What is search marketing and is it right for your business?
In the previous article in this marketing series, I explained what content marketing is and how to get started. Closely related to content marketing is search marketing. The two are so closely related that they could be one and same.
In this article, I’ll explain what search marketing is and how it relates to your content strategy. Then you can decide for yourself if search marketing should be part of your overall marketing strategy.
What is search marketing?
Search marketing can include both organic and paid search tactics to drive web traffic and to generate leads. With search marketing, you select one or more customer-used terms and optimize content for those terms or bid on the terms via paid search.
There are two main components of search marketing:
- SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, most often refers to organic search.
- SEM, which stands for search engine marketing, most often refers to paid search.
Businesses with marketing budgets may have a strategy that combines both organic and paid search. If you don’t have the budget for paid search, you can still implement search marketing.
The organic portion of search marketing (or SEO) costs nothing, and users click on organic search results far more often than paid search ads. The rest of this article focuses on organic search.
What is organic search?
To understand organic search, it helps to understand how search engines like Bing, Yahoo!, and Google work.
Each search engine has a web crawler or spider that crawls your content and adds it to the search engine’s index. It’s the web crawler’s job to locate new content through links.
When a user searches for a term, the search engine returns a set of results that may be both paid and organic. If content is not included in a search engine’s index, then it can’t appear in search results.
To determine if your content is a match for a search term, search engines look for patterns in your content. For example, in this blog post, common patterns include the keywords “search marketing”, “organic search”, and “search.” If a user searches for a keyword that appears in this blog post, then this post may appear in search results.
How search engines rank content in results depends upon the search engine’s algorithm. Search engines are not known for sharing their algorithms. However, they share enough information to help content producers improve their rankings.
An in-depth exploration of factors that influence search ranking is beyond the scope of this article. Let’s focus instead on two critical factors that you can control: content and links.
Search engines determine what a web page is about based in part on the frequency and location of a keyword. The more often that a keyword appears and the places in which it appears influence search ranking.
There is no magic number of times that a keyword must appear in content for it to rank well. Trust your instincts. Write always for your target audience and not for a search engine.
The goal is to use a keyword often enough to make it clear to a search engine what the post is about, but not so often that it becomes tedious for your reader.
Avoid “keyword stuffing” or overusing a term. Not only does the practice turn your reader off, but search engines discourage it by penalizing a web page.
Location—or where your keyword appears on the page—is as important as frequency. If you optimize content for a keyword, make sure to include it in:
- The blog post URL
<title>tag (browser window title)
<h1>tag (page title)
- The first paragraph of the blog post
Those four areas indicate to the search engine the importance of the term to your content. However, they may not be enough to increase your search ranking.
To better your chances, include the keyword throughout your body text and in other headings and sub-headings.
While optimizing content for a keyword can lead to better search ranking, on its own, content optimization isn’t enough.
You also need to ensure that search engines can find your content through links. After all, if your content can’t be found, then your content can’t be indexed.
There are two types of links to consider:
- Internal links, which are links from other web pages on your site to your content
- External links, which are links from other websites to your web content
When you publish a piece of content, make sure that there is at least one link on your site to the new content. Where appropriate, add more links to the content from other pages on your site.
External links are trickier. Ideally, you want relevant sites to link to your content. This blog post, for instance, benefits more with a link from a relevant site, such as searchengineland.com. It benefits less with a link from an unrelated site, such as bobs-pizzerias.com.
External links to your content are often beyond your control with one exception: social media links. When it’s appropriate, it’s a good idea to link from your social media accounts to your content.
If your social media followers find your content valuable, then they may share the link with others. As more and more people link to your content, search engines will find it more valuable. When someone searches for your keyword, your content will rank higher in search results.
You want to avoid paid links because they don’t offer any benefit to your content. With paid links—particularly ads—you pay only for traffic when someone clicks the link. But a search engine crawler will not follow a link from an ad.
Knowing which keywords to choose
You’ve optimized your content and linked to it in as many places as makes sense. Let’s step back a moment to consider your keywords.
You want to choose keywords that your target audience uses. When an ideal client searches for the keyword, you want your content to appear in the results. But how do you know which keywords they use?
One easy method is to talk with them either through a social media channel or in a discussion forum. If you’re a member of a Facebook group, you can post a question or read through posts to see which keywords occur regularly.
There are two other tools to use as well: Google Trends and Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
With Google Trends, you can compare several terms to see how popular they are. The following chart compares the terms “search marketing” and “search engine marketing” for the past 12 months:
Google Adwords Keyword Planner is a tool to help you research keywords. The tool is free to use, but you need an Adwords account to use it (if you have a Google account, then you’re all set).
With the Keyword Planner, you enter one or more keywords to find search volume (that is, the number of search queries for a given keyword). You can configure the tool to show search volume by location, language, and time frame.
The following screenshot shows the search volume for the term “search engine marketing” for the last 12 months in the US:
Knowing which keywords to choose and how best to optimize your content for a keyword can help you plan your content strategy. Research keywords, draft a list of topics mapped to those keywords, and start writing.
If you’re serious about content marketing, then search marketing should be in the mix. As long as you are writing content that appeals to your target audience, you may as well use their keywords.
As we continue this series, I’ll cover social media marketing and email marketing.
If you haven’t already, read the first article, “What is content marketing and is it right for your business?” to get caught up.