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As with all typical marketing programs, companies feel that they must advertise in every medium in order to get the word out about their product. With the Internet, this is all done through online advertising. What exactly is online advertising? Well you have your typical Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), and banner advertising, and there are some other forms as well, including email marketing at times. However, for the purposes of this post, we’ll focus on SEO and SEM.

On Online Advertising. In an eMarketer.com study conducted during 2008, $13.5 billion was spent on online advertising with a bulk of it spent on search engine marketing. Just how much? Well based on the research, 88% of money spent went to paid search and 11% went towards organic search (SEO). Should these things change in the future, especially during a recession? With budgets being tightened and everyone trying to save some money, I would imagine that while search marketing efforts are going to increase, the focus shouldn’t be on throwing out paid search ads, but on your content and truly understanding how your site is being noticed by search engines.

As part of an integrated campaign, search marketing should play a crucial role, especially now during the recession. With more people getting online and using search engines like Google, Yahoo, and MSN Live Search, having your site appear near the top of the page when certain keyword phrases are typed can generate tremendous traffic to your website and can often lead to conversions/purchases. So what steps can you take in order to make the most out of this?

One of the first things that you should probably do to help avoid firing blindly into the Internet world is to have someone come in and conduct a search engine audit on your website. Based on my past experiences in working with a consultant, they review your site and let you know what’s good and what’s bad about it – from a search engine perspective. Then they go about and take a look at what keywords will work for your site and the competitiveness of each of them. They will generate statistics, trends, reports, etc. that will help you moving forward. There are a few companies that would conduct this audit for you so look them up. The beauty is that these keywords can be used both for SEO and SEM placements.

But let’s look at search engine optimization for a second. This is probably the first place you should look when trying to promote your site versus jumping over to search engine marketing and essentially “spraying and praying” that your text ads will strike a chord with someone and have them click on your site. It is a debateable topic whether paid search garners more traffic/conversion than organic search, but it would make sense to make sure that your “house is in order” before promoting it. By this I mean make sure that your content is exactly the way you want it? Is it specific enough that if someone types in a certain keyword, that the page will have enough information for them or will it result in them clicking further which is a bad thing? Does your site adhere to search engine optimization best practices? The more care you put into your content and your website design/development overall, the better your search results will be.

However, search engine advertising/marketing should not be overlooked. In fact, the technology behind it has grown over the past few years and there are ways to make sure that you are getting your money’s worth. Perhaps the greatest asset to SEM is the geo-targeting approach. If you are only wishing to reach folks in the west coast of the United States, then you can have your text ads show up for those people with IP addresses located in one of the several states in that region. This will help avoid your text ads showing up for people who might convert but you weren’t targeting – thus avoiding wasting money. Something else to think about when you’re managing your campaign is the time and effort (and possibly cost) associated with managing this SEM campaign. Unfortunately you can’t simply choose a keyword, insert your ad and let it run for the duration. Why? Because the keywords are done through an auction-like process. The higher you are willing to bid on a moment’s notice, the greater your frequency of being seen (impressions). It’s always a state of constant monitoring, but you don’t want to break the bank to be seen all the time. That would cost thousands of dollars (depending on the keyword). One option is to check out a web marketing management solution that may wind up saving you some money overall – like Yield Software. These companies will help you monitor your campaigns and allow you to manage it on your own. So they give you the tools, you shape its path.

It should be important to note that when you’re looking at the keywords and the bidding price, if you have enough content on your site relating to that keyword, you should focus on doing organic search or SEO. The less competitive the word or phrase you’re targeting, the more you should go with SEM. I once heard an analogy “SEM is like renting your home while SEO is owning your home”. This definitely holds true. With a strong SEO strategy, your website/landing page can be the leading “authority” on certain keywords but if you’re only focusing on a temporary campaign or not sure about the effectiveness on a specific page, then you might want to also consider SEM. However, do NOT think that these are mutually exclusive. These should be woven together to help form a cohesive strategy in driving traffic to your site and when done correctly, can help bring you success during these times.

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