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In the 1990s before Google dominated the search engine race, it was not uncommon for search results to be massively unrelated to their search query, a disastrous concoction and a recipe for failure, for many search engines in the running.
For internet users back then, search engines were at best ineffective and at worst, agonising. The situation prompted Google to develop a precise algorithm that churned out accurate yet satisfying search results, eventually edging out the competition to become the global search engine we’re familiar with. During this period, there were only organic (unpaid) listings.
By the year 2000, Google had developed Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Companies took advantage of this precise and accurate marketing channel to establish their digital presence to remain relevant in this fast-growing and dynamic landscape.
What is Search Engine Marketing?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a marketing strategy used to increase the visibility of websites on a Search Engine Result Page (SERP). In 2001, the term “Search Engine Marketing” was popularized by Danny Sullivan to encompass the array of activities aimed at marketing websites such as managing paid listings and performing search engine optimisation. Today, SEM is mostly used to refer to Paid Search Advertising.
What is Search Engine Optimisation?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of ranking organic listings on search engines. Although (SEO) may occasionally be considered as a subset of SEM, they are in actuality separate.
For instance, every click you get via SEO comes at no additional cost. This means that getting 100, 1,000 or 10,000 clicks via SEO does not. The same cannot be said for SEM which follows a pay per click model. So, the question is, how can you leverage search engines to grow your business?
Maximising your digital presence via search engines
It all starts with your marketing objective. While keywords are the basis for SEM and SEM, not defining your goals can result in disastrous consequences.
Since most users do not go past the first page of the search results, all the websites that appear at the top of the SERP or are ranked on the first pages of the search results get the most impressions or eyeballs since that is where viewers find the most relevant information. Other considerations include:
- The intent of the keyword
Are people searching for this keyword to find more information? Or are they perhaps looking to make an online purchase?
- Cost per click for SEM
How much does it cost per click to advertise for this keyword?
- Keyword search volume
How many people are searching for this keyword every month?
How tough is it to rank for this keyword via SEO? In terms of SEM, are there many advertisers bidding for this keyword as well?
Search engine market share
What is the search engine market share? According to Stat Counter, Google captures over 90% of the global search engine market share. While in Singapore. more than 95% of searches occur on Google, meaning that only 5% of online searches occur outside of Google.
Depending on the language and region, this could differ. For instance, in China, the dominant search engine is Baidu, while in Russia, Yandex captures close to 50% of the search engine market share.
How does SEM work?
Whenever an internet user issues a search query using keywords, SEM platforms like Google, Bing, Yahoo, and others use complex algorithms to ensure that the most relevant search results appear.
These listings are tagged with the inscription ‘Ad‘ and are also very relevant to internet users’ search queries and hence get lots of clicks.
Example of paid listings on Google for the keyword ‘Photography Studio Singapore’:
Since SEM is based on a cost-per-click, every click counts. Generating ineffective traffic would only result in less than stellar performance with cost inefficiencies diminishing your advertising return on investment (ROI). Brands either engage the expertise of an SEM agency or rely upon their in-house marketing team.
Paid Search Advertising is done through Ad Networks like Google Ads, Bing Ads, or Yahoo Ads. Advertisers are able to set up their SEM campaigns via the ad dashboard or engage an agency to do so. To ensure SEM success, accurate tracking is indispensable as it allows you to understand the efficacy of your campaigns, allowing you to, over time, improve your SEM ROI.
How does Google determine the position of an ad?
When marketers decide to run an SEM campaign, an ad won’t automatically appear when an internet user searches their target keyword. Instead, their site competes with other sites that target the same keyword(s). This is done via auction-based bidding also known as an Ad Auction, which determines the position of the ad and whether or not the ad will show, using a formula called Ad Rank.
A formula that gives a score to your ads based on the marketer’s Max CPC Bid, Ad Quality assigned by the platform, the context of the search, Ad Rank thresholds and other factors such as the expected impact of extensions and other ad formats.
To drive high-quality traffic to your website, you need to leverage keywords that are relevant to your business.
The first step of SEM would be to perform research. There are many reliable keyword finding tools you can use to enhance your search, like the Google Ads Keyword Planner. Check out our Google Ads Keyword Planner Guide here.
However, brainstorming keywords alone is not enough since we do not know which keywords are able to drive results. This is why data analysis is essential in identifying converting keywords and phrases since these converting keywords take us one step closer to achieving our marketing objectives.
A few generic keywords that can help draw potential traffic to your site include free shipping, discount, cheap and affordable although these may be keywords that you want to avoid.
For instance, if you provide high-quality tailoring services, keywords such as ‘affordable suits’ or ‘budget tailor’ could bring irrelevant clients to your website. On the other hand, if you provide the cheapest prices, then ‘discount’, ‘cheap’ and ‘affordable’ could be your best keywords.
The point is, every SEM campaign is different. Every business is different. Every industry is different.
An SEM strategy that can work for your competitor, may not work for you since both businesses are fundamentally dissimilar.
If you’re looking to drive tangible action, such as inquiries or online purchases, you may want to stay away from research keywords. Possible research keywords include ‘price’, ‘what is’, ‘how to’ or ‘how much is’ for instance. Again, this depends on the nature of your business. Perhaps price-related keywords could drive greater revenue for your brand as opposed to your competitors.
If there’s anything that we’ve established till this point, it would be that not all keywords are beneficial. In fact, most keywords are likely to be detrimental since each click diminishes your budget. To stop your ads from appearing when people use keywords that are irrelevant to your business, leverage a negative keyword list.
A negative keyword prevents your ads from appearing when searches are not related to your business. Tactfully inserting a list of negative keywords helps to avoid unnecessary cost inefficiencies, especially when optimising a pay per click system.
Audience and demographic targeting via SEM
With SEM campaigns, marketers can choose to target keywords based on specific audiences and demographics it wants to attract.
Marketers can select a geographic area for their ads, set ads to show only at certain times of the day or days in a week, show ads to people of a particular demographic, or show them on particular devices depending on the efficacy of each variable.
How does SEO work?
When an in-house marketer or business owner subscribes to SEO, they optimise their website to win the top position on the very first page of the SERP.
Because organic search does not involve paying search engines for a listing, ranking your website to reach the top of the search results page via SEO is not a simple feat. For new websites, surely it’s an uphill battle since an organic listing cannot be bought with money.
Example of organic listings on Google for the keyword ‘Handyman Singapore’:
Black hat SEO: Practices to avoid
Done incorrectly, your SEO efforts may lead to penalties from search engines such as Google. For instance, practices such as ‘keyword stuffing’ and ‘cloaking’ are banned since the aim of these practices are designed to manipulate SEO rankings. Such SEO techniques should be avoided at all costs, for they are like a malignant tumour that damages your website in an inimical and pernicious fashion.
White hat SEO: Practices to follow
So, what is the proper way of doing SEO?
White hat SEO is the key. The goal is to provide value to your community and potential clients based on your focused topics, products or services. Examples of white hat SEO involve creating high-quality original content, maximising user experience, and ensuring website security and crawlability.
This is why brands either manage an in-house SEO specialist team or work with a professional SEO agency to elevate their organic presence, leveraging recommended SEO strategies for long-lasting and stable rankings.
How does Google determine if a website should rank organically?
Some SEO considerations include relevance, the meaning of the query, content quality, site structure, ease of use and context. Essentially search results should be relevant to the user’s search query.
Creating quality content that resonates with your audience greatly enhances your SEO credibility. Search engines continuously scan websites to get an idea of their content using computer programs called “crawlers” or “spiders” to find keywords with strong relevance to an internet user’s search query.
Think about this from the search engine’s perspective:
If users do not get the results they are looking for every time they perform a search, they’ll start to look for alternatives i.e. other search engines.
This is why the algorithm used to determine your website ranking is constantly changing since search engines companies such as Google are continually looking to improve and refine their search results. Like coke’s recipe, these algorithm changes are not disclosed to the public. While there are guidelines and best practices, the general public wouldn’t know for sure how Google’s algorithm works exactly.
On-page SEO encompasses the SEO techniques that are implemented on your website.
