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All About IT

The Growing Popularity of Search Engine Marketing

By David Hoegerman

Every spring, I make my annual pilgrimage to the East Coast Search Engine Strategies conference held by Jupiter Media, and as always, I am in awe at the growth of search engine strategies as an industry. Most of the participants are programmers and Web developers. These conferences are filled with information about how to tweak websites until they rank well in the free listings of search engines. During the 2004 conference there was a major paradigm shift; as “pay per click” marketing with Google AdWords and Overture gained in popularity, and search engine marketing became mainstream. The conference moved to New York and doubled in size and length. From that point forward, programmers and developers were greatly outnumbered by traditional marketers.

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Here in Virginia, I’ve noticed numerous changes as well. When I first started working with search engine optimization in 2002, almost all of those participating in the program were businesses wanting to ensure their products and services were at the top of search engine result pages. These clients tended to be more aggressive then most, and were always looking for the latest way to gain an advantage over their competition. Now, almost half of those participating in our program are either nonprofits or local governments. Charities are making sure their stories are told and local governments are wanting to attract new businesses to their localities.

One of the major changes that have been taking place, and that will have a large impact in the near future, is search convergence. Basically, this is the convergence of search with our everyday lives. Currently, you can go onto Google, Yahoo, or Verizon’s SuperPages.com and search for local businesses. For instance, if I go to www.google.com/local and search for “Newport News Government,” the results are pulled from a variety of sources, not just the Web, and locations are displayed on a map. As most cell phones have GPS positioning, soon you will be able to perform a similar search from anywhere. As the phone already knows your location, a search for “Government” would show several nearby choices with a map.

We are also seeing Internet style search engines jump from the Internet onto our desktop computers. Last year, Google and MSN both launched desktop search tools. Using these tools, you could search from your computer for “beach sunset photos” to quickly pull up that vacation picture you took last year. From the same tool, you could then search the Net and compare your work to the work of others. It is very likely that we will see Internet style searches jump to cable and satellite boxes as well as DVRs.

As pay per click (PPC) marketing has been around for more than four years, there have been numerous changes taking place in the industry (for those of you who don’t know, PPC ads are the “sponsored listings” you see above and to the right of “free” search engine results). The PPC industry now includes many new tools to help track success and fraud for these marketing campaigns.

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The key to success in any PPC campaign has always been good metrics. Site owners need to know that for every dollar invested; at least a dollar in profit is created. Having a good reporting system in place allows the campaign manager to identify ads that aren’t producing a return on investment high enough to justify the expenditure. Once poorly performing ads are identified, they can either be modified and retested, or dropped. Analysis tools like Urchin, Web Trends, Net Tracker, and Index Tools are available to assist business owners in taking the guesswork out of campaign management.

As PPC has become more and more popular, so has related fraud. Fraudulent clicks can be generated by competitors trying to jack up your costs by clicking your ads. Fraudulent clicks can also come from site owners who display syndicated ads on their site, and click the ads to generate revenue. These clicks can come from human visitors, or advanced “click bots” (programs specifically designed to replicate human behavior and “click” ads). This year, I counted four vendors in the expo halls that offered some sort of fraud protection software or services.

If your locality has not explored some of the search engine marketing opportunities available through the net, it is still not too late to start. The PPC option offers the opportunity to significantly increase your market presence by introducing your product to new customers while adding to your bottom line.

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