April 7 , 2009
Search engine marketing offers measurable advertising results
in the digital space
Microsoft-sponsored round table brings together experts to discuss benefits of integrating SEM practices into a business's marketing plan
By Amy Bostock, Editor
If you’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about
search engine marketing (SEM), you’re not alone. Although the act of optimizing websites for the search engines has been around for years, businesses are now realizing that, when done correctly, SEM can dramatically increase lead generation, brand recognition, investor interest and sales.
Last week in Toronto, Microsoft brought together SEM gurus from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom for a round table discussion about how integrating SEM practices into the overall marketing plan can increase profitability.
“There’s a huge opportunity [for businesses] on the digital space,” said Martin Byrne, General Manager of iProspect Canada. “Canadian marketers have thus far been very conservative when it comes to online advertising, spending very little of the budget there, but we’re now beginning to close to the gap.
“People go online to do research and research starts with search. So if you aren’t there then you’re driving consumers to your competition.”
What is Search Engine Marketing?
Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of marketing a website via web search engines; whether by improving rank in organic or natural listings, paid or sponsored listings, or any combination.
Simply put, search engine marketing positions your website for maximum visibility on the Internet search engines. Traditional search engine marketing campaigns generally include these functions:
- search engine optimization
- search engine and directory submission management
- competitive analysis and strategy development
- paid inclusion and trusted feed programs
- pay-for-placement management (pay-per-click)
- link population / reputation building
- usability assessment
- conversion rate analysis and strategy development
- measuring success
“It’s important when planning a SEM program that you optimize your marketing mix so that your program is streamlined for best maximum data as well as maximum ROI,” said Mel Carson, adCentre Community Manager for Microsoft Advertising in the UK.
So during these tough economic times, with businesses having to cut costs, how do you convince advertisers to invest in SEM?
According to Carson, marketers are now beginning to understand the return on investment (ROI) of search as a measurable form of advertising. In fact, online ads are up 17 per cent this year and search has increased by 22 per cent in Canada.
Brian Boland, Director, Product Management Search and Media Network Advertiser and Publisher Solutions with Microsoft Advertising in Seattle, feels that although Canadian advertisers have kept their ad budgets flat this year, they are seeing that by shifting money to online they are getting more accountability on a granular campaign level.
“They are seeing that incremental wins are more valuable and this shift in strategy/tactics, along with a consistent message is resulting in an increase in incremental value,” said Boland. “They can also see results and definitively know the cost associated with getting customers.”
Maor Daniel, VP Sales, Marketing and Business Development for searchlinqs.com in Toronto stressed the importance of educating advertisers about the value of search engine marketing for small to medium businesses.
“We really need to advocate the ability of SEM to measure, geotarget and track,” he said. “They need to understand how keyword success is recorded and how every dollar is measured - not just thrown into the internet.”
Canada lags behind U.S. in SEM use
Byrne pointed out that although sales are increasing, this country has a long way to go to catch up with its American neighbours when it comes to utilizing SEM. Many Canadian advertisers are reluctant to sign on for a full blown campaign, preferring instead to test the waters first.
“People don’t realize the quality of the data they can receive [using SEM],” said Carson. “By being in and out of the online world you end up being just a flash in the pan. You need to stay in the channel and be seen in a number of locations in order for SEM to work.”
With ComScore reporting over 65 million searches a day being performed online, Carson stressed that each search has to be viewed as intent and as such, marketers need to have some control in the digital space by utilizing an effective SEM campaign to identify the needs and wants of consumers.
Where should marketers start?
When it comes to planning an SEM campaign, Byrne suggests starting with the simplest key performance indicators that are indicative of the final goal.
“Marketers need to focus on the tip of the iceberg – what is their goal – and not become preoccupied with how traffic is delivered. More important is the behaviour of the traffic. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the data.”
All of the panellists agreed that keyword research is one of the most important steps, especially for small businesses.
“The number one mistake made by businesses is not choosing the correct keywords,” said Boland. “They need to use the tools available to them in order to make sure that their keywords are going to be effective.”
Carson recommends visiting www.adexcellence.com, a free resource for advertisers, for some helpful tips.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
“Once you have your SEM campaign in place, you need to begin the SEO process and write the content to fit the results,” said Boland.
SEO is the process of optimizing your website for the crawler-based search engines—making your website "search engine friendly." Successful search engine optimization will increase your site’s ranking in the natural search results listings.
Carson warns that marketers have to be careful to optimize websites for people who use search engines – not for search engines.
“SEO is an art,” he said, “and SEO people are not geeks – they are savvy marketers.”
Social media – are advertisers understanding?
“Social media sites are just other areas where there are eyeballs,” said Carson. “It’s another way of disseminating your message.”
Social media sites appear in search results so if you are on, for example, Twitter, your name will come up in a search for that site as well. This form of media is harder to track, according to Carson, with the emphasis falling more on finite trends rather than actual numbers.
Daniel feels that there is a strong relationship between search activity and our social footprint, thereby making social media channels important for businesses.
“Search marketing, mobile marketing and social media are all components that feed off each other,” he said. “Social media requires a lot of work at the beginning but by creating a synergy between all three components agencies are now able to position themselves as a one-stop shop for advertisers.”
As Canadian businesses become more comfortable with SEM and more aware of the benefits it can provide, agencies are making the move from “idea factories” to “logistics providers”.
“If we want SEM to be successful for businesses, we have a responsibility to educate at the grassroots level,” said Carson.