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The company consulted search engine optimization provider Intrapromote about its lackluster search engine results. Intrapromote uncovered the problem: Search engines couldn’t index the site because its linking structure relied on JavaScript. The company altered its pages—including HTML links instead of Java navigation—and within a month the site had close to 3 million natural search engine hits.

This happens more than you’d think, according to experts. The problem is even more pronounced when you look at paid search engine placement. Everyone may be doing it—search advertising spending rose 123% between 2002 and 2003, topping $2 billion, according to research firm eMarketer—but not everyone is doing it well.

"Even though Google, for example, designed its AdWords paid search program so that even small companies can set up a campaign, not all companies on their own are savvy enough to bid on the keywords that will bring them the most traffic, let alone create a viable paid search budget that won’t evaporate after a few days," said David Hallerman, senior analyst at eMarketer.

There are some tactics marketers can use to boost their odds. Here are 10 simple strategies and fixes that can help your site get maximum search engine placement for minimum output.

1) Make sure text on the landing page features the keyword. Picture this: A potential client searches for widgets. You’ve purchased the No. 1 slot on Google, and the user clicks on your ad. Once he or she gets to your Web site or landing page, the word "widget" isn’t anywhere on the page or in the title. The customer, thinking he or she has stumbled onto the wrong site, leaves.

This scenario isn’t so far fetched, said Jeff Ramminger, KnowledgeStorm’s exec VP of products, technology and marketing. "Make sure that customer sees that keyword as soon as they land on your page," he said. "You only have a moment before the person clicks back to the rest of the results."

2) Create a unique landing page. Even if users arrive on your site and see the keyword they searched for, they won’t stay long if it’s too hard to find detailed information. Searchers—especially potential b-to-b customers—want instant gratification.

You’ll have better luck and conversion rates if you create a unique landing page for each specific keyword or search term, said Todd Daum, VP-marketing for search services company Overture.

"Every additional page you send a customer through to, there’s a chance you’ll lose them. Send them to a page that reflects what they are focused on," Daum said. Also, give them something of value, such as a white paper, a specific contact name or a free trial.

3) Be specific. This tip applies to both natural and paid search. Research shows that searchers are becoming more sophisticated, using search phrases instead of one or two keywords. For example, someone looking for a new energy efficient air conditioner will type, "energy efficient commercial air conditioner" rather than "air conditioner," said Sara Holoubek, icrossing’s chief strategy officer.

"Search is reverse direct marketing," she said. "You need to find the words that real customers are using to find your site."

Not sure which words or phrases to use? Try a search term suggestion tool. Most search engine optimization companies offer such tools, as do search engines. Paid tools include Wordtracker and BuildTraffic.

4) Watch for bid gaps. It’s not always important to be the No. 1—or even No. 2—paid ad on a search engine results page. As long as your ad sits above the page-break, potential customers will see it, said Melissa Burgess, director of business development with search engine marketing firm Impaqt.

That said, check out the cost span between the companies that sit at the second and third or third and fourth positions. Then, place your bid right in the middle.

A word of caution, though: This strategy will only work on a short-term basis. Unless you have the time to sit and watch your listing or don’t mind getting into a bidding war, your competitor may eventually reclaim what you’ve stolen away.

5) Watch the competition. If you hope to lure customers away from your competitor, you’ll need to use the same keywords and phrases they do. "They might be going after phrases that apply to your company but you haven’t thought of yet," said KnowledgeStorm’s Ramminger.

6) Watch your auctions. Overture’s Daum suggested separating your search terms into categories—for example, by what they cost or by specific types of products—and watching the ones that mean the most to you.

Impaqt’s Burgess agreed. "If you’re launching a new product or pushing a marketing campaign, you’ll want to plan on spending a lot of time watching auctions that relate to what you’re doing," she said.

7) Create a site map, and make sure all of your pages are linked. "Any single Web page that you have that doesn’t have a link into it is going to be completely ignored by Google," said John Lustina, chairman and co-founder of Intrapromote. "The site map clears up that issue. If you have a site map, the Google spider will find each and every one of your pages and index [them]."

8) Don’t rely on Flash, Java and images. When a search engine spider crawls your site, it’s documenting all the text-based content on your site. Unfortunately, if your site is filled with fancy Web navigation tools—roll-overs, pop-ups and transparent GIFs—the only thing the spiders see is blank pages, Lustina said. It’s OK to make your site look good, but don’t give up on using plain old HTML code, too, he added.

"From a usability standpoint, JavaScript pop-ups do look neat, but they are invisible to the search engines. In fact, Overture and Google AdWords disallow pop-ups," Lustina said.

9) Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. More searches go through Google’s engine than any other, according to a recent eMarketer report—although that may change now that Yahoo! stopped using the Google engine—but that doesn’t mean that you should only use one search engine. Make lots of small buys on various engines and see which ones bring the best results.

10) Test, test and test again. You can buy the top positions on every search engine and follow every expert tip and trick, but if you’re not making sure what you’re doing is working, you’re not taking advantage of the medium. According to a 2003 eMarketer report, three out of 10 marketers never assess their search engine campaigns, and 40% of those that do are just going by click-through numbers.

Said icrossing’s Holoubek: "You can change a paid search campaign whenever you want. Experiment until you find what works for you."

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