An introduction to the 3 different types of search marketing

search marketingWhat’s not to love about search engine marketing?

As a direct response marketer, I spend a lot of time worrying about my target audience – trying to find the right list or the right media for my outreach campaigns.  It’s an uphill battle because no matter how well I do my job, I know that my audience will be largely indifferent to my message.

Compare that with search engine marketing (aka “search”) where everyone you reach is actually looking for you – or companies like yours.

Think about it:  one audience group is indifferent to you, the other is searching for you.

For that reason alone, search is a good idea.  It may not be the focus of your marketing program, but it should be in the mix.

But what do we mean by search?

“Search” is a broad term covering a variety of search marketing activities,  Too often, people using the term are not referring to the broad definition, but just one of those activities.

This has become a major point of confusion in my view.

There are in fact three different types of search marketing, and while they all have a search component, each comes with a different set of goals, strategies, tasks and expectations.

Let’s take a closer look at these three types of search – organic search, paid search and local search.

Organic Search

This is the centerpiece of search marketing.

When people refer to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), this is what they are talking about.

Organic search, also known as natural search or free search, is the best known form of search but the one in which you have the least control.

Organic search results are those listings that appear in the wide left column of a search page – the results that most people recognize as being the most trusted results.

The reason is simple.  The listings that appear within this section are there on merit.  Google (or your favorite search engine) has made the determination that those listings do the best job of answering the question being asked in the search inquiry.

When you get to the top of an organic search listing, you’ve reached the Holy Grail.

How do you get to the top of your category?

Countless articles have been written on the best ways to achieve high rankings.  Most of them are correct to some extent.

You may be familiar the usual SEO suggestions – compelling content, keyword selection, web page optimization, inbound links and social sharing.  Yes, they are all important in varying degrees.

But at the core of all this is the content – and by that, I don’t mean slick, professionally created, highly entertaining and engaging content that could go viral.  That would be great, but no, the goal for content is much simpler than that.

My approach when creating content is to provide answers to the questions your target audience is asking. Remember, when your prospects are doing a search, they are actually asking a question.

(In my business, I get questions like:  Where do I find a good mailing list?  What is a good response rate?  Which direct mail format works better – a letter or a postcard?)

Make a list of questions that your prospects and customers are asking.  Then write complete and thoughtful answers to each question and give it its own web page.

When you have a single web page dedicated to a single question and answer, you improve your chances of getting ranked high with the search engines.

This is an approach I learned from Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion.  Marcus, who is now a content marketing consultant, used this approach to generate leads for his pool business.  He and his colleagues wrote dozens and dozens of articles dealing with common questions people had about pools.  You can see what I mean on his pool website, River Pools.

Remember, with organic search, each listing that appears on the search engines represents an individual web page – not your website as a whole.   So if you have 50 pages on your website, you have 50 opportunities to get listed.

Paid Search

Paid search refers to the Google Adwords program.  Bing and Yahoo have similar programs, but much less traffic than Google.

Paid search gives you much more control over your search placement and will allow you to see results more quickly.

With Adwords, your ad appears on the column down the right side of a search engine page.  Very often, ads also appear at the very top of the page of the left hand column.  These are also known as Sponsored Ads.

Your position in this section is based largely on your willingness to pay.

What’s most appealing with Adwords is that you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad – pay per click (PPC).

And you only pay what you’re willing to pay.  But in order to get to the top or at least the first page, you need to outbid all of the other companies that want to advertise there.  (Placement is not entirely based on price.  Google rewards you for ad quality and an informative landing page as well, but it’s mostly price.)

Pricing varies widely from 5 cents to $50 per click depending on the competitiveness of your market.

Word of warning:  don’t mistake a click for a lead  Someone can click on your ad, visit your landing page or website and leave without ever leaving their contact information.  You still get charged for the click, but you don’t have a lead.

This happens a lot more than you might think.  Expect a conversion rate (from click to lead) to range from 5-30%. Keep in mind too that only a percentage of your leads will become customers.  So get your calculator out to figure out what your customer acquisition will really cost.

Even with a low click cost, your cost to acquire a new customer can add up pretty quickly.

Many companies and professionals specialize in paid search.  I get a lot of good advice from WordStream and PPC Hero. 

But you can also do it yourself.  Just open a free account with Google.

Local Search

As the name suggests, Local Search is about getting found by searchers in your local area.

You may have noticed that when you search for a local business on Google (for something like a plumber, dentist or restaurant), you will get a dedicated list of local businesses matching your search. Sometimes, these businesses also appear on a map.

Local Search isn’t just for local businesses or for B2C companies  If you sell to other businesses in a broad region, Local Search can work for you too – although the competition gets tougher as you move away from your address.

Local Search is similar to Organic Search because the listings are free and you can’t control what Google decides to put up for a search.

But you can influence that decision by taking some important steps.

Step 1 – Claim your business on Google My Business.  Do the same on Bing and Yahoo.  These search engines require that you submit information to them to be included.  (With Organic Search, you don’t have to submit anything.  The search engines will find you.)

Step 2 – Make sure your Company Name, Address and Phone Number (NAB) are exactly the same for all of your submissions. When you have inconsistencies with this basic information, you create confusion for the search engines.

Step 3 – Claim your business on as many online directories as you can. There are hundreds of them.  You’ve probably noticed that many of the listings that appear in an organic search are actually directories of businesses by various categories.  Type in your business name and you’ll find, in addition to your own website, dozens of companies like Manta, Yellow Pages.com, and SuperPages that will show your listings as well.  While appearing in these directories may not seem that important to your business exposure, keep in mind the search engines use these directories as a confirmation of your existence.

Step 4 – Encourage customers to leave online reviews.  For local retail businesses and service companies, reviews are a big deal.  Prospective customers use them as a preliminary sorting process.  And Google uses them to gauge popularity so the more positive reviews you have, the more likely you will come in a search.

Reviews may not seem that important to B2B companies.  But even in B2B searches, a company with even one Google review can stand apart from all the other companies that have no reviews.

It’s important to keep in mind that Local Search is more about ranking your entire website, while Organic Search is about ranking individual pages.

Once again, there is an entire sub-industry focused on Local Search.  I like to follow David Mihm and Phil Rosek.

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About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

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