There are a handful of advertising options when you’ve gotten your business up and rolling, and each one has their own pros and cons. Television, radio and print advertising is generally seen as being an older, dated method of advertising that still sees a fair amount of use, especially among some of the larger companies out there. Because at a certain point, you need to use it, because your competitors are.
And then 20 years or so ago, all of that got flipped onto it’s head with the rapid growth and use of the internet. It took a few years for an indexing service to come along, but Google worked out a way to wrangle the mess of the web, and give it some order, and allowed users to search the web for what they want. Fast forward to today, and it is again starting to become a tangled mess of advertising avenues. Having a website has become, for the most part, a no brainer, if you have a business, you need a website. Because just how old media advertising was perceived 60 years ago, if you’re not doing it and capitalizing on the advertising, your competitor will be. One of the biggest differences between the old advertising methods and their counterparts of today however, is that the online variants can be tracked and deliver you a definitive return on your investment. Search engine marketing, also known as pay per click advertising is great for immediate branding efforts and recognition, and helps you build your brand quicker than by just word of mouth. Think of PPC/SEM advertising as impulse adverts, like the gum and magazines you see in the check out isle at the grocery store.
The true benefits of online marketing really only become clear when you have the time and the budget to incorporate search engine optimization into your advertising portfolio. It is not to be taken lightly or done in a haphazard way. SEO is the chocolate chips in a chocolate chip cookie, you need to do it right, and it needs to be done in a proper balance otherwise you’ll end up with a poor product, and be met with the wrong side of the ranking algorithm on the search engines. There isn’t much to expand upon regarding search engine optimization, and in the spirit of following our own rule set of keeping it simple, if you don’t know how to properly perform SEO, don’t.
There are a number of ways to market your business online, the two more prevalent methods are search engine optimization, and using social media to help you garner attention and traffic. Although it’s a little a lesser known method to use to help bolster your online visibility, AdWords, or search engine marketing is a very powerful tool which when used properly can definitely attract highly qualified customers to your website.
Typically the paid results show to the side, or sometimes above the results page after performing a search. The links are often on a different color background and their formatting is different. And if all of those were not strong enough indicators that they’re different than the organic results you’ve received, in the corner of that different colored box you’ll find a small snippet of text that says ‘Sponsored Links’. Think of it as paid advertisement that is trying to capture those impulse buyers out there, the people who buy a package of gum or a magazine in the check out line at the grocery store. If your ad copy is well written, your bid is high enough and you’re trying to build a brand for yourself, AdWords is a medium you definitely need to explore.
The point of the short explanation of adwords and their use, has to do with a court case that was recently settled in the US. It was between two rival companies, and one took the other to court because of their questionable use of adwords marketing. Referring to them as Company A and Company B, it went something like this: Company A wanted to try and garner traffic from searches completed using Company B’s name, so Company A used the AdWords platform so they would also appear on the results page. The judge in the case cleared Company A of any wrong doing, even though Company B argued that it was a breach of privacy, when in fact it was clever, albeit shady, marketing. If Company B had done their job marketing themselves correctly, and had used AdWords as well to ensure they capitalized on searches using their name, then there wouldn’t have been a case to begin with. From now on I’m sure they’ll be more likely to consult with those who know what they’re doing, in order to protect their online brand.
So not such big of a news announcement as it’s all over the social and even some news channels, but in case you missed it the prophecy was wrong. The interpretations of the Mayan long calender proved false, as most people with sense knew it would, and the world did not end.
But while the physical world didn’t end overnight, Google was busy pushing out yet another update to the Panda algorithm, just in time for Christmas. This is the 23rd update since Panda first came into the search scene on February 24, 2011. The latest update affected nearly double the amount of queries, but if you consider that accounts for only 1.3% of results it’s a rather small sampling. There was also the non-update from last week, where the web acted like there was an update running, but Google said there was no such event. Perhaps it was a precursor to what we’ve seen over the last day or so with the new algorithm shift.
With all of the algorithm updates it can leave some of those who are uninitiated in search caught floundering without knowing that they’ve done anything really wrong. It happens fairly often that we have a very small business contact us for search engine optimization of their site, when all they really can afford, is to take the time to use the AdWords platform effectively. Adwords is the paid version of search results, often referred to as pay per click or search engine marketing, as you’re directly paying for position on the search page. The other large difference between PPC and SEO is the way the ads are displayed, AdWords results are listed as ‘Sponsored Listings’ and have a place on the far right of the page. The major limiting factor that directly contributes to your success in the SEM market, is your operating budget. There is no such thing as an unlimited budget, as every time a viewer clicks on one of your ads it will cost your business money.
