Some companies are still offering to list customers' websites in as many as 400 search engines. This is a very poor use of resources, and auto-submission tools can actually harm rankings on the search engines that matter. In all countries, there are four or five search engines that matter and often there is one dominant search engine and a few smaller ones.

In many countries such as the U.S. and the U.K., the principal search engine of choice is Google, and so best practice should aim us at generating high visibility on Google. This is not necessarily the case in non-western countries, for example Baidu is important in China, Naver in South Korea and Yandex in Russia.

Up to date figures show that although Google is dominant globally it only accounts for about two thirds of all searches worldwide. I don't intend to publish all the tables and statistics but these can be accessed via Comscore.

To get some idea of the numbers of people who can be reached through search engine marketing, information is available in the UK, for example, to see the volume of monthly searches for some generic keyphrases. Keyphrase analysis and demand analysis is an essential planning tool for the professional marketer, and there are some very useful tools such as the Google Traffic Estimator which will help to establish the relative importance of different keyphrases.

Marketers are investing more and more in search engine marketing as a result of changing consumer behaviour, with billions of dollars spent annually on search engine marketing.

So, how would we define search engine marketing?

To explain as simply as possible, SEM is the endeavour to connect searchers looking for information on your brand with what they are looking for. It is the attempt to make your brand visible within search engines to attract the maximum number of visitors to your site.

SEM enables site owners to meet their online marketing objectives such as lead generation, sales or creating awareness and delivering a message to their audience. SEM is highly effective and highly measureable.

To help get started, it is necessary to understand that because of the range of keyphrases used by searchers a key aspect of SEM is deciding which phrase to use to promote a company. Once you have a list of keywords and phrases, you must then try to achieve favourable listings within the search engine results pages (SERPS).

You should understand that even small differences in the search query entered by the user can deliver totally different listings on the SERPS.

Within SEM, there are three main opportunities to get a message across, to gain visibility and to direct visitors to their sites. The first two of these are via SERPS and the third is via third-party sites.

1. Natural or organic listings. The part of the pages listing results from a search engine query which are displayed in a sequence according to to relevance of the match between the keyphrase put into a search engine and a web page according to a ranking algorithm used by the search engine.

This is called search engine optimization (SEO) and will be the focus of my next few articles.

2. Paid or sponsored listings. A relevant ad (usually a text ad) with a link to a destination page is displayed when the user of a search engine types in a specific phrase. A fee is charged for every click on each link, with the amount bid for the click determining its position. This is called paid-search but is more commonly known as 'pay-per-click'.

3. Content-network listings. These are ads which are placed on third-party sites which have an Adsense relationship with Google, or which display Yahoo or MIVA listings on their website. These account for a high proportion of Google revenue but have a much lower clickthrough rate.

My next article will discuss SEO ranking factors.

Bill Harvison, once the owner of a successful textile business, is now a renowned UK Internet Marketer with a vision to help as many people as possible in the intenet work. Comin from a background with no computer skills whatsoever, he has used My Internet Business to develop all the tools to coach people to their own success. To find out more information on this topic please visit http://www.netmarketingexplained.com or alternatively find out more about him at http://www.whoisbillharvison.com.

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