If executed properly, search engine marketing is a highly efficient form of direct marketing. But as with any form of marketing, an understanding of the relevant technology is crucial to derive the greatest value from the medium.
In developing an overarching search strategy, the most important guiding principle is relevance. Search engine optimization (SEO) rankings are driven by relevance. It is also a good general guideline for all marketing and advertising: If you are going to attract people to your product or service, you need to do so in a way that is relevant to their needs.
In the world of search, relevance is calculated using hundreds of parameters, most of which are known only to the search engines themselves. Your company will show up in the search engine query results only if it is deemed relevant to the queried terms.
It's worth pointing out one of the more important recent developments in the industry. In February, Google introduced Panda, an algorithm update designed to clear out poor quality sites and improve the quality of search results. Since many websites try to “game” search engines by reproducing content from other websites, Panda uses algorithms that compare content across sites. Panda also looks at the names of content authors, when provided, to assess the relative value of those names and the uniqueness of the content.
For sites to achieve a top SEO ranking under the new algorithms, websites must have content that is unique, engaging, valuable and, most important, original. Although Google will not disclose how these values are determined, it is safe to assume that Panda determines uniqueness and originality of content by looking for language and sentence patterns, duplicative phrases and sentences from other websites, and similar methods of identifying content that is either copied or overly similar to content on other websites.
In this manner, sites that have original content available nowhere else will be rewarded with higher SEO rankings, whereas sites that copy or republish content from other sites will find themselves with considerably lower SEO results.
In addition to original content, social media can be used to enhance a company's search listing. Since search engines like Google use social media activity as a factor in influencing search results, the effective use of social media sites, such as Facebook, is an excellent way of “killing two birds with one stone.” That is, a company can both promote itself and see its search listing improve.
LegalZoom, for example, has developed an ongoing weekly Facebook chat with a well-known attorney who answers general legal questions. This has proven effective not only as a customer service and retention vehicle but also as part of a larger SEO strategy, since search engines use Facebook traffic as one factor in calculating organic search importance.
Organic search provides an extensive toolkit which allows for highly targeted direct marketing b-to-b campaigns. But this toolkit is only effective and efficient if used wisely. You should use relevance as a guiding principle, utilizing all the tools and resources offered by Google and Microsoft.
Alexander Staikos is head of online marketing for Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. (www.dandb.com), a company that helps build businesses' credit worthiness. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .