The holy trinity of search marketing

You are probably aware of the increasingly dominant role the Internet plays in today's business environment. If you've looked where your website ranks in major search engines recently, you're probably also aware that being visible on the Internet isn't particularly easy to achieve.

This is where search marketing comes in - the subtle process of becoming visible on the Internet. Search marketing comprises three key elements:

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) - the practice of improving your organic (free) listings.
Pay-per-click (PPC) - paying for keywords to become a 'sponsored link'.
User experience - making sure once people find you, they enjoy the experience.

Now the first two are rather obvious, but user experience - why is this part of the mix? In many ways user experience is the most important element - it acts as a precursor to SEO and PPC, or should do at least. Look at it this way - getting more people to a bad website faster, is pointless. Worse than that, it's counterproductive - it could damage you brand and your business. Research suggests that people who have a poor experience of a website are not only unlikely to return to that website, but are less likely to do business with you at all. If fact, 'ease of use' is now considered a more powerful factor than 'lowest cost' to the majority of website users. Fortunately, if you're serious about being easy to find on the Internet, you'll have every opportunity to address usability along the way. Both SEO and PPC share the common foundation of keyword research. Similarly, for both optimisation and a pay-per-click campaigