Using search engines to drive traffic to your website, landing pages, and offers comes in two primary flavors. The first is search engine marketing, which pays for traffic through PPC (Pay Per Click) using a platform like Google or Bing. The second is search engine optimization (SEO) which is what most people think of when they think of using search engines to drive traffic to their websites.
There is also a critical flaw in many small business owners thinking when entertaining SEO. They believe that any web developer can go into their website, make a few adjustments to the pages, and presto, like magic, their site will fly to the top of Google search results, and traffic starts pouring in. Their business gets new sales and customers, all for a one-time fee to said web developer. They can sit back and watch the free traffic pour in yearly until they sell the business and retire to Florida. This is a fantasy of epic proportions that plenty of people on the Internet are happy to sell you; just don’t expect them to answer their emails or phone once your check clears.
It will be instructive to break down the two major search engine strategies and what you need to be successful in each one. Once you know, you can choose the right one for you or a combination of the two that makes the most sense.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Search Engine Marketing is the fastest way to develop targeted traffic to a site. The reason is that you are buying that traffic. You use PPC (Pay Per Click) ads in the search engines such as Google or Bing. The formula to build this traffic takes skill to set up and manage well, but there is very little guesswork involved as there is with SEO.
The first thing you need is a clearly defined goal. What exactly are you building traffic for? Common goals are launching a new product, promoting a sale, building a list, and generating online sales with an eCommerce store. While I see businesses use this tool in an open-ended way to build traffic, I generally advise clients to define a period for the campaign and set up benchmarks for what they hope to achieve. For example, a business sets up a campaign to launch a new product. The campaign will use a budget of $20K and run for four weeks. They expect to sell “X” number of the new product and add “Y” number of new people to their email list. Here are the other tools you will need to be successful.
The keywords that your ad appears under are a critical component of an ad campaign. Select keywords that your ideal customer will potentially use to search for your product or service. Those keywords need to have enough search volume to bring results but not be so competitive that you pay a small fortune for every click you get. For example, if you were an attorney and wanted to advertise for the keyword “personal injury,” you can expect very keen competition and to spend a mint for every lead you get. There are ways to tackle this to achieve better results with a lot less money.
When your ad shows up, it will use copy to convince someone that they should click on the ad because it will yield the results they were hoping for. A poorly written ad with nonperforming copy will either earn irrelevant clicks that cost you money or no clicks, bringing down consequences from Google. You need to use compelling direct-response marketing copy.
A landing page is where you send someone after they click on your ad. This specially designed sales page uses compelling copy and other elements to move someone from a visitor to a converted lead or customer. Some of the names used for these specialized pages over the years are landing page, squeeze page, and sales page. There are strategies and techniques you need to employ when you build out a landing page, and you won’t know you are successful until you test it. Hire an excellent digital marketing consultant to help you build an effective page.
Every landing page should have an offer to earn you that all-important conversion. That offer can be for a free item, which we call a lead magnet if you are trying to generate leads for a business. It can be a low-priced item, which we call a tripwire offer, or a product or service offer. If you are pulling in cold traffic, people don’t know you or your business is just starting, free offers like a lead magnet or low-dollar tripwire offer tend to work best. You are unlikely to convert a new visitor to your Cadillac offer or even a mid-tier offer right out of the gate.
The last element you need is a robust analytics system to track every component of your campaign, from impressions to clicks to conversion. Every step of your campaign should be tracked to see what part works and what is not so you can adjust. You will also want to calculate other metrics such as click-through rate, conversion rate, and other potential metrics.
As you can see, there are a lot of pieces and moving parts to effective search engine marketing. This is a fantastic strategy to earn direct, well-targeted traffic immediately, but it should be used for fixed and clearly defined campaigns. There are a lot of known variables when you go into it, and the results can be tracked and measured with benchmarks and goals. Let’s move on to search engine optimization (SEO) to see the difference between the two strategies.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
This is very different from search engine marketing. First, it will be slow. It takes time, patience, and a lot of trial and error. Digital marketing experts call it “organic” traffic because if you are successful, you will draw in traffic from people doing searches in the various search engines, organically, if you will.
