To answer that fundamental question, it's necessary to clear up two of the most common misconceptions about search engine marketing:
Myth No. 1: Search marketing is all about clicks and conversions here and now.
In reality, search marketing has a built-in branding aspect to it. If people are passing by a billboard with your name on it, they're bound to see it. The same is true for search engine results pages. Do not discount the importance of branding.
Also, many conversions happen one or more days after the search engine user visited the site. Use your Web analytics tool to figure out what happens to your return visitors. Do not underestimate the "bookmark" feature in Web browsers.
Last, return business is just as common online as it is in bricks-and-mortar shops. Think of each lead or sale in terms of lifetime value of a customer. It's not a one-shot deal; you're developing a relationship with your users.
Myth No. 2: Search marketing is too expensive for our business.
Out of X visitors that are coming to your site, Y% convert to leads or sales, and that costs you $Z. Define a conversion metric on your Web site to have an objective performance indicator of overall campaign success.
Also, figure out with your SEM consultant whether a conservative approximation in increase in traffic by P% and improved overall conversion rate by Y% is reasonable enough to cover capital investment plus monthly fees.
Finally, think of your search marketing campaign as an investment in your online real estate. Anticipate a learning curve and gradual improvement in performance, as there is no such thing as immediate success.
Greg Laptevsky is a search engine marketing specialist at Internet marketing company Prime Visibility (www.primevisibility.com).