Chances are, your marketing plan includes a marketing objective about using the Internet for lead generation and a core strategy about increasing your search engine ranking. Without a marketing team, this can be overwhelming and you may not know where to start. This is the first article in a series on this topic. The articles are written to help sales and marketing professionals gain a broad understanding of how search engine marketing works, knowing they will continue to rely on experts to manage the technical aspects of their Web strategies.

To get your Website listed toward the top of the search engine results, the search engines will have to “crawl” your Website, evaluate it and then give it a high ranking. Search engines use a wide variety of algorithms to rank Websites and are constantly changing the criteria. Generally speaking, you will need a key word identification and inbound link strategy, you will need to update your content frequently, and you will want to avoid using a lot of fancy software such Flash. Equally important, you will need a high-quality Website with informative content in an easy-to-use, customer-friendly format. This article focuses on key word identification.

Sponsored vs. Organic Results

Sponsored, or “paid” campaigns are one way to have your Website appear at the top of the results pages using, for example, Google’s AdWords. There are disadvantages in doing this though. For one, you will be charged each time someone clicks on your link and in many cases, they may simply visit your Website without contacting you for further information. Plus, the advertisement will be listed as a “sponsored link” and potential customers will know that you paid for it, which means your ad will have less credibility than if your Website shows up as a standard listing, often called an “organic result.”

This is analogous to using a paid print advertisement vs. using an Advertorial or even better, getting coverage in a magazine as a result of a public relations effort, having your company’s name appear in an article written by a third party or from an existing client. The latter will obviously bring much more value in marketing your company.

The other issue is cost. If you invest time and energy building a high-ranking Website, one that appears at the top of the results organically, you will not be charged each time someone clicks on your Website link. As long as you continue to invest time and energy in maintaining your Website, it will continue to appear toward the top of the results. The investment will not be in paying-per-click, it will be in developing strategic content such as articles, White Papers, etc. All of these efforts will have the added benefit of helping you in other areas of your marketing. This will be discussed in more detail in a future article in this series.

Search Engine Optimization

The very first step is implementing Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics into your Website. This phrase is so well known at this point in time that it’s often used as a verb e.g., “I have SEO’d my Website.” So what does it mean? Search Engine Optimization defines the steps that are required to make a Website recognizable and easily found by search engine crawlers, the software that search engine companies use to find Websites, rank them and list them on search results pages. There are some basic steps that need to be implemented and this where a good Web developer will add the most value.

For example, the Web Developer will set up strategic names for each Web page, integrate titles and meta tags into the code, organize the Site Map and once the site is done, manage the search engine submission to make sure the site pages get indexed with the major search engines e.g., Google. But before all of this can take place, you will need to work closely with your Website development team to identify your key words.

Key to Success

Key Word Identification is quite literally, your key to success. People often wonder how to improve their search engine ranking but in many cases, don’t realize that they have to be very clear about what “search words” they want to target. Chances are pretty good that your business will show up if you type your company name into the search box, especially if your company name is unique and is featured in the text of your Website. This won’t help you though if people are not familiar with your business name and they will be searching by industry key word instead. If, for example, they are looking for a moving company, what will they type into the search box? “moving,” “relocation” or maybe “quote to move?” Figuring out the right key words is where you have to partner with your developer.

Prepare a list of key words that you think your prospects will type in. Then, ask your existing clients what key words they would use. You can also make a list of your online competitors and make note of those that you see showing up on the search engine results most often. Give all of this information to your Web developers so they get a general idea of who you are targeting and what sort of key words you will be targeting. From there, the developers will use web analytic software to research the best key words to market your business, and then provide you with a potential list of words. Then you’ll review the key words to make sure they match the services you provide.

Aligning your Business Strategy and Geographic Targets

While developing your Key Word Identification strategy, you’ll also want to think about your business objectives. You’ll find that some key words get searched quite a bit but they might be for a service that you either don’t provide or would rather not provide e.g., ancillary services. Although, sometimes providing ancillary services is a good way to at least get an introduction to a new client. To use the example of a moving company again, perhaps there is someone looking for packing boxes. While selling boxes may not be your cash cow, it could lead to a moving project. This is a business decision you will have to make.