According to the Internet Advertising Revenue Report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, $23.4 billion was spent on online advertising in the United States in 2008. This represented a 10.6 percent increase over the year before and the continued growth of the medium’s popularity with marketers. One of the biggest stories over the past decade is not how the Internet has matured, but how during that maturation process the medium’s interactive advantages have influenced how online marketers spend their budgets.
Early in the decade, when search marketing was still in its infancy, the online landscape was dominated by banner advertising. It was not unusual to open a website and find multiple banner ads on a page. Used to images and traditional bold messages, much of this was an attempt to translate traditional “branding” advertising to the Internet model. During this time, major online ad units such as “roll over” ads emerged and were primarily positioned on the home pages of major destination websites such as Yahoo, MSN or AOL for the greatest impact. While advertisers were initially willing to purchase online advertising based on the same reach model as traditional offline media, it did not take long to realize that the greatest advantage of marketing online is the immediate feedback of a “click” to a marketer’s website. Purchasing decisions quickly shifted away from the standard cost per thousand impressions (CPM) to a cost per click (CPC) model, setting the stage for the revolution in online marketing called “search.”
Fueled by the introduction of search engines that could index billions (now trillions) of Web pages and page content, users learned quickly that it was far easier to use a “search” rather than visit numerous websites to find what they were seeking online. Searching a topic or term properly, a user could get a listing of the top 10 most relevant results. Even though users might spend more actual time on content websites, they interact more with advertising (clicks) during their time spent searching.
The feedback received from Internet marketing is second to none, and, while it might not offer the dramatic branding opportunity of a Super Bowl ad, firms can spend marketing dollars more effectively to reach potential clients.
The Search Marketing Landscape
Search marketing can be broken down into four categories:
• Paid Search Advertising
Performance based, advertisers’ ads typically appear at the top, right or bottom of a search results page. Ads are text only and, if done properly, are relevant to the keyword phrase for which it is targeted. These ads will only run when a specific keyword or phrase is searched, so they can be highly optimized.
• Contextual Advertising
An advertiser’s message is delivered at the right or left side of a content page across a network of websites that are partnered with a search engine. The most popular of these services is Google’s Adsense, which places ads based on relevant content and keyword phrases. While this can be highly optimized there is no complete control regarding on which websites an ad will appear.
• Paid Inclusion
Certain search engines, such as Dogpile, Excite and Metacrawler use a mix of organic results and “paid inclusion” when serving search results to users. Paid inclusion provides the ability for an advertiser to gain placement at the top of the results while not necessarily being identified as a “paid ad unit.” The drawback of this type of advertising is that users are increasingly savvy and seek clearly defined paid and non-paid results.
• Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
With years of research now indicating that users prefer “organically” occurring search results, primarily for their relevance, SEO is becoming an increasingly important element for marketers. Organic SEO involves working with the key elements of a website — content, metacode, website build, links and other on and off-site features — to optimize that website’s chances of appearing high in the rankings when the most relevant searches are made. Because there are no advertising purchases being made, various tracking metrics are used to gauge overall success of these programs.
Most Internet users prefer the organic results that are returned when they make a relevant search. The two main reasons for this are the ever-improving algorithms being used by the major search engines to deliver relevant results quickly, and the fact that the paid ads found on Web pages are often irrelevant or too generic.
With all search marketing, whether paid or organic, page one is the target placement. Users seek relevance, so while it varies from category to category, users will only go past page one approximately 15 percent of the time.
Benefits of Search Reach across Business Categories
The major search engines today are indexing Web pages at increasingly faster rates and returning results that are far more relevant than ever before. In Google’s latest beta release of “Google Caffeine,” testers are reporting results that are delivered in twice the speed of the current version of Google. “Bing,” Microsoft’s search engine, will also be the default search engine on Yahoo, under their new agreement. Bing’s ads promise that it will deliver the most relevant results of all search engines. While not available yet, we are perhaps not too far away from what will be “real-time” indexing of Web content for users.