As with SEM, you still need to have clearly defined goals for what you are trying to accomplish. Again, if you don’t have goals and measure them, you will never know if you are achieving anything. The goals I often help clients generate are ranking for specific keywords that improve over time. “X” number of new visitors that engage with the site and content. Y number of new leads and ultimately an improvement in sales. These goals are measured over time, but that time frame is considerably longer than with an SEM campaign. In addition, you might not be able to achieve perfect alignment with every goal as you can in an SEM campaign because there are a lot of extra variables that interfere with a clean funnel as you get with an SEM campaign. Here are the tools you will need to be successful.
As you do with SEM, you also need to do keyword research for SEO, and this is the most critical step in the process. You need to employ tools that help you determine what keywords generate decent traffic that you can effectively rank for.
As with my example above, if you are an attorney and want to rank number one in Google for “personal injury,” you better have a very large checkbook, a ton of resources, and a 200-year time frame. This keyword is one of the most competitive keywords on earth, and even if you manage to rank for this keyword, staying ranked will require vast resources. Most SEO experts advise against going for such a generic and competitive keyword and recommend you seek a less competitive long-tail keyword that is easier to rank for.
You rank for search engines mainly through robust, well-developed, and perfectly assembled content. Typically, this content is written in nature, but other media, such as video, audio, and visual, are certainly acceptable. There is a specialized field of SEO copywriters. These copywriters can write well and do so using good search engine optimization strategies in the content. You will need to employ entire strategies and techniques built around content marketing to rank your site for organic search traffic. You will also need to add to this content over time to hold your edge once you get it. Yes, once you have a good piece of content that ranks well, it will pull in traffic, but if that content stays the same and you never add to it, your competitor’s efforts to rank or changes in Google algorithms will eventually cause that content to lose potency.
Technical Website Strategies
There are things you need and should do to your website to make it “search engine friendly.” These items include having a site that is, first and foremost, responsive. The site must perform well, load fast, and be optimized for search engines. This will be an ongoing process. As software and technology platforms update, you must continue to update and change your site to stay competitive. Some items that fall into this category might be rightfully termed as “on-page SEO,” which is likely where the myth originated that all a web developer had to do was “tweak” your site, and it would rocket to the top of Google. This is false. It is only one component of a dynamic strategy that is required to rank well.
At a minimum, every site needs to have an SSL certificate. An SSL creates a secure connection between the user and your site. Google made this mandatory several years ago, but some sites still don’t have them. That will undoubtedly hurt your ability to rank. In addition, you need to maintain a secure site free of malware. Google is routinely blacklisting sites that get compromised by having weak website security. Unfortunately, as hard as the good guys work to keep the bad guys out and protect websites, the bad guys are constantly finding ways around your defenses and looking for ways to damage your site and brand. Vigilant security and associated maintenance are ongoing jobs that every business must stay on top of. Failure to do this will hurt your efforts to rank well in the search engines.
As with SEM, analytics is vital to improving your organic search traffic. Analytics will give you data about which content resonates with your audience, site engagement, completion of goals, and overall traffic. Trying to improve your search rankings without analytics is like flying an airplane at night in fog and no instruments. You are blind and can’t see where you are going or where you have been. Review analytics and, more importantly, using that data to adjust and change is how you improve over time.
We have a manufacturing client that sells products in a construction industry niche. When we started working with this company a little over eight years ago, their monthly website traffic hovered around 11,000 visitors per month with limited engagement and had been in this range for over a decade. We implemented several changes, including an optimized and secure new website. We researched their target market extensively, set up a keyword target list, and began systematically building high-quality content that ranked well for the target keywords. We built monthly traffic of up to 42,000 regular visitors using analytics and occasional strategy and content shifts. Those visitor engagement metrics have increased several fold, and company sales have set records for several years. This can happen if you do search engine optimization and occasionally SEM correctly by being patient and consistently sticking to the strategy.
As you can see, search engine optimization (SEO) takes time, patience, trial and error, and, most importantly, ongoing content creation, strategy changes, website improvements, security, and analytics. It is more complicated than simply making a few changes to your website and waiting for endless waves of free traffic. Anyone that tells you otherwise is looking for a sucker, and you might be their next mark if you believe the spin.
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