Quality content is the foundation of Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is in essence the theory and practice of getting a website onto the first page of 'natural' (sometimes called 'organic') search results on the important search engines for important keywords.

Last week I did a brief overview of website marketing, talked about some of the various options available to web marketers and described the search engine ‘landscape’ in the UK and Google’s current dominance of it.

This week, I want to move on to the foundation of any web marketing campaign – Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

In essence, this is the theory and practice of getting a website onto the first page of ‘natural’ (sometimes called ‘organic’) search results on the important search engines for important keywords. If successful, traffic levels (the number of visitors) for a website can explode and the opportunities for doing business likewise. Businesses with coveted first, second or third positions on Google for the most important relevant keywords to their sector can generate a thousand times more leads than a competitor who has no top ranking positions (called SERPs by the web marketing community, or Search Engine Ranking Positions). And as more and more consumers become comfortable with buying goods or performing transactions over the web, the importance of the SERPs just keeps rising.

Ideally, you should be targeting the first three positions as these are statistically by far the most ‘clicked’ results. A 2007 study by Cornell University showed that a keyword in 1st position on Google was clicked 56% of the time, 2nd position 13%, and third 10%, with rates falling off to 4% for fourth position and down to 2% for 10th position on the first page. When you drop to page 2 of the results click through rates fall to below 1%.

Similar studies on different search engines have shown broadly similar results.

OK, so we now know just how important it is to get onto the first page of search engine results, but what represents an important keyword?

Well, that completely depends on your business, but usually it will be a (reasonably) popular two or three word term used by web searchers who are looking for information on the product you sell. And here I am going to give you my numero uno piece of advice – remember the niche.

Whilst volume is always important, in such a competitive arena as the web it is more often the quality of visitor that counts, and this is doubly so for a small business that may not have the resources to compete with high-spending conglomerates. A quality visitor is, of course, one that actually wants your product.

Example: Your business sells widgets. The number of people searching for the keyword ‘widgets’ numbers perhaps 5,000 per day. But these are casual searchers. The vast majority just want to check on some information about widgets before they go looking for the football results. In comparison, the number of people searching for ‘red sound-proof widgets’ may only number 10 per day, but these are serious searchers. Perhaps nine out of ten of these searchers really need a red sound-proofed widget and have the cash ready to splash.

Both terms may bring you the same number of actual business leads. But you can be sure that getting a first page, or even top three, SERP for the keyword-term ‘red sound-proof widget’ will be a deal easier than for just ‘widgets’.

As you might imagine, the battle for top SERPS can become intense and a large number of companies and marketers have quickly moved into this space to provide SEM services for clients wanting a piece of the top ten action. But here’s our dirty little secret – you can do this yourself! All you need is time, effort, patience, a basic knowledge of how websites and search engines work, and lots and lots of quality, interesting content.

This last factor, quality content, is crucial and is the real secret of successful search engine marketing. Too often SEM is seen as a solely technical discipline, where what is called Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is considered the be all and end all. Whilst SEO is important, and can represent the difference between first and second page SERPs, it comes a long way behind quality content. The reason being that search engines like Google do not like being ‘manipulated’ (which is essentially what a lot of SEO is) but do like providing their users the best search results. If you can provide quality, interesting content on your products or services you are providing searchers with the answers they are looking for. You are proving that you are an authority on your subject and are worth top positions for keywords related to that subject. The SEO part of the job should be just about leveraging that content – making sure that the search engines recognise the quality.

In addition, quality content encourages back-links, that is other websites linking back to your site, which is an important factor that search engines use when ranking your site.

And good content has one other major advantage – it lasts. Whilst a lot of optimisation techniques can fall in value, or even become redundant, when the search engines adjust their algorithms to deal with the ever changing world of the web as well as to stop the manipulators from messing with their results, good content never goes out of fashion. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, so to speak!

OK, to recap briefly:

  • Top positions on the search engines’ natural or organic results (SERPs) can bring lots of business.
  • Competition is usually intense so try, wherever possible, to niche.
  • Start any SEM project with keyword research and identify your niche searches.
  • Providing quality, interesting content is the best form of SEM.
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), whilst important, should be seen as an adjunct to content, not the focus.

Next week I will run over the key SEO techniques that can make the crucial difference between first or second page SERPs. In the meantime, get busy writing that persuasive, authoritative content.

This article was contributed by Jez Booker – Head of Search at The Internet Works, London.

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