Until recently many people tended to think of the Internet as this great online mall, an easy place to search for retail items. However, service businesses are some of the greatest beneficiaries of users going online to do most of their research. While law firms need to take a broader approach to their online visibility, they also need to be positioned well or they will not be found. There might not be an immediate “sale,” but one page found could be worth thousands of dollars of business later.
For the legal services researcher, business is not about spending $50 for a shirt, but potentially committing thousands or perhaps millions of dollars on a project or resource. The growth of the Internet and the now trillions of pages included in the search indexes provide an unparalleled amount of information and resources for all users searching in business categories, including legal services.
Strategies for Service Industries Differ from Retail
There are some obvious differences in search marketing for the retail and service industries. Online retail businesses will typically deploy a catalog or directory of items that need to be indexed and sold online. Specific ads can be purchased for each item name or type, for example, “men’s blue turtleneck shirt,” so when searched the ad appears. If properly optimized, that same website should also appear in the organic results of search engines in a similar fashion. It is fairly easy to measure success, because an item is either selling or it is not. With a retail site, there is tremendous flexibility for implementing the SEO process and being able to respond to the changing demands of the search marketplace.
For service industry businesses, where a “catalog” does not exist, a broader strategy is often needed, and this presents some challenges. Most major law firms’ websites will have dozens of practice areas covering hundreds of sub-categories. The content contained is often case-related and, where not, the wording is typically written by a team of legal writers and cannot easily be altered for SEO. A law firm website usually contains many pages that need to make their way into the search indexes, most of which might only be searched a few times in any given month. This presents some major issues, the greatest being:
• Difficulties with being able to rapidly conform content to best fit how users are searching for it.
Papers are not written with the searcher in mind. What do you do then when research later shows that users are searching for the information presented in a paper, but not with the phrases that are written into it. Think of users searching for “coat” instead of “jacket” or “cleantech” instead of “clean tech.”
• Getting the deep content of these websites into the search engine indexes.
With thousands of pages of content, most of it relevant, the page-by-page techniques of SEO for smaller websites are not viable, and software solutions might produce better results.
To achieve SEO success in the service arena, a firm’s strategy should include two key efforts. One is identifying the most important practice areas for refined SEO development and perhaps even some paid search advertising. This is particularly important for categories where a law firm might be competing for placement with a nonlegal entity, a good example being the outsourcing industry. Think of a phrase like “human resources outsourcing.” In that area, a law firm will be competing more with actual outsourcing companies than other law firms, so if that phrase is necessary for business, then a proper level of human resources outsourcing content will be needed to compete for those organic placements.
The second effort would be to ensure that the website is deeply indexed according to the search indexes so that “long-tail” opportunities for being seen are realized. This involves deep research, mapping, proper build, item and page and document titling and website navigation. It is also imperative to pay attention to what users are searching to find a firm’s services, not what the firm thinks they are searching. There are tools that can reveal how users are researching categories, and this information is critical in optimizing a site so that it comes up in those searches. This might mean items need to be worded slightly differently on a website or certain phrases added. There is never a guarantee of placement for any page or item, so any website element that limits exposure needs to be addressed.
With any website it is important to avoid shortcuts for optimization. In their efforts to constantly deliver better, more relevant results, the search engines have also developed better tools to devalue the efforts of businesses that seek to “cheat” to get to the top. The most blatant techniques cheats used to try and guarantee SEO success include:
• Link farms (paid and non-paid)
Websites that exist for the sole purpose of providing a link to other sites. Links are an important tool, but must be relevant and provide appropriate anchor text. A “good” link would be a client website or school with a reference link to a firm’s website.
• Spammed content
The constant over-placement of phrases in content.
The creation of a pool of landing pages with the only purpose of linking into the main site to create the illusion of greater importance.
