If you think of all the ways a business might attract drive-by or casual customers, you have an idea of what SEO is meant to accomplish. Think of SEO as a broad billboard that is visible (by way of search engines) to anyone passing by. With SEO, you are trying to get as many eyes as possible to click through to your site without knowing much about them other than they entered a search term related to what you do.
Better SEO is like having a great ad in the Yellow Pages – it grabs attention, but it is dependent on someone looking under that category or a limited number of categories. Your keywords and their ranking determine if anyone will actually see your site displayed in search results. It has the advantage of being a highly trusted source of information and is estimated to account for as much as 70% of sales generally. Of course, this isn’t the only way to gain exposure, and in some cases, not the best way.
Limits of SEO
There are a limited number of first-page spots available on any search engine. Those with the highest visibility naturally do better, but the competition can be so fierce that it isn’t cost-effective to make a run for one of the few top spots. You don’t want to go head to head with the 800 lb. gorilla in your niche.
Some businesses find themselves in the poor position of trying to be more than they are, just to get a higher organic ranking. For instance, a company that sells rare books may not have a chance to place in the search engines, not because it isn’t an accomplished player in its niche, but because other sites that are more general and have more offerings have taken all the tasty book-related terms.
And that’s a problem with search engine optimization alone. The results are usually too broad. Savvy consumers do learn how to “drill down” to find more relevant results, but we cannot expect to get those valuable “edge” sales with SEO alone unless a high ranking is obtained. Edge sales are those customers who don’t know yet that they want or need your product. In other words, without being sold a bit and exposed to your offerings, they won’t go out of their way to search for you.
Internet marketing in general
SEO is only one arrow in the quiver of a larger marketing strategy. Of course, you want to show up when people are looking for you, but you’d also like to target that segment of the population where your customers are coming from. So, Internet marketing includes techniques should be used alongside SEO.
Some of these are:
- PPC (pay per click) – Unique to the electronic, virtual world is the ability to track where a visitor comes from. This means you can place a displayed link (usually in a banner ad) on another site and only pay if someone follows it to your site. The advantage of PPC over SEO is the capability of field testing different ads and identify where your customers are coming from. The disadvantages over SEO are that PPC ad-driven traffic will disappear if you pull the ad, and they are generally trusted less than an organic ranking on a search engine.
- Ad Words – This is a type of PPC offered by Google. Your ad appears on their search page alongside the “normal” search results. Payment is based on an auction-style competition, where more popular ad words sell for more. This is even more specific than normal PPC because you can specify what time of day and what geographic location you wish to bid on. So, for instance, if I only want to target people in Georgia during my normal business hours, I can buy just that little slice of the pie. It can also be prohibitively expensive for the same reasons that it is difficult to gain a high rank in SEO – too much competition from the whales. As with regular PPC, Ad Words traffic disappears when the campaign ends.
- E-mail Marketing – This is direct marketing to a list of potential customers, either new e-mail contacts you gather from your site (or purchase) or those e-mail contacts gleaned from previous sales. The offline version of this is direct mail marketing. E-mail marketing includes newsletters and promotions offered only through e-mail. Artfully done, this type of marketing is inexpensive, targeted, and effective.
- Social Media – This is a general term for what amounts to word-of-mouth promotion, or exposure in social situations, from Twitter to forums and other venues where your customers hang out. The advantages are lower costs paired with more targeted but still broad visibility.
- Others – The Internet continually spawns various ways to connect with potential customers. Affiliate programs are a type of commissioned sales. Viral videos are a mass marketing technique. Article marketing, blogging, contests…the list goes on. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, with their success being largely dependent on the type of business and the flexibility of the marketing budget.
The right mix
None of the techniques listed above exists in a vacuum. Each plays off (and adds to) the others, and all can influence search engine optimization ranking. Website owners and online entrepreneurs should approach the menu of possibilities by planning a realistic campaign based on budget and expectations — and then monitoring the effects. One huge advantage of Internet marketing over offline efforts is the ease with which data can be tracked and the flexibility allowed by a quick reaction to results.
There is one general rule of thumb for SEO versus other types of efforts. Search engine optimization tends to increase slowly but last longer. The cost of becoming the go-to site in your niche pays off over a longer term. Meanwhile, other methods are usually used to boost or jump-start traffic until a more organic SEO strategy begins to pay off.