No subject on Internet marketing can ignore search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing. What are they? How do they work? Search engines crawl the Internet, analyze websites, and index their content.
Whenever someone searches for a keyword or phrase, the search engine looks in the index database to find the web pages it thinks are most relevant. These pages are presented in the search engine results pages (SERPs), with only ten links visible on the first page, ten more on the next page, and so on.
Getting into the first search engine results page is incredibly important, as few people bother to check page two or three, and even less for later pages. Clearly, the top one or two links get a lot more clicks than the ones further down on the first page. The position of a web page in the search results pages is called its rank. The better your web pages rank for a certain search keyword, the higher they will be listed in the search engine results pages, and the more traffic you will get.
Search engine optimization is about making your pages rank as high as possible in the search results pages (i.e. naturally or organically). Search engine advertisements, on the other hand, are a paid or sponsored way of getting your ads displayed on result pages. Search keyword analysis is about understanding what search keywords are popular and how tough the competition is to get visibility and organic traffic for those keywords.
There are also other types of advertisement concepts that can be used, including display advertisements and retargeting or remarketing. The following sections will outline the different options.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
One of the hottest areas of Internet marketing for well over a decade has been Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The purpose of SEO is to modify your web pages such that they rank higher in the search results pages of Google and other search engines using certain keywords. This increases the likelihood the page will attract more organic (non-paid) traffic.
The rank of a web page is assessed by two things: its relevance and its authority. Relevance is determined by how well its content matches the search phrase, and authority is a measure of how important and trustworthy the search engine thinks your page and website are in other ways.
In terms of SEO, relevance has primarily been addressed by modifying or optimizing the page itself. This includes things like the occurrences of the search phrase and related search phrases or synonyms on the page, the amount of text and images, and readability. Authority can depend on the number of links to your web page there are on other websites, how old the domain name is, the number of visits to your website, its bounce rate and average visit duration, how fast your web server is, and how often your website is mentioned on social media.
I have read many books on SEO over the years and before starting to write this post, I expected this subject would be the largest and most complicated by far. The problem is, there are so many SEO tricks to employ, and it is a moving target as Google and other search engines modify their search algorithms all the time. But before studying current SEO strategies, let’s turn back and look into the history of search engine optimization.
In the early days, search engines didn’t do much more than count the number of times a specific keyword existed on a web page, thus creating a relative rank between different web pages for a specific search phrase. This led some web designers to fake relevance by adding the keywords many times (keyword stuffing), sometimes in invisible ways like using white text on a white background. The search engines realized this, of course, and now punish websites using this trick. Not only does your ranking not improve, you make it a lot worse.
To serve their users with better content and fight numerous on-page SEO tricks, search engines started to measure the authority of web pages. For example, by counting the number of other websites linking to it. The thinking was that if many other (supposedly) independent websites refer to a page, it has to contain better content than a page with fewer inbound links.
What did black-hat SEO specialists do? They created a large number of fake websites with the sole purpose of adding pages with links back to the real web page whose authority they tried to improve. The search engines retaliated, of course, by considering the authority and quality of the linking websites before using them as references for good content, and punishing websites that seemed to be using link farms.
This has gone on for years, with SEO tricks being deployed and search engines blocking the attempts and punishing websites using them. In short, search engines like Google want their service to provide as good and useful search results as possible to their users, while website owners want their web pages to rank as high as possible. It is a constant battle.
Luckily, the search engines have become very good at detecting and punishing innovative SEO tricks, and deliver the pages with most relevant content. Therefore, it has become easier to do SEO these days. Unless you do online marketing as a full-time job, ignore all the hundreds of SEO advice that used to be recommended, and focus on writing good valuable content for your human readers instead. The search engines will notice in the end.
Well, almost. You should still be aware of a couple of things about relevance and authority.
First, make sure to add new high-quality content regularly. An active website with weekly updates (think blog here!) will rank better than a website that has not been updated for years.
Second, search engines can only index text. A web page with mostly photos or other graphics is not good from a SEO point of view. Make sure each page has a reasonable amount of relevant text content if you want search engines to rank it well. The more, the better, as long as it is relevant to the topic.
Also notice that search engines nowadays consider the readability of your text. The readability of a text can be measured using the Flesch reading score. A score under 30 is best understood by university graduates, while a score in the range 60-70 is easily understood by 13-15 year olds. Try to keep your readability at 75 or above to keep search engines and your audience happy. You can test the readability of your web pages using this tool: Readable.com
Do not practice keyword stuffing, but to increase the relevance, you need to add the most relevant search keywords to:
– The page title
– The page URL
– The page meta description
– The page heading
– A couple of times in the page body
The page title, URL, and meta description are visible in the Google search results as follows:
When it comes to the page URL, make sure it is search engine friendly. This means the page does not have an obscure URL like “www.mysite.com/likesa9889fb?p=45“, but rather something like “www.mysite.com/get-more-facebook-likes“. If your content management system creates obscure URLs, install a plugin to make them friendly to search engines. Any modern content management system should have support for this.
