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Some Basics For Leveraging Search

It can be useful, especially at year-end, to look back at where we've been in order to clarify where we're going. So first, a quick refresher course in how online marketing has evolved: Five years ago, companies were just beginning to get an understanding of what they wanted to accomplish online. Web sites were in their first or second generation, and the expectation level was relatively low.

Many folks began to realize that it would now be possible to drive visitors to a Web site from an infinitely larger pool of prospects than the business had previously appealed to. The sales / marketing landscape had changed forever, and search engine marketing and optimization became a new consideration for most companies.

For those businesses that were early adopters, the learning curve was steep, but the competition was limited and the traffic costs were low. As the body of searchers grew, traffic began to develop through both natural search along with early-form paid search (banners, etc.).

Very little was known or understood about where exactly each click was coming from or which sources of traffic were the most productive. It didn't matter then, as the new business being generated was incremental and the marketing expenses associated were nominal. The main exceptions were the short-lived, venture-capital-funded start-ups that thought that spending big bucks (i.e., an ad during the Super Bowl) would lead them to viability. Does Etoys, Webvan or pets.com ring a bell?

Although it has seemed slow-going at times, the pace of progress in online marketing has actually been unbelievable. Search engine marketing and optimization, while still clearly in its developmental stage, has become a very important source of new business for many organizations. Budget resources are increasingly being shifted into search from other, less targeted and quantifiable channels, such as print and television.

While there are numerous reasons for businesses to continue to embrace search engine marketing and optimization, it has become critical that it be done in a more scientific manner.

That's largely due to the fact that all clicks have become monetized in one way or another. Driving qualified visitors to a site is essential. Paying for traffic that is non-productive or fails to meet certain predefined metrics can spell trouble for the entire campaign.

Natural traffic also has a cost associated with the time required to continuously "optimize" a Web site. A related example would be Google's Sitemap program: while it has the potential to be effective, especially for sites that have historically presented "spidering" challenges, it is time-consuming nonetheless.

Today it is possible to differentiate traffic sources to a much larger degree than in years past. Through proper data analysis, more informed decision-making with regard to future strategies can take place. Employing an analytics tool is more critical than ever. Two examples of data to study are:

  • Keyword performance. Certain words convert better than others. Through testing, it is possible to refine a keyword list to leverage the more effective words. This ties in closely with bidding strategies for many paid search initiatives.
  • Landing page tactics. Is the traffic arriving at pages that are tailored to the keyword, and does the visitor experience present a compelling value proposition? Do category- or product-specific pages yield higher conversions?

    Understanding the different traffic acquisition opportunities and making appropriate adjustments to a campaign has become a vital ingredient to long-term success.

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