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What is internet search engine marketing?

Summary: Internet search engine marketing (SEM) is using search engines such as Google to draw visitors to your web site.

To take advantage of search engine marketing, you have to be in the top 20 search results—ahead of the other millions of web pages. We achieve these results with "search engine optimization" (SEO).

The most important factors in determining whether your web page appears near the top of the search engine results are:

  • the content on your web page and
  • incoming links to your site.

Internet search engine marketing (SEM) is simply the use of search engines to bring potential customers to your web site.

As a web site owner, your best friends are the search engines such as Google. The search engines provide you with free advertising.

Better yet, search engines send pre-qualified prospects to your site. How so? Because to do a search, users have to type in a few words or a "key phrase." Any visitors who find you through a search engine have already expressed interest in what you offer.

If search engine marketing is so simple, why do so many web sites lose money?

Search engine marketing is a simple concept, but there's work involved—work that most web site owners haven't done.

When you do a search, how many pages of results do you typically read? Most people will not look through more than a page or two of search results. Your site must appear in the top 20 listings or it might as well not be listed at all.

Try searching on a key phrase related to your business. You'll probably find millions of listings. Obviously, internet search engine marketing is highly competitive.

You may be thinking, "There are two million listings under my key phrases and my site has to be in the top 20? That's impossible."

Search engine optimization promotes high search engine rankings

Yes, your web site is competing against an incredible number of web sites.

But there is a process used to get your site to appear near the top of the search results. It's called "search engine optimization" (SEO).

Most sites are not optimized for the search engines. Although unoptimized web sites will appear in the search engines, they will usually be far down the rankings.

As is the case with most aspects of web development, ignorance, ineptitude, or laziness put a web site owner at a severe disadvantage. A well-developed, optimized web site will rank more highly in the search engines.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

The first step in search engine optimization is to determine which key phrases to use when optimizing your pages.

Many site owners are happy if their site appears at the top of the search engine rankings when they type in their business name. That's not good enough. If someone knew your business name, they usually wouldn't need to search for you.

The people who don't know about you will be searching for your product or service using combinations of words, or key phrases, such as: "maryland trial attorney," "environmental consulting," or "nanotechnology international security."

So, it's important to know what phrases your target audience tends to use when they search for your service or product. If you're optimized for phrases that your customers don't use, your efforts will be wasted.

The second step is using these key phrases on your pages. Because each web page should only be optimized for two or three key phrases, different pages on your site have to be optimized for different sets of key phrases.

Search engine optimization should result in natural writing. The main difference after optimization will be that you have chosen phrases that users are likely to use when searching for what you offer.

Don't go overboard. You can hurt your search engine ranking simply by being overzealous. Google, especially, seems to penalize web sites in which the same key phrases appear too many times in the text or in non-text locations.

And watch out....

Using tricks can get you banned from the search engines

There are many unscrupulous people offering search engine optimization who use tricks to obtain high rankings. Once you register a domain name for your web site, you'll receive spam email from these people. Although it's probably true that they can achieve high rankings for you in the short term, there are hidden costs.

Search engines are constantly changing their ranking formulas to combat such tricks. This means that to maintain high rankings, shady search engine optimizers must invent new tricks. And you'll have to pay these cunning optimizers to make constant changes to your site.

Also, the search engines frequently ban web sites that use these tricks.

If you're serious about search engine marketing, don't fall for the tricksters' sales pitch. You don't need dishonesty and tricks to get high rankings.

Good content is the key to a high search engine ranking

Search engines index the words on your page and use these words to try to determine what the page is about. When searchers type in a key phrase that appears on your page, your page will appear in the search results. That's good.

But does your page appear in the fifth position in the search results or in the millionth position?

What determines your position are the formulas each search engine develops—and guards very closely. So, we can't know exactly what the formulas are. Plus, the search engines frequently change their formulas because of competition among themselves to provide more relevant results.