Search engine optimization these days is not about trying to outsmart search engines, but to offer content of real value, thus helping them to offer your web pages to their users. However, you do need to analyze what search keywords you want to optimize the page for.
Try to optimize your pages for search keywords that are relevant to your offering, as you will otherwise get traffic from keywords that have little value to you. You also want to optimize your pages for keywords that have a lot of traffic, as it is meaningless to be in the top of the search result pages for search phrases that no one uses. You will not get a lot of useful traffic even though you rank as number one.
Finally, you don’t want to compete for traffic using keywords that are difficult, for example because large global corporations with a lot higher website authority also compete for them. You are unlikely to rank higher than Adidas and Reebok for “sports shoes” no matter how you try.
When you decide what keywords to optimize a web page for, you need to balance the keyword relevance, search volume, and rank difficulty, and pick relevant search keywords that give you the best possible chance of getting a high rank and a lot of traffic. If the competition is too tough for short-tailed keywords (like ”sports shoes”), try more specific long-tailed keywords (like ”sports shoes for marathon running” or ”long distance running sports shoes”), which are likely to have less competition.
If you can’t get traffic for short-tailed keywords with too tough competition, at least you can take the traffic from the slightly less popular longer-tailed versions.
Try to build authority by getting as many good and relevant websites as possible to link back to your page. With high-quality content, you will get more inbound links over time, thus helping to improve your authority too. But remember, all websites are not equal. Getting links from highly popular quality websites gives you a better authority than links from obscure websites with no visitors.
Getting many inbound links organically may take time. There are strategies to add them more quickly, but beware, some approaches may be counterproductive. Just like email address lists, never buy links from link farms. Google will most likely notice and punish you. Also, link-swapping with other websites is likely to be detected by Google and may provide less value than other links. Links should be attained at a natural pace over time to be trustworthy in the eyes of the search engines.
You can create some initial links on your own by linking to your website from your company profile pages on YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms. Include links to your website in every social media post you publish.
An effective approach is to use unprotected digital assets as link bait. Promote eBooks or other digital content for free, and it is likely other web pages will start to recommend your valuable document by linking to it from other web pages or blog posts.
Another link building trick is to distribute press releases using PR sites like PRWeb or PRNewswire to promote your link bait if you have no other news to share. Press releases can spiral off and be published on a large number of media and blog sites, quickly creating many inbound links.
The search engine algorithms are refined all the time. For example, in a major update to the search algorithm (known as Mobilegeddon), Google made a crackdown on websites not adapted for mobile users. If you want your pages to rank well, you now need to have a responsive website suitable for mobile users too (a responsive website auto-adapts its layout to fit devices with smaller screens).
You can expect SEO to continue to be a moving target. If you are interested in learning more about the Google search algorithm change history, check out this page: https://moz.com/google-algorithm-change
To learn more on what factors affect your ranking on Google, you can read: Searchmetrics Ranking Factors 1O1
MOZ is a well-respected authority in the SEO industry and offers a lot of useful content. For example, their blog (https://moz.com/blog) provides interesting reading if you want to dive deeper into this subject.
You may also find Alexa of interest. They provide competitor intelligence and benchmarking services.
Search engine advertisement
Search engine optimization is all about getting more traffic for free. Search engine advertisement, on the other hand, is a paid alternative for getting traffic from search engines. With search engine advertisement, you can get a lot of relevant traffic immediately, which might be a good alternative to SEO, which takes time (often months) to become effective. The downside, of course, is it costs money.
For example, Google has Google Ads (formerly known as Google AdWords), which is their search engine advertisement offering to businesses. With Google Ads, you can pay to get a small, text only advert shown above, below, or to the right of the search result pages. Your advert only shows when someone searches for the specific keywords you have connected to your advert. You can define in detail when the advert will be published (for example, limit its visibility by country or city, by language, or by time-of-day).
You typically define a long list of similar keywords, all related to your offering, and show one or more adverts whenever any of those keywords are used in a search. You pay per click, not per ad impression. The price for the advert (cost per click, CPC) goes up and down all the time depending on the competition for advertisement space for the same keywords. You can define a quota for your daily spending, meaning you can control your budget.
There are many parameters to set in Google Ads related to bidding strategies, and I recommend you study how the platform works before starting to spend money on it.
Search keyword analysis
Before writing web pages or blog articles, or even digital assets like eBooks or whitepapers, you can research how popular different topics are on the Internet. You can do this using search keyword analysis. This helps you write content that targets what most readers are interested in, and it helps you avoid fighting against tough competition in organic search results or paid search engine advertisements.
In short, you want to create content that covers the topics and keywords most people seem to be interested in. However, more web pages may write about topics containing one search keyword than another. This makes it harder or easier to succeed in achieving a good ranking (at the top) of the search engine results pages.
