A Definition to Search Engine Marketing

When I first started in the business of search engine marketing, I do not believe we were actually coining the term “search engine marketing”, as it is often talked about today. Danny Sullivan was the original leader in the discussion of a term called “search engine marketing” which he used as the umbrella for “the overall process of marketing a site on search engines. This includes submission, optimization, managing paid listings and more”. The original tutorials and topics introducing search engine marketing can be found in Search Engine Watch, which he left in 2006, and now writes and co-owns the resource, Search Engine Land, among other properties under Third Door Media.

This is the definition I use as well. Search Engine Marketing refers to the marketing strategies used by companies and individuals to generate a presence, improve/increase traffic and create sales opportunities through Search Engines.

There are two major components of search engine marketing:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Which deals with strategies designs specifically to rank well for keywords in the “natural” or “organic” search results. This means the body of search results that are inherent to search technology and are what users always had seen when they wanted to search the internet.
  • Pay-Per Click Advertising (PPC): PPC deals with marketing strategies designed to take advantage of a search engine’s advertising module – i.e. the “Sponsored Listings” that search engines present, in addition to their organic search results.

About Pay-Per Click Advertising (PPC)

The benefit to PPC is that you can get your website listed in a search engine almost instantaneously. The drawback is that you have to pay every time someone clicks your advertisement. PPC costs are derived as dictated by the market for keyword popularity. If you anticipate trying to be visible for a highly popular search term (“auto insurance“), expect to have to pay – or “bid” higher prices to be seen in favorable positions. The entire process of managing PPC Campaigns – which can include thousands of keyword variations – becomes a process of understanding pricing levels, maintaining a profitable advertising strategy and limiting fraudulent clicks and/or understanding when your potential customers are most likely to click your ads.

Here are a few quick tutorials on Pay-Per Click Advertising:

About Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

As search engine algorithms have matured and become more complicated, I tend to see the process of SEO as a long-term strategy, similar to how marketing professionals view brand awareness and brand presence. Even in its infant stages, SEO results did not happen overnight. To understand the “why” of this statement means that there has to be a bit of an understanding of how a search engine aggregates website information and decides what to present on the web. In general, the search engine program (“spider” or “robot“) crawls the web for web pages, jumping from page to page by way of links on each page. Each time the spider gets to a web page, the information is registered and sent back to a database of information. Search Engines then use a series of ranking factors to determine what pages show up for any given result.

Here are two tutorials I found very valuable in understanding the search engine “process”:

It’s important to note that these results that a search engine database receives do not update immediately in the results a user sees. Search Engines need to “digest” the amount of data they receive and make regular “updates” to the public results displayed. Note that “regular” is a very loose adjective for when a search engine updates anything. As webmasters became more adept at when these updates would happen, search engines often shifted their schedules. In addition, the development of technology such as blogs, wikis and RSS creates an environment where information (which may or may not be valuable) can be updated very quickly.

If a search engine’s goal is to display the best search results, what happens when they are a month old in updating information people wanted to see today? These are questions and problems that make search engine optimization more challenging (and often times, more exciting) than it ever was before. The end game here however, should be that marketers desire to have the best keywords representing their company or client’s websites and web pages, ultimately fostering clicks, traffic, leads and revenue. It’s a step by step building process, which has evolved to become (in my opinion) an integrated approach to presenting content, usability, outreach and publicity through online, traditional and non-traditional channels.

Search Marketing

Note that a fourth term often is discussed, as it relates to search engine marketing, and that is the term, “Search Marketing”. In articles I read, I often see that term used to represent PPC Advertising, as industry leaders such as Yahoo refer to their advertising platforms for search engine visibility in this frame of reference. This means that it is important for people like me to accurately define what I am talking about when I reference “search engine marketing” or “search marketing” as they will often get intermixed and placed under various assumptions of context.

Lastly, here are a few resources that present more introductory reference points about the search engine marketing industry. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but they are all good starting points.

Search Engine Marketing Resources:


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