All of this usually works in our favor—if we work with the search engines instead to trying to trick them. It's not worth worrying about the specifics of how search engines calculate results or change their formulas. Optimize for the long-term, using general principles.

The most important thing you can do is to put plenty of quality text on your web pages. Both your visitors and the search engines are looking for the same thing: relevant, high quality text. Without worthwhile information, your web site is unlikely to interest visitors or search engines.

Why it's important that other sites link to yours

Search engines rate the relevance and quality of your web site's content by looking at links to your web pages.

Why do they do this? Because search engine developers realized that most web site owners won't link to your page unless you offer valuable content. So a link to your site is like a vote for the quality of your content.

Obviously, search engines only count incoming links from other web sites. Some search engines, such as Google, also factor in the quality of the referring web page.

How to get other web sites to link to yours

If you provide lots of highly informative text and you let people know that your web site exists, you can attract external links by virtue of the quality of your content.

Is your site's content so good that other web site owners will link to it without being asked to? It should be. But there are other ways you can increase the number of external links to your web site, too.

Some web site owners spend a lot of energy asking for links from other site owners. This may not be worth the effort. Being listed on a page of links is a weak solution. How often do you use those links pages?

Web users are much more likely to see and click on links to your site if they are contained in other valuable content.

And how do you do that? One way is to write guest articles for other people's newsletters.

After appearing in the newsletter, your article will usually archived on the newsletter owner's site. This means that your link will appear in the search engine index in a highly relevant context—the key phrase-rich text that you've written.

Do I have to hire someone, or can I do SEO myself?

Yes, you could probably learn to do search engine optimization yourself, although that would require some study. Of course, there's more to search engine optimization than I've written about here.

The actual work is time-consuming, detail-oriented, and experimental. For example, you'll probably have to test different sets of key phrases to see which work best for your site.

Before moving on, let's take a brief look at free search engine marketing's rich sister: "pay-per-click" advertising.

Why would anyone pay for traffic when they can get it for free?

Pay-per-click is a variation on search engine marketing.

When you sign up for pay-per-click advertising, you bid on specific terms. Your ad appears when users search on one of your terms. Usually, your paid ad will then appear above or along side the free search result listings.

Overture and Google AdWords are the dominant providers of pay-per-click. With pay-per-click, you don't pay when your ad is displayed. Instead, you pay every time searchers click on your ad. Overture also charges a monthly minimum.

The number of people who see your ad is influenced, in part, by how much you bid. Top bids on some key phrases can be very expensive. Many advertisers pay huge monthly amounts, but report very good returns on that investment.

One advantage of pay-per-click advertising is that it can create traffic to your web site almost immediately.

Another advantage is that pay-per-click advertising tends to require less time and skill than free search engine marketing. Pay-per-click advertising does, however, require a significant amount of time and skill to set up and maintain. The cost of this labor must be added to the cost of visitor clicks.

Pay-per-click advertising can perform well without search engine optimization, but that would be an unwise way to save. Web site owners who use pay-per-click generally optimize their web sites so that they can take advantage of free search engine marketing, too.

Even with pay-per-click, quality content is essential. If visitors don't find the information they seek, they'll quickly return to the search engine listings—leaving you holding the tab for their clicks.

Pay-per-click is definitely worth considering, but the key to most online sales is quality content and high rankings in the free search engine listings.

Internet marketing isn't only about search engines

Yes, search engines are very important in driving traffic to your site. But search engine optimization shouldn't be your only marketing effort. Your site can also draw visitors because of publicity, offline advertising, and word of mouth.

You'll want to call attention to your web site via other means of communication. For example, your web site address should appear prominently in all of your printed media.

Also, if you write for a email newsletter, your message can appear in the inbox of potential clients. By using multiple approaches, your marketing efforts will reinforce each other.

I'll suggest a variety of marketing strategies as we work together. My main job is to enhance your marketing.

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