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Being aware of business and consumer search practices that overlap

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Ted Rooke is director-search engine marketing with Nurun (www.nurun.com). Hands On: Search recently asked Rooke about trends and best practices in business-targeted search.

HOS: What key paid search challenges are marketers facing today?

Rooke: There's no question that the efforts around search engine marketing (SEM) have grown since its inception. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to hear hyperbolic marketing managers hail the discipline as “the most efficient advertising channel yet created.” While it is true that SEM provides marketers a unique ability to reach users when they are actively seeking information relevant to a marketer's products, it is also true that SEM can be particularly challenging in the b-to-b landscape, since b-to-b prospects often behave differently than their consumer-oriented counterparts.

Understanding the nuanced behaviors of the business-oriented user, as well as some best practices in SEM, can help marketers tap the search landscape and deliver more, higher qualified visitors to their sites.

HOS: Talk a bit more about the dynamic between business and consumer search practices.

Rooke: Business searchers are also consumers. They're so alike, in fact, that often their search behavior overlaps. For example, a traveling executive looking for “brown leather shoes in Atlanta” may use Google Maps to find a store near his hotel one evening, then the next day research “HR consultants in Dallas” as his needs shift back to the office. His search behavior is replicated regardless of the context of need.

Also, keyword usage can easily cross from the consumer landscape into the business landscape. “Gardening contractors,” “tax attorneys” and “get gas service” are just three examples of terms which can cross boundaries. B-to-b marketers may need to share keywords with their consumer-based brethren to maximize awareness.

HOS: What are some tips for doing this effectively?

Rooke: Know your business, and more importantly know where users might look to find you. While this is a simple suggestion, you'd be surprised to learn how many marketers—both b-to-b and b-to-c—overlook this key SEM best practice. In addition to Google and Yahoo Search, other strong players in the targeted niche of b-to-b search include Google Maps, Yahoo Local, YP.com and Business.com.

Further, many industries now offer “vertical search” specific to their niche. While these resources are more often directories versus true search engines, ensuring your business is listed and up to date in all relevant vertical-search environments is critical to SEM success.

HOS: What advice do you have about keyword choices?

Rooke: Maximize your brand terms. Brand terms—any term with your company name, products or sub-brands that can be placed in a search query—provide the strongest performance of all related terms because the user is already familiar with you and your products. Maximizing your brand terms means that you take full advantage of all the tools at your disposal to ensure you control as many of the listings found for your products.

Known as reputation management, this tactic can also push unwanted listings off your brand-term results pages, and increase the likelihood of generating a visitor. Unwanted listings include competitor Web sites and negative news articles or reviews. Also, by engaging in such off-site tactics as submitting optimized press releases to online PR sites, creating social media accounts, and creating a Wikipedia page can create other opportunities for these article pages to push the competition off the page.

HOS: What are your views about the best use of social media in a search context?

Rooke: Social media offers many opportunities to generate awareness of brand through word-of-mouth marketing. Leading social networks such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook all offer companies the opportunity to reach out to followers or fans and communicate directly to them, creating ever more one-to-one marketing opportunities.

But in addition, these channels also have a positive impact in how a company is perceived in the search landscape. All three major engines—Google, Yahoo and Microsoft Bing—are providing real-time search in their query results by including Twitter feeds. By creating and engaging with your social media accounts, you can generate valuable links back to your site. Generating inbound links is one of the key tenets to successful search engine visibility, and social media management allows for both links and out-bound communication. It's a win-win situation.

Business-targeted search can certainly be a tough nut to crack. But the strength of search lies in its ability to start small, learn and expand. Then, watch to see what works and what doesn't so you can adapt and grow.

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