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An Introduction to Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing chiefly falls into three categories:

  • Pay Per Click or Sponsored Keyword Advertising
  • Organic Search Engine Optimisation
  • Shopping Comparison Sites

Pay-Per-Click or Sponsored Keyword Advertising

If you search for something in Google, for example, you will typically see a column on the right-hand side headed "Sponsored Links".

These sites appear because they have agreed to pay for the privilege of being listed. How high up the list they are shown is a combination of two factors - how much they have agreed to pay and how often they get clicked on. In other words, you cannot simply buy yourself to the top of the list.

The cost (currently, although this may change) is based on a "pay per click" model; every time a visitor sees your sponsored link on the search results and clicks on it, you incur a charge, regardless of whether they then go on to spend £1000 in an order with you or take one look at your landing page and decide it's not for them and go elsewhere.

The cost will largely depend on how popular the keyword combination in question is - in other words, it works very much like an auction and if lots of companies are bidding high values to get listed then you will have to as well. Generally, the more obscure the keyword or keyword combination, the less competition and the cheaper it gets.

With Sponsored Keyword Advertising, you do not have to worry about the cost running away out of control; you agree a maximum budget and, when that budget starts expiring, the Search Engine simply stops showing your ad as frequently. You are able to say, for example, that you are willing to pay 50p per click-through but no more than £50 per month.

There are two important skills in running a successful Sponsored Link campaign; choosing the right words and writing the right message to appear underneath it.

In a recent test, we found that to sponsor the keyword "camera" would cost approximately £5 whereas to sponsor "canon eos 5d digital camera" would cost less than 50p.

The former would mean your ad would appear if someone searched for "speed cameras in kent" or "box brownie camera" whereas the latter would not.

Thus not only do you incur a lower cost per click but you also reduce the number of times your ad appears when it is not relevant, reducing wasted click-throughs.

Under your ad you have the opportunity to right a one-sentenance introduction to your site. The purpose of this is two-fold; firstly you need to entice people looking for what you have on offer to visit your site but, just as importantly, you need to discourage people who are looking for something else entirely from visiting your site.

The objective with Pay-Per-Click advertising should not just be to drive traffic to your site but to drive relevant traffic to your site, otherwise the cost per order will spiral out of control.

For example, if you are paying 50p per click and you find one in a hundred people place an order then you are looking at £50 added to the bottom line cost of sales on each order. If you discourage half of the visitors from coming to your site without discouraging the ones that will buy then you will end up with one in fifty ordering; that reduces your cost per order to £25.

Organic Search Engine Optimisation

The results that appear on the left (with the exception of the top two which are sponsored links) on a search engine's results page, such as Google, are there because the Search Engine has arbitarily decided that of all the pages on all the sites on the Internet that it has indexed, those are the most relevant.

The way in which the Search Engine determines that is a closely held secret, since the Search Engine Companies do not want third parties manipulating the results. The Internet is full of forums where the exact methods currently used (because they do change) are debated and speculated on.

This means that there are no hard and fast rules on how to get to the top of the list. It also means that, despite what some claim, no one can guarantee getting you to number one!

There are some good basic rules for designing pages and sites that make it easier for the Search Engines to understand what your pages are all about, and you should follow these rules (or make sure that your eCommerce provider has a solution which follows these rules).

Beyond that, you will find that an excessive amount of time is required to optimise specific pages for specific keywords. This may well be worthwhile in the long run but be aware that this is a slow process, taking many months.

You also need to be absolutely certain that the keywords that you are optimising your pages for are actually the keywords that people are searching on! It is no use optimising your web page for "power driver" if everyone is typing "power screwdriver" into their Search Engines.

Running with a Sponsored Keyword Campaign in the short term can be an ideal way of determining exactly which keywords are being searched on by analysing the relevant number of clicks. In the example above, you could sponsor both "power driver" and "power screwdriver" and, over a month or two, identify how many click-throughs you have seen and, just as importantly, how many orders have resulted from the two different campaigns. You are in a position to optimise your pages for the right keywords.

Finally, remember the basic purpose of your web site is to be visited by humans! It is very easy to optimise the site for the Search Engines and forget the basic rules of Web Usability. There is little point driving lots more visitors to your site if, when they get there, they give up without ordering. For more information on Usability, read the Introduction to Web Usability whitepaper.

Shopping Comparison Sites

There is an extensive number of Comparison Sites, of which Kelkoo, PriceRunner and Google Products (previously known as Froogle) are perhaps the best known.

With the exception of Google Products, all currently operate on a Pay-Per-Click basis - in other words, you pay each time someone clicks on your entry from all of the suppliers listed.

As with Sponsored Keyword advertising, the secret to success is to make sure that only those visitors that are likely to buy follow your link.

Furthermore, because there is little opportunity to expand on your offering, there is little to differentiate potential suppliers apart from price and brand awareness. Shoppers will select the supplier who seems to offer the best deal or a supplier that is already trusted.

For this reason, unless you are already a well-known brand then Shopping Comparison Sites are possibly not a good avenue if your proposition is based on anything other than best price - for example, if you are market position is one of being a specialist with extensive expertise and backup whilst not necessarily being the cheapest, you are unlikely to see much success through a Shopping Comparison Site.

If you know that your pricing is particularly keen on one small sub-section of the products you offer, consider providing just that sub-section of products to the Shopping Comparison Site.

It is also essential that the pricing shown on the Shopping Comparison Site is up to date - if a shopper clicks on your product listing because you are advertising a product at £9.99 but when they get to your site it is actually listed at £10.99 then they will be irritated and immediately switch to one of the other suppliers - but you will still have been charged for the click-through.

If you are going to use Shopping Comparison Sites it is therefore vital that you look for an eCommerce solution that can provide regular updates to your chosen sites as regularly as your pricing changes - this is typically done overnight, every night.


Use Sponsored Keyword Advertising to get immediate results and to identify the keywords that people are actually searching on in the real world. Use this information to build your organic Search Engine Optimisation but only view this as a medium to long term goal. Use Shopping Comparison Sites only if you are able to offer keen pricing and only then if you are able to the data supplied up-to-date.

Monitor the effectiveness of all of these compaigns and look at the net result - the number of orders that result from each of these sources and adjust and refnine your campaigns accordingly. For example, if you find that from one particular Shopping Comparison Site, you are only getting one order for every fifty click-throughs, but from Sponsored Keyword Advetising you are achieving one order for every twenty click-throughs then consider switching that advertising budget to sponsoring additional keywords.

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