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Search Engine Advertising: a Step By Step Guide

Step by Step Guide to Search Engine Advertising

Sometimes, no matter how you try, it’s just not possible to get your website listed high in the natural search results. Your competition is too fierce, you’re new in the market, you have a new product launch and you can’t wait until search engines index your new content – there are a thousand reasons why regular search engine optimization (SEO) isn’t the right thing for you. That’s not to say your website shouldn’t be optimized for search engines. Doing good SEO is never a bad thing, and will help your website in many different ways.

But when SEO isn’t enough, you can choose to invest in search engine advertising – also known as Pay Per Click (PPC). Advertising on search engines can act as a supplement to (or even replacement of) SEO, as it gives you high listings in search engines for relevant keywords. The downside is that these are sponsored results, and as such will yield significantly lower clickthrough rates than high ‘organic’ search rankings.

Nonetheless search engine advertising, as done through Google AdWords and Microsoft adCenter, can be a very efficient and cost-effective marketing channel to generate more traffic and business for your website.

In this series of articles I’ll walk you through the necessary steps to create and perfect a PPC advertising campaign. I won’t use any single search engine as an example and so my tips and advice will be generic enough that you can apply them to any search engine marketing campaign.

Search Engine Advertising – Step 1: Choosing Your Keywords

I’ll start with what is arguably the most important step of your search engine marketing campaign: selecting the right keywords to advertise on.

Picking the right keywords isn’t as easy and straightforward as it might initially seem. You probably know your own business inside and out and have a solid grasp of the lingo and terminology used in your industry. But do your customers share that lingo? As I’ve blogged about before, there are dangers to using business jargon. When your customers search for ‘barcode scanners’, advertising on ‘imaging device’ is probably not a good idea.

It’s important to do good research into the search words your potential customers are using to find your website and those of your competitors. One tool you can use for this is Google’s Keyword Suggestion tool. Just select your language and region, type in one or more keywords, and get a list of related and alternative keywords that people are using in Google’s search engine. You can sort the suggested keywords by popularity, expected traffic and competition.

Another way of using the same tool is to let it do a quick scan of your website or product page and find relevant keywords itself. Instead of using the ‘Descriptive words or phrases’ option you select the ‘Website content’ option and put in the URL of your website or product page. Google will then look at the content, determine what keywords fit the best with this, and give you a list of suggested keywords.

A possible problem here is that you may not use the right keywords on your website. (Why not?) It’s smart not to simply accept Google’s suggestions at face value, but to decide for yourself what the right words are that you want to advertise on.

Google’s tool isn’t the only one. There are many tools out there that can help you with finding the best keywords to advertise on. Each search engine has its own tool for finding the best keywords, and there are other free and paid tools around to help you get the best list of keywords for your search engine marketing campaign. Do a search for ‘keyword discovery‘ or ‘keyword suggestion‘ and you’ll come across dozens of websites and tools to help you further.

The initial list of keywords you get this way probably isn’t sufficient to start your campaign with. PPC is a popular means of advertising, and in most search engines the position of your ad is determined by, among other factors, how much money you can spend on it. With a limited budget it’s not smart to focus on big, popular keywords where all your competitors also advertise on. Because of the popularity of those words there will be plenty of competition and that means you’ll have to pay a high price to get your ad to the top of the search results.

And getting to the top is important. The lower your ad is shown, the less users are inclined to click on it. It’s important to get your ad high in the sponsored results list. This means you either need to spend a lot of money getting your ad high on search results pages for popular keywords, or you can choose to focus on more specialized, less popular search words.

These more specialized keywords are called ‘long-tail’ keywords. They’re usually a bit longer than regular keywords, consisting of two, three or even four seperate words. They’re not the words that users tend to start with when they search, but users who do use these longer keywords tend to have a pretty clear idea of what they’re looking for. That means the traffic you get from these long-tail keywords is more likely to actually buy from you. And because these long-tail keywords aren’t used as much, you’ll have to spend less money to get your ad listed high. So while you may get less traffic, you might end up with much more bang for your buck.

An example: say you have an online furniture store. You sell a lot of different furniture, but you specialize in colonial-style wooden furniture. You can choose to advertise on keywords such as ‘furniture’, ‘sofa’, ‘cabinet’, ‘chair’, and so on, but these are all big, popular search words with a lot of competing advertisers. A smarter strategy would be to focus on more specialized long-tail keywords such as ‘colonial furniture’, ‘modern antique cabinet’, ‘classic style sofa’, etc. These words are less popular, which means less traffic but also much lower cost to advertise on. And people using those search words already know approximately what they want, so if you send them to the right offer on your website you’re much more likely to turn them into customers.

The next article in this series focuses on writing good advertisements for your PPC campaign.

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