Success Is Difficult , but Not Impossible to Measure
It is fairly easy to measure SEO success when marketing a retail business online. It is not so easy to measure the same success for a service business website because there is no immediate transaction taking place, nor is it common to ask “how did you find us?” Other metrics must be relied upon to gauge the success of service business SEO programs. These metrics include the following:
• Search positioning for target keywords and phrases
• Search positioning for “long-tail” keywords and phrases
• Comparison of above items to leading competitor’s positioning
• Website traffic generated from the above positioning
• Website page saturation (indexing) to the major search engines
In measuring success, it is important to note that you cannot win every battle. Unlike retail where a pool of very specific items needs to succeed to make sales, there is a wide expanse of content for the service businesses. Pay attention to the details and what the research indicates. Be persistent at writing content that matches well what users are seeking, and a great majority of your content will be there at the top of users’ search results.
This article was first published in ILTA’s October 2009 white paper titled “Marketing Technology: Making Connections, Keeping Clients” and is reprinted here with permission. For more information about ILTA, visit their website at www.iltanet.org.
Have you ever Googled a product or service you were seeking information on only to arrive on a home page for a site that was just overloaded for SEO and yet almost unreadable to users? Did you go on and purchase something on that site or pass it by? I often wonder what these website owners were thinking when they built these sites. If they were building a brick and mortar business would they have loud red signs overwhelming the appearance of their store? I doubt it. Then what business 101 class makes them think it will work on the Internet? A website owner does not need to create a cluttered environment to create a site that is both user friendly and well structured for SEO.
A few key elements that must be considered include:
- Well written page copy…be direct and sell your message, this is YOUR business!
- Copy that is well positioned for SEO vs the competition. Here is the science….you need to analyze the competition and the marketplace, determine what users are searching and how you are positioned vs. the competition for those keywords and phrases. Seed them into your “well written” copy, but don’t overwhelm. Use all best SEO tactics, boldface, underline, titles, etc., but DON’T OVERWHELM the user.
- Page and website Navigation….be sure that the navigation is well thought out for the user. Recently we analyzed a new clients’ website and discovered that while content was well built and the overall look was solid, one of the least clicked links was “buy now.” What this meant is that despite a large click volume and already successful sales many potential users are leaving from the home page.
- Don’t just go by your “gut feel.” On the Internet the reports rarely lie. USE the research available and trust it. If you are selling European hair wigs, yet users are only searching”wigs,” then unless your site appears when “wigs” is searched you will not be found. So you say you are number one on Google when “European hair wigs” is sold? Big deal, no one is searching it…..trust the research!
So remember, write well, don’t oversell or over-SEO and continue to monitor and update your content for your category. My comments in this post represent only a portion of what is needed to achieve overall success, but provide a good foundation of where you need to begin.
The goal of any company is to grow and become profitable. At CJR Media our goals are no different, except for one. A main goal of CJR is to bring truly quality services to small businesses at prices that are both reasonable and fair. Should a simple e-commerce website cost $5000 or $500? Does the client need a brochure site of 4-5 pages or a full blown shopping cart? Do they need a brochure site that can be easily expanded as their business grows? Every developer wants to make money, but it is equally important that we deliver solutions to meet the clients needs and not just manufacture projects to make money. If a client realized success with their Internet business your relationship with them will grow and there will be ever increasing opportunity to make money together.
At CJR we deploy a variety of shopping cart solutions which enables us to tailor sites to meet customer needs. For U. S. Flag Service, CJR was tasked with a project where there were numerous products and variables, yet creativity of design was not a major factor. To build this site, and sites such as Creedmoor Sports, the X-Cart platform was utilized. For the high fashion related business Dicker Walker, a custom front end/back end solution is in the final stage of development that both provides design that fits well with the fashion environment and also marries up all elements of inventory management and sales.
Flexibility is key for us and our lead developers will work closely with clients to help insure that the solutions we deploy is the best and most efficient solutions for that client.