In a search keyword analysis tool, you typically enter all combinations of relevant search phrases to find out which ones are most likely to give the best ROI (most reader interest with least competition). You will likely get 100 or more combinations of keyword phrases in your list, which you submit to the tool for analysis.
For example, a Manhattan-based web shop selling wine may want to capture traffic for these keywords:
– Red wine
– White wine
– French wines
– Spanish wines
– Sparkling wines
– Wine with cheese
– Wine for salmon
– Wine tasting glasses
– Wine tasting equipment
– Wine cooler
– Manhattan wine tasting
– Manhattan wine training
To successfully get organic traffic from search engines, people will have to find you in the search results pages of Google or other search engines. Ideally, your pages should be in the top three positions on the first page. If you are not in any of the first two or three pages, almost no one will find you.
This makes it rather hopeless if you are in a common industry. Trying to rank well for general terms like “red wine” may be hard, for example. The trick here is to use longer-tailed keywords instead. By targeting more specific keyword combinations, you have a higher chance of a better ranking.
For example, a short-tailed keyword may be “Facebook Page Likes”. You may not get your pages to rank at the top of search engine result pages for this. But a long-tailed version may well work, like “How To Boost Your Facebook Page Likes” or “Facebook Marketing Tips to Get More Page Likes”.
Many tools exist to do search keyword research. They can usually provide auto-generated suggestions for new search phrase combinations based on your initial keywords. Additionally, they can provide statistical data on how popular various search keywords are (what traffic volumes they have) and their competition (how difficult it is to rank well for them).
Search for “search keyword analysis tool” to find a list of tools to choose from, or try the Google Ads keyword planner tool (it is free but requires registration—find it under the “Tools” menu).
For more keyword ideas, you may want to try Ubersuggest. This generates a list of related keywords based on your initial keyword.
The Moz Keyword Difficulty and SERP Analysis Tool can help you analyze how tough the competition is for your desired keywords.
Display advertisement (sometimes referred to as banner ads) is the name of an ad that promotes your offering on another website. Usually, an ad is a paid graphical advertisement, and by clicking on it, a user is transferred to your website or one of your landing pages. You usually pay per click (PPC), but ads can also be paid per ad impression, or using a flat fee per week or month.
You can pay for an ad on the website of a magazine or some other well-known portal relevant to your business. If you don’t know any specific website you want to advertise on, you can use an advertisement network. Advertisement networks act as brokers between website owners selling advertisement space and advertisement buyers who want to place an ad on relevant Internet sites.
There are many display advertisement networks that offer to display your ads on various websites, and the Google Ads Display Network (GDN) can be a good starting point if you are interested in this. The sheer number of websites participating in their network makes it easier to find sites with the right profile.
Designing a display advertisement or banner ad is much like designing an advertisement for print media, but it may contain animations (in GIF or PNG format). They usually contain a call-to-action text that entices the viewer to click on it, thus driving traffic to your website or landing page. Advertisements can also be in video format.
In addition to paid ads using display advertisement networks, you can also ask other website owners for free advertisements in return for something else they may want. For example, propose having their adverts displayed on your website for free in return.
Retargeting and remarketing
Retargeting (sometimes also called remarketing) is a relatively new concept, where your advertisements can chase your previous website visitors around the Internet when they visit completely unrelated websites. In other words, visitors to your website continue to see your ads on other websites after they have left your site.
In effect, retargeting provides Internet advertisements based on previous browsing history across different websites. Retargeting is implemented using a tracking cookie, enabling an advertisement broker to know if a visitor to some other website has previously visited yours. If so, your advertisement will be displayed on the other unrelated website.
Google, for example, offers retargeting advertisement services, but they call it remarketing. Using static remarketing, your ad can be shown to people who previously visited your site, and have moved on to other ones. Given the size of the Google advertisement network, this is likely to happen rather often.
With dynamic remarketing, different advertisement designs (for example promoting different product models) can be shown depending on what pages a visitor has viewed on your website. If a certain visitor viewed your laptop section, for example, they will see your laptop ads when they visit other websites. If the visitor on the other hand viewed your printer section, they will see your printer ads on other websites.
Using retargeting your ads will follow previous website visitors around the Internet, thus reminding them of their previous visit to your website and your offerings. But be a bit careful, some may feel retargeting haunts them if done too aggressively.
What happens if the visitor purchases your product? In this case, you don’t want to continue paying for retargeting advertisements. You also don’t want to upset the new customer by haunting him or her with continued retargeting advertisements that chase them around the Internet.
This post explained what search engines are and how they work, along with strategies for getting more organic traffic using search engine optimization (SEO).
Search engine marketing, search keyword analysis, and display advertisement was outlined too, along with information on retargeting and remarketing ads that follow your website visitors around the Internet.