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Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of Internet marketing that strives to increase a web site's visibility on the search engine results page (SERP). The techniques used include search engine optimization (SEO), Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, directory submission, comparison shopping search engine data feed submission, and local search marketing. Effective SEM results in the web site being placed in the top 10 results of a search query. When a web site is prominently featured on the SERP, site clicks, user traffic, and conversions usually increase. Brand name awareness and online reputation are also typically improved. Such factors play a big role in increasing a web site's sales, profitability, and overall return on investment (ROI).

Effective SEM requires significant time and effort, including keyword research and integration, profile creation, and directory and search engine analysis. PPC ad placement requires additional ad and landing page creation, keyword bid management, and periodic traffic and conversion tracking. Furthermore, the keyword research techniques used for SEO and PPC advertising strategies are not the same. If local search marketing is employed, keywords must be further optimized to include specific geographic areas and even local slang.

Because SEM often involves the paid submission of ads and listings, care must be exercised in selecting appropriate search engines and directories. The creation of dynamic PPC ads also helps draw consumer interest and participation. Finally, a thorough campaign analysis strategy helps determine whether SEM is having a positive effect on ROI. All these tasks may be performed by the web site owner or by a third party agency. Quite often, if a third party agency is utilized, one saves time and money while obtaining expert SEM services. Specific SEM services can be the following:

Search Engine Optimization

SEO involves the employment of both "on-site" and "off-site" optimization tactics so that a web site listing achieves a prominent position on the SERP. The most common on-site optimization tactic is the selection and utilization of keywords and key phrases within the title, description, and tags of a web site, video, or audio listing. The most common off-site optimization tactic is the acquisition of high page rank (PR) inbound links. Web site listings may be submitted to large search engines such as Google, Yahoo!, or MSN/Bing. They may also be submitted to smaller directories or paid indexing sites.

Attaining a prominent position in the SERPs requires savvy keyword research and integration without resorting to "black-hat" SEO techniques such as keyword stuffing. The acquisition of high PR inbound links may be achieved through submission of the web site to additional search engine directories and article directories, online press release sites, and even classified ad sites. Maintaining consistent and fresh content, creating and submitting a site map, and performing social media optimization (SMO) can also help improve search engine rank.

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PPC advertising

PPC advertising directs targeted traffic to an advertiser's web site and/or landing page via a sponsored ad or link. The sponsored ad or link may be purchased through advertising networks such as GoogleAdWords, Microsoft adCenter, and Yahoo! Sponsored Search. Once the PPC ad is purchased and installed, it may be displayed on the hosting search engine or on other partner search engines.

PPC advertising is ideal for web sites that may not be completely optimized and therefore not prominently displayed on the SERP. However, launching a PPC ad is also of benefit to advertisers who require additional targeted traffic in order to gain brand exposure, customer information, and conversions.

Launching a PPC ad is technically free; one pays a fee only when a potential customer clicks on the ad or link. Alternately, one can pay for the ad per number of impressions; this may be of benefit to businesses seeking brand exposure or businesses that are displaying ads with highly competitive (i.e. high cost) keywords.

While launching a PPC ad is relatively simple, selecting optimal PPC keywords and key phrases is not. Additionally, there is the time and cost involved in creating a web site and/or landing page destination for the sponsored ad or listing.

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Directory submission

A web site URL may be submitted to directory sites such as Business.com, Dmoz.org, and AskJeeves, as well as to the Internet Yellow Pages in order to gain inbound links and online traffic. By this process, a web site's link popularity and PR increase, leading to a high probability of increased sales leads and conversions.

Once a web site URL is submitted to a particular directory, it is reviewed by human editors who may alter the title and description of the listing before placing it into a corresponding category. When the process is complete, the submitted web site may be found on the directory when keywords that match a portion of the web site listing's title, description, or tags are input into the search query area.

Many directories employ volunteer human editors and do not charge a fee for site inclusion. Other sites, such as Business.com, charge a $299 yearly fee for inclusion in the directory. Because directory inclusion can be costly, it pays to research exactly which directories (and their categories) best apply to the submitted content. Keyword optimization of the submitted site is also advised if the listing is to achieve good visibility on the directory search results.

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Comparison Shopping Search Engines

Comparison shopping search engines such as Shopzilla, Yahoo! Shopping, and Google Product Search typically display consumer goods, prices, comparable items, and product reviews. Consumers benefit from comparison shopping search engines because they can easily look up a product, research its features and feedback, and compare prices. Merchants benefit because they can reach a large number of consumers without having to invest in a "brick-and-mortar" store. These consumers are also very motivated to purchase the items shown.

In order to achieve a high conversion rate, the product listing must be keyword and key phrase optimized. Optimization is performed by inserting highly searched and relevant keywords and key phrases within the title and description of the product listing. This step is critical if a product is to be correctly categorized on the comparison shopping search engine, resulting in it being visibly listed in the shopping SERP.

Most comparison shopping search engines operate by charging a flat fee per product click, while others set listing fees through a PPC auction-style pricing model. Free sites, such as Google Product Search, are also available; however, submission of a product listing to such search engines is no guarantee that the product will be well ranked.

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Local Search Marketing

Local search marketing involves the listing of a business profile through geographically-targeted search engines such as Google Local Search, Yahoo! Local Search, as well as online Yellow Pages. Local search directories such as Yelp and CitySearh may also be used. Consumers locate the business profile by inputting subject and location keywords into the search engine query box (e.g., hotels Denver, Colorado). The results page of the search engine will then display the business name, address, hours of operation, and consumer reviews. Additionally, the business location may be marked on an online map.

Because local search popularity is growing, businesses that submit their profiles to search engines such as Google Local Search can greatly benefit from targeted local traffic and sales. However, the business listing must first be keyword and key phrase optimized in order to attain a prominent position on the SERP. The keywords that are used may also require local modifiers and slang in order to be easily found on the results page.

Businesses wishing to gain additional web traffic and exposure may opt for a locally-targeted PPC ad campaign. This entails signing up for an advertising account such as Google AdWords, creating the ad, and posting the ad and its associated landing page or web site through the advertising account. Payment for the ad can be made through either a cost-per-click/action or cost-per-impression pricing plan.

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