Ethnic marketing has always had its benefits for advertisers. Typically, ethnic marketing translated to purchasing ads within ethnic programming or publications, but there is much more to it than that. A few years back when I was working in spot cable sales for National Cable Communications we were often called upon to develop spot cable campaigns targeted to specific ethnic dominated areas of a television market, perhaps the first time that was widely possible. This type of targeting was not limited to the usual Hispanic or African American targets, but extended to such groups as concentrations of Irish or specific Asian groups.
So what is the best way to create ethnic efforts online? As I see it there are several approaches advertisers can take. The first is the most obvious, which would be to place ads or integrated sponsorship programs into ethnic content or websites. To expand upon this a second option would be to purchase or develop targeted email marketing lists and deliver your message directly to the target group you seek to reach.
A third option, which involves a greater commitment, would be to develop an ethnic marketing program utilizing your existing company website combined with creative search engine marketing. In today’s marketplace many businesses have strong secondary ethnic target groups, but they hesitate to reach out to them. Say your secondary target was recent Chinese immigrants. While potentially heavy users of the Internet, if you do not provide any content to interact with them in their language then your business may not be noticed. You can simply add specific information pages in the language of the targeted group, or even translate your entire website, if it is not too large, to provide these potential customers the opportunity to browse and understand your business.
To market to these targeted ethnic groups, search provides one of the easiest tools. Say your business is “tent rentals.” To market to a Spanish speaking user you would need to target the search term “alquiler de la tienda.” Of course, the pages targeted by either paid or organic search would be the new ethnic pages added.
One VERY important consideration that companies must consider and that is often overlooked when developing these programs is that you definitely need to have staff in place ready to interact with the group you are targeting. If you are reaching out to users researching your products or services via the ethnic search phrases, who then come to your translated pages, you MUST be able to speak with them in their language!
Many companies today still will not hesitate to spend thousands on traditional direct mail marketing pieces, but yet will have reservations about spending relative pennies for targeted html email efforts. While great value remains in traditional direct mail, the cost efficiency and time to market of email campaigns should not be overlooked.
Not only are email campaigns cost efficient, and let me please emphasize “opt-in” email campaigns, but results are known within hours or a few days. Creatively designed, significant information about users or prospects can also be captured and used to further tailor your overall marketing efforts. The secret to a successful email marketing campaign is to keep the message simple, be sure the list you are targeting represents the best opportunity, and provide a proper landing page for prospects to land on.
For most of the past century television has been the dominant advertising vehicle for most advertisers. While the types of television programming available for advertising have evolved over time form purely network, to network and local, from VHF and UHF, to broadcast and cable, to spot cable, to satellite and now high definition television (my apologies if I missed something but you get the point), advertising on television itself has remain largely unchanged.
In the past, many companies when planning ad campaigns worked hard to insure a synergy between the various elements of their advertising, be it television, radio, print or outdoor. I remember one client years back requesting a research evaluation regarding how specific ad elements actually were received physically by prospects. We called this the right-side/left-side brain evaluation, and there was much information available to write about how the brain processes audio and video messages.
With the growth of the Internet to where it is now represents a major element in the daily life for most people we need to look for new ways to reach out to potential customers. Online, the three most utilized elements are email, chat and search. Any company marketing in todays world should not only have a website, but should look for the best ways to integrate these online elements into their advertising programs.
To create a synergy with offline television advertising, email provides perhaps the best potential. Up till now, sending video via email has been difficult due to both the file size for sending and how email products most often strip out attachments. Many advertisers have sent “links” to video messages IN their emails with modest success. Today, the best way to use videos in emails would be by embedding a video window link, using videos posted on sites such as YouTube or Vimeo. If video is to be used in an email in this manner it is most important that the video itself be succinct and direct.
What does CJR stand for? CJR Media was created with the understanding that all the work we do will be with only the highest level of honesty and integrity. Our staff and strategic partners all share this vision and we will not deviate from this mission statement. In selecting a name for our company we chose the initials of my late father who lived his life in a simple honest fashion and expected nothing less from those around him.