed is a data file that is created containing information about your products. The feed is structured, with specific fields of information that are filled in, such as size, color, brand, price and other specifications, and is submitted to search engines (such as Google, for their “Shopping” option) and comparison shopping websites (such as Shopping.com, Pricegrabber.com, and Shopzilla.com). Product feeds are most effective when submitted regularly to make sure that these sites have the latest inventory specifications to display. Customers searching within these indexes and subsequently clicking on your listings will be taken directly to your site.

Social Media. Site visitors have many options for finding you with the advent of social media. Users may find your site through your blog, Twitter account, Facebook page, or YouTube channel. These are excellent ways to attract search traffic, as social media represents a growing trend online.

Other search engines. Site visitors have a variety of search engines to choose from when they search online. Google has the biggest share, by far, of the search market, but some other options are Yahoo.com, Ask.com, and AltaVista.com. Or DogPile.com, which combines Google, Bing, and Yahoo listings for each search.

Which Search Engines Matter
Google performs 65% of all searches, so it is worth the time to optimize for them. Yahoo was a distant second at about 19% while newcomer Bing.com is establishing a foothold with a market share of approximately 9%.

How SEO Has Changed
The basics of search engine optimization are still needed. These include on-page content consisting of useful information organized in an effective way, embedded with targeted keywords, and incoming links from other high quality sites. Each search engine company closely guards how they rank their searching algorithm, but we know that search engines constantly change these algorithms for competitive reasons and to respond to spammers trying to break the system.

Google is placing increasing importance on off-page factors that are not generally under the control of website developers. There’s more emphasis on incoming links (“backlinks”) and link authority, and less weight on on-site optimization. Incoming links from other high-quality web sites is considered to be the top “true” indicator of a site’s popularity and factors highly in placement on the results pages.

Another is relevancy, which is how closely related the content of the sites linking to you is to your content. For instance, if you sell home staging services, it wouldn’t make much sense for you to have an incoming link from a pizza parlor, so Google is not going to value that link very highly. However, if you had links from furniture designer sites, that would be very highly valued.

Another factor is link text; the words used within the link coming to your site from the other page. For instance, if your link from a nursery is a link with the clickable text “wholesale flower grower,” that is going to be much more impressive to Google than a link with the clickable text “click here.” Link building is a long-term project, so have a plan, be patient, and do a little at a time.

PPC
Using PPC to drive traffic to your online store can work very well, but if the clicks slow down, so does business. It’s a challenge to keep these accounts profitable; they often require a lot of attention to make small changes to adjust for keywords and price per click to save a few cents or dollars per click. There’s really no way around it—online marketers do need to pay attention to their PPC accounts and be willing to experiment, try new ads, new landing pages, and new keywords.

Google Insights for Search (https://www.google.com/insights/search/#) is a relatively new free product from Google that provides information to help online retailers make decisions about their paid search. Google doesn’t release the actual number of searches for any key word, but they do provide results that help track trends.

Twitter, Facebook and realtime search
In late October 2009, Bing entered into agreements with Twitter and Facebook for better display of real-time search results from those services. Shortly after, Google announced that it will similarly display status updates from Twitter. Though Bing’s Twitter service is already active, Google’s is not quite ready to go as of now. This is a big development, since for the first time, information is available on Bing that is not on Google. When these deals are implemented, Bing and Google will integrate status updates by users of these free services into their regular search service. Twitter and Facebook are by far the largest sources of real-time and content-sharing information on the web today. In order to be listed in the public search results, users of these services have to have certain privacy settings to allow it. If, as a business owner, you have debated about getting a Twitter or Facebook account and haven’t yet done so, there is no better time than now.

What You Can Do
The above article presents a lot of information about seemingly unrelated topics. But that is indicative of how the scope of the Internet and how it is used has changed. The first thing to do is assess where you currently are in all these search avenues: what are you using, what are you not using, what would you like to be using, what do you need to learn more about.

Look at your analytics to see where your traffic comes from. This is the most basic of the information that you need to help you decide, with your budget of time and money in hand, where to put your efforts.

With regards to link building, there simply is no real, effective way to reduce the amount of time and effort this takes, but building links from other high quality sites is probably the top one or two most effective things you can do to increase your search engine rankings. If building links is your goal, work on developing relationships with other site owners, enhance the content of your own site, and offer them good reason to link to you. If you are selling products, make sure you are developing good exposure in Google Product Feed through well-optimized, complete data feeds. If you have the budget, experiment with paid search options.

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