The user-friendliness of websites affects a website’s SERP rank. This is essential because a difficult to navigate website diminishes the user’s experience. A user-friendly site should be easy to navigate, have a good loading speed and be mobile responsive.
Ideally, a good site should load in under three seconds. Your site’s tracking codes, widgets, and plug-ins should not significantly affect loading speed. Videos and images should be compressed if your website has issues with its loading speed.
In this era of smartphones, mobile-friendly websites are essential in providing a seamless experience. Think about it, would a potential customer be likely to drop out of your website if they are unable to find what they’re looking for easily?
A mobile-friendly website automatically resizes to fit different device and screen sizes. Since an increasing number of consumers utilise their phones for day to day activities, more consumers are accustomed to a smooth mobile browsing experience, which is why Google implemented mobile-first indexing.
Content should be of high quality, and information on the site relevant. Make content easy to scan by including headings, short paragraphs, and interspersing content with images, to deliver a smooth and satisfying browsing experience. You may want to showcase user reviews, testimonials, awards, and highlight other qualities that give your product or service an edge over competitors.
To beef up your website’s content, consider adding content that focuses on specific queries potential customers are likely to search. Make your website relevant by resonating with potential customers through informative content such as blog articles, infographics and frequently asked questions (FAQs).
You can, for instance, structure content that helps with illustrating the path your prospect can take to solve potential issues they may face.
If you’re an online retailer selling apparel, consider including resources such as a return policy or size guide. As for businesses looking to drive inquiries, consider the questions potential clients may ask. By building a website with high-quality content, you’ll be able to enhance your search engine presence organically, resulting in increased website traffic along with a greater chance of driving sales and inquiries.
For digital marketers, the ability to think strategically is of paramount importance. To better perceive your customer, always put yourself in their shoes to understand how they think.
Add title tags and meta descriptions to your web page to allow search engines a comprehensible interpretation of its contents. Add alt tags to describe images since search engine crawlers predominantly recognize text.
Another aspect to consider would be website security. Ensure that you have a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate as security is an important aspect of on-page SEO.
Off-page SEO comprises SEO techniques that are implemented outside of your website.
A principal aspect of off-page SEO would be link building. Links should be authentic and built naturally as opposed to orchestrated schemes designed to manipulate search engine rankings. With link building, quality is an important consideration. After all, in the old days, many blackhat SEOs built numerous low-quality links to manipulate their SEO rankings.
Note that any type of link scheme could result in penalties from search engines such as Google. This is why the credibility of your backlinks are absolutely crucial when growing your website organically.
Crucial SEO metrics to monitor
Searchers who do not find relevant information could quickly leave your website to look at alternative listings on the search engine results page. This phenomenon is known as Pogo-Sticking, where web pages with a high bounce rate are deemed as irrelevant. This is also why relevance and quality content is important when you’re running an SEO campaign.
Bounce rates are based on the percentage of users who return to the SERP after visiting the first page of a website. A high bounce rate negatively affects the ranking of a website since this sends a negative signal to the search engine about its relevance and quality.
Dwell Time is the average time a client spends before returning to the SERP. Naturally, clients will only spend more time on a website if its contents are engaging and relevant.
CTR or click-through rate is another aspect to consider when it comes to SEO. A high CTR signals to search engines that users are interested in your website, potentially resulting in higher SEO rankings over time.
Regardless if you are running an SEO or SEM campaign, your search engine strategy is only considered the most effective if you’re able to generate the results that you seek. This can only be done with accurate tracking that allows you to identify the ROI of your marketing channels.
SEM empowers brands to take advantage of online searches enabling them to connect with potential customers along their purchase journey. SEM is fast if you’re looking to drive results immediately. While SEO results tend to be slower, it’s potentially more cost-effective when compared with SEM in certain cases.
A crucial aspect to consider would be the search volume of your target keyword. If the target search volume is too low, consider SEM over SEO. On the other hand, if the cost per click of a keyword is too high, SEO could be the better alternative.
Keen for more SEO and SEO content? Check out the ultimate comparison on SEM vs SEO here.
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