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SEO v. SEA: The Search Engine Marketing Dichotomy
  SEO v. SEA  |  SMART Campaigns  |  Search Analytics  

The term “search engine marketing” encompasses two very different activities—search engine optimization and search engine advertising. Search engine optimization consists of tweaking your Web site to improve its natural ranking in search engines. Search engine advertising entails paying a search engine to drive traffic to your site.

You're Busy. We Can Help.Search Engine Optimization: A Black Art of Sorts
Once upon a time, search engine optimization involved placing hundreds of keywords in a “meta tag,” an invisible line of code in a Web page designed to help search engines categorize content. As search engines grew in importance, meta tags proved too much of a temptation. Ultimately, their overuse and misuse made them useless. These days, few, if any, search engines pay attention to meta tags.

Search engine optimization has become increasingly difficult because most search engines now use complex algorithms that they consider trade secrets to rank sites. Some search engines even penalize sites that use certain “tricks,” such as doorway pages. The upshot of this complexity is that search engine optimization has become something of a black art that delivers less than what it promises.

For example, even if you manage to optimize your site for Google with regard to certain keywords, chances are other equally important keywords won’t provide an equivalent result. Additionally, what works for Google may not work for other search engines. What’s more, Google itself may adjust its rules, placing you back at square one. Finally, when you write Web site copy for search engines rather than people, your conversion rate may decline even as your traffic increases.

Ironically, despite the popularity of search engine optimization among small businesses, it tends to favor large companies for a number of reasons. For one thing, large companies tend to have many other sites pointing at them, a factor that Google and other search engines emphasize when ranking sites. Still, despite such advantages, many large companies have embraced search engine advertising rather than rely solely on search engine optimization.

Notwithstanding its pitfalls, search engine optimization is important, and you should pursue it if you have the time it takes to stay on top of the latest “legal” techniques. In fact, we ourselves help clients with search engine optimization, though we do it within the context of Web design, which is where we feel it belongs. However, search engine optimization is a complement to rather than a substitute for search engine advertising.

Search Engine Advertising: The Control You’ve Come to Expect
Search engine advertising comes in two varieties—paid inclusion and paid placement. Both of these opportunities provide you with more control than search engine optimization, but not to the same degree. Paid placement overshadows paid inclusion because of its massive scale and flexibility.

Paid inclusion involves paying a search engine to include your site in its directory and search results. Many people in the online marketing industry consider paid inclusion deceptive. But, it looks like it’s here to stay, and that alone makes it important. For the major search engines at least, such as AlltheWeb, Inktomi, LookSmart, and Yahoo, it’s a “must do” whether you like it or not.

Paid placement involves bidding on keywords and key phrases, and creating ads (labeled as such) that appear when people search for those terms. Your ads may also appear on affiliated Web sites that feature content related to your keywords. You pay each time someone clicks on one of your ads. To prevent going into financial ruin overnight, you can place limits on your campaign. Once you hit those limits, your ads stop running. FindWhat, Google, and Overture dominate paid placement, but a growing number of smaller players also exist.

Because of the cost, if you're going to pursue paid placement, you need to do it right. The first step lies in choosing the keywords, writing the ads, and creating one or more landing pages to convert the traffic from your campaign into leads, sales, and referrals. The next step involves figuring out what works best—easier said than done given the hundreds or even thousands of possible combinations of keywords and corresponding advertisements, not to mention the copy and design of your landing pages.

Once you officially launch your campaign, you must monitor it daily to tweak your ads and make sure you're not paying too much or too little per click. Bids constantly fluctuate just like the stock market. If you bid too low, your competitors will usurp your position, but if you bid too high, you’ll needlessly overspend.

Over the long term, you need to keep an eye on your lead conversion rate and sales conversion rate, and eventually perform a lifetime value analysis on the customers you gain to make sure that you're generating a worthwhile return on your investment.

You're Busy. We Can Help.
Of all the forms of online marketing, search engine advertising is the most labor intensive. Like other agencies, we use software to automate much of the process, which gives our clients a competitive advantage over do-it-yourselfers. However, our use of SMART to create campaigns and experimental design to optimize them is unrivaled, providing our clients with even more of an edge.

Contact us today to discuss your next search engine marketing campaign
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