There are some very simple rules you can thankfully assign to your ads though, which can help save you some much needed budget. You can schedule specific time frames where your ads are used in the bid system for example. If you sell sleeping pills for example, you could have your ads run only from 6pm until 6am daily, trying to appeal to your target demographic. It’s a very rough idea, but clearly shows the intent. One of the other very powerful tools you can use to shape your traffic and your views, is to use the negative search feature to block your ads from displaying on searches which don’t fit your business. A basic example would have to be if your business sells house slippers, you don’t need your ads to be showing for people who need or want outdoor foot wear. Two very simple, basic tools that already exist within the platform that allow small businesses to handle their advertising for themselves. With a little diligence, and careful crafting you can ensure your visibility with the biggest companies out there.
It’s somewhat common knowledge that when someone performs a search, there will be a box of “Sponsored results” to the left, above, and sometimes even below the organic results. Bing has a paid service, as does Yahoo and Google has their AdWords which proved a business in search can be profitable. There’s a discussion lately surrounding paid search advertising and the big 3 search engines, and if you’re not careful with how you read it, you may walk away with the wrong idea.
Compared to this time last year, the CPC for Google has fallen again, for the second quarter in a row while Bing and Yahoo’s CPC have continued to climb. On the surface it’s a statement which can make it sound like Bing and Yahoo have been managing to grab ad space from Google. The point closer to the truth however is more to the tune that Google has become an even better choice to advertise with, as opposed to Bing and Yahoo. Search engine marketing via the AdWords platform or one like it, has to be measured differently than the organic results, you can’t take positioning as the end goal.
When you begin to break down the numbers involved in SEM and SEO, there are some key differences that you need to understand. They both depend on conversion rates, because without converting your traffic, you’re wasting time and money. One of the largest, and most important difference however is the click through rate of your positioning. You could be ranked at the very top of the AdWords results, but if you have a poorly written ad, or a poorly built website, chances are your conversions will be limited.
Another major point you need to keep in mind is cost per click, or CPC as was being discussed earlier. Where paid advertising is concerned, CPC is a literal interpretation of how much it is costing you to have someone click on your listing. Organic SEO is more difficult to define, as you’re not paying each time someone clicks your organic listing, but after a few months you can more easily break it down. A high cost per click for your search term can mean that there are many people in the same space, or, it can mean that one of your competitors is driving up the bid on the keyword to try and gain dominance. A declining average cost per click isn’t necessarily a bad omen, it can point to reduced competition, it can also mean an improved conversion rate.
Online marketing has been shifting for the last 18 months or so towards a more social environment. Facebook, Twitter, company blogs and games are even making an ever growing impact on the marketing world. As the social aspect of the web continues to gain momentum, you’d be foolish as a business owner to turn a blind eye.
Just one aspect to keep on your business radar would have to be the growing usage of online economies and digital currency. I’m not speaking of using credit cards to make online orders, the currency in question is like a Facebook credit. Micro transactions using a websites own marketable credit is a direction the social sites are currently using and one which will continue gaining headway in 2012. Facebook has it’s 800 million users and more than half of them play at least one of the social games found on the site. Just like the Air Miles program which rewards points for using their card at select retailers, social sites are getting in on the act in much the same way. Play a game or use an online product for a certain amount of time can earn you points or virtual currency to use on theirs or an affiliates site.
Also tieing into the micro economy and transaction realm, is the ever growing use of turning the world of business into more of a gaming atmosphere. Not in the sense that meetings will be comprised of blasting away zombies or taking out an enemy force, but issuing challenges and giving bonuses and rewards to successful completion of tasks. To further expound on the idea, all of the little tasks you complete each day help contribute to a greater overall company score which in turn grants you a position on your divisions leaderboard. This positioning may influence things like when your turn comes to book vacation days, helps drive you to a higher raise or perhaps even a promotion further into the company. It can help give instant gratification to workers and also long term growth as an employee as it can give everyone a visual of just how they’re doing in relation to their peers.
And of course, as the social scene continues to grow as we add +1 and Like buttons to our websites, sharing your ideas, opinions and tastes helps you and your website if you take the time to notice those metrics. Every new product you launch, new page you add to your website or blog post you submit with information about yourself and your company can, and will be scrutinized by the never sleeping eyes of the web. As scary as it may sound initially, it’s actually an incredibly powerful tool if you track the positive and the negative feedback you receive.
The social side of the web won’t slow down or stop growing anytime soon, with more and more people coming online everyday to share their likes and dislikes you’d be foolish as a business owner to shy away from it. After all, the people who grow the social web, are the customers you want coming through your door everyday to pick up your products.