SEM: Competitive on a Budget
Small marketing budgets don’t necessarily mean small ideas when it comes to search marketing. In fact, it’s the innovative and creative efforts that most often empower companies with the ability to learn and adapt.
Over the past few years the practice of using search engines to market Web sites has progressed from a focus on optimizing text content and acquiring links to the optimization of a variety of searchable digital assets, including: images, audio and video, as well as content delivery formats like RSS and mobile search.
As search engines evolve with features such as personalized, social and unified search, so must marketers—especially those on a budget.
An environment of frequent change plus limited resources and funds can present a formidable challenge for company marketers tasked with improving online profits. Luckily, several creative and effective strategies exist that marketers can employ to get ahead in the search marketing game.
Create a Content Promotion Plan
The sheer abundance of new Web sites, blogs and social media content published daily makes it more difficult than ever to stand out on search engine rankings. Optimizing Web sites with keywords is no doubt a starting point, but relying on the search engines to find, categorize and rank a Web site’s content as the sole method of attracting organic traffic simply isn’t enough to stay competitive.
To be competitive, marketers should view their Web sites as a publication with an editorial and promotion calendar rather than as a static resource of company and product information. Implementing a content promotion plan provides marketers with a strategic guide for content creation, optimization and promotion over time that search engines and users will respond to.
For example, in anticipation of the holidays, online jewelry retailer Adler’s not only made sure its Web pages for holiday ornaments were optimized with keywords, but also ensured its images were scheduled for promotion on image-sharing sites such as Flickr with links back to the product pages. By not relying solely on search engines to send traffic, Adler’s realized more than an additional 750 unique visitors via image search within the first few weeks of implementation.
Make It Easy to Publish and Promote New Content
Most business Web sites are maintained through a content management system, administered by an outside Web design agency or for larger organizations, updated by in-house IT staff. There can be difficulties with all three scenarios when it comes to adding optimized content. One of the easiest ways to publish and promote search engine-friendly content is through blog software. Tools like Blogger.com or WordPress.org offer free methods for marketers to add keyword-rich, useful information to their sites.
Blog software can be used to publish a wide variety of content types, such as: company news, industry insight, product announcements, press release or newsletter archives, customer testimonials, user-contributed content, surveys, and lists of resources or how-to tips.
Each post made to a blog creates a new Web page that can serve as another “hook in the water” for both search engines and consumers. Blogs archive entries chronologically but also can do so by category. Categories named with keywords in mind do better in the search engine rankings.
One “secret weapon” of blogs is the RSS feed. An RSS feed makes the blog content subscribable with Internet Explorer, Firefox or an RSS reader. The RSS feed also enables inclusion into blog and RSS search engines like Google Blog Search.
When the blog is part of the main Web site URL, such as mycompany.com/blog/, then any sites linking to the blog also will benefit the main Web site. More links can mean more traffic and better rankings in search engines.
Adding a blog to a company Web site can provide substantial value for better search engine visibility. At the same time, the blog must be in-line with strategic marketing objectives. Whether it’s viewed as a less formal method of communicating with prospects and clients or a media relations channel, a blog’s long-term usefulness lies with the ability of the content published to meet the information consumption needs of its readers.
For example, faced with a situation involving an e-commerce system that provided effective merchandising and inventory features but not many options for search engine optimization, online retailer Baby Bella added a blog to its site in October 2007.
The blog was announced to the Baby Bella e-mail list and quickly became one of the top sources of referring Web site traffic to the main Baby Bella Web site behind Google and Yahoo.
Brick-and-mortar retailer J&O Fabrics Center added a blog to its online retail site as a way to archive a monthly newsletter online. Within three months, a part-time writer was hired to post to the blog on a regular basis. The blog now includes entertaining and informative posts that send customers directly to product purchase pages. The links from the blog to the main Web site have helped rankings. J&O Fabrics now competes online with much larger competitors like Jo-Ann Fabrics and enjoys rankings on Google like No. 3 for “fabric stores.”
Get Social Media
Whether it’s Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or StumbleUpon, there’s no doubt consumers increasingly spend time on social networks. If you think social media is a trend, then you may choose to ignore the numbers from Hitwise stating MySpace is the third most popular Web site after Google and Yahoo Mail, but take a look at all the 5- to 12-year-olds growing up on Club Penguin and Webkinz. They’re growing up on social media.
Rather than jumping into the social media world as a marketer, it’s more important to understand the different social media channels and how participants relate and consume information. Marketers can do that by becoming participants.
Social media participation basics include:
• Register and create a profile;
• Explore the community and “make friends”; and
• Vote, comment on and submit content.
To get value from a social media or networking site, marketers must first create or add value. Also, social-networking communities do not respond well to formal marketing messages.
For example, to further promote Smart-Kit.com, a brain teaser and puzzles Web site, the company created a group on Facebook. Images of puzzles were posted along with links to games and brain teasers on the Smart-Kit.com site. The company made friends with other puzzle enthusiasts, sending over 200 visitors to the main Smart-Kit site in the first few weeks. More than 100 members of the group now continue to spread the word amongst their networks of friends who enjoy puzzles and brain teasers. Smart-Kit’s involvement with social media has expanded into other social networks, such as MyBlogLog and Twitter, with StumbleUpon now its top source of Web site traffic behind Google.
Unify Your Efforts With Universal Search
Armed with a content plan, a blog to make it easier to publish search engine-friendly content and the beginning of an expanded social network, it’s now time to figure out what this all means for improved search engine visibility.
Each of the four major search engines now offers some type of combined search results, which arguably is one of the most significant changes the search engines have ever made.
Web site owners are faced with the proposition of optimizing their video, news, images, maps, books and product content. That’s easier said than done, because in most cases small businesses have but a smattering of those content types available. If you don’t have the content format, you certainly can’t optimize for it.
Still, with unified search results there exists additional, high-profile exposure opportunities where none of that type previously existed. The best way for smart marketers to approach these opportunities is with a holistic perspective.
Taking into account all the digital assets a Web site has to work with is the first step toward such a holistic search marketing effort. Matching those assets worth promoting with appropriate distribution channels will help budget-challenged marketers get more return for their effort.
As long as there are search engines, there will be content that can be optimized. Small-budget marketers need to consider all the digital assets they have to work with and enable content creation, optimization and promotion processes to give both search engines and customers the information they are looking for in the formats they will respond to.
Lee Odden is the president and founder of TopRankResults.com, a search engine optimization company in Spring Park, Minn. He can be reached at (877) 872-6628.