Monday, December 22, 2008

How to Increase Your Search Efficiency

Everyone feels the need to stretch every extra penny in these tough economic times. Even the most profitable company isn't immune to cutbacks and budget tightening.

Search marketing tends to be very cost effective, and can exhibit high ROI (define) as it is, but you still can't rest on your laurels. With less budget for traditional media and more going into online media, marketers are realizing that even though online is the "measurable" and "cheap" sister, it must be optimized to maximize results.

That means revisiting your search strategies to make sure you're fully exploiting every dollar you invest.

Let's review some quick tips for optimizing your search efforts (both paid and organic) to stretch your dollar further:

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Ensure you have an appropriate measurement and reporting framework in place so you can clearly see what is and isn't working. Your Web site analytics should show you which search engines are driving traffic, leads, sales, etc., and exactly which ads and keywords are performing.

Schedule regular internal analytics reviews or request reports from your search vendor so you can isolate areas of opportunity and items that aren't performing. Reallocate your dollars where the investment is paying off, but base your decisions on accurate, factual data.

Check Your List, and Check It Twice

Consider revisiting your keyword list to determine "must haves" and what keywords are unrealistic to keep. While a term like "online gaming" may be relevant to your business, it will cost you a lot of time and effort to get a top ranking.

With paid search, you'll pay an astronomical amount per click. If you're doing SEO (define), the odds of your business rising to the top of the rankings are slim, if not impossible. Seek out niche, long-tail (define) terms (three or more words) that have a higher probability of getting your business to appear higher in the results.

Go Free or Go Home

Don't buy directory listings or links on third-party sites. Instead, develop interesting content or tools to offer on your site that people will want to link to naturally.

Also, consider distributing limited content on a third-party Web site to procure a multitude of inbound links. Try building links the old-fashioned way -- prowl the Internet for potential partners, provide a strong rationale, and ask very nicely if they'll link to you.

Relevance is Bliss

In paid search, most search engines don't just base your position (or ranking) on your maximum bid -- they also take your quality score into account. Your quality score gets assigned to you at a keyword level and is based on how relevant a user experience you create (how well your ad copy matches the query, whether the landing page reflects the query, etc.). The more relevant the experience, the less you pay for a click.

You might want to revisit your paid search strategy to ensure your quality scores are top notch and you're paying the minimum possible for each keyword.

Stop The Love Affair With Google

While Google has the highest market share, it also likely has the most advertisers vying for high placement. More competition usually means higher cost.

While you might still want to have some presence on Google, test out other engines to see if you can extract improved efficiencies. Consider looking into smaller or niche engines -- and I'm not just talking Yahoo or MSN.

Does your industry have specialty engines that your audience might use? For example, in the healthcare industry, is a health information engine.

Do you offer audio or video content on your site? You might try BlinkX, a TV search engine.

Do you have a corporate blog? How does your site fair in Technorati?

You get the picture.

First-Timers, Just Say No to DIY

You've seen those TV shows on home renovation disasters, right? That's exactly why you should call a professional to do a job that isn't your area of expertise. You'll only end up paying more to correct your mistakes.

Consider enlisting a search marketing expert. Even though a search professional will cost you more upfront, the long-term reward will actually more than likely save you money, reaping a higher ROI than trying to do it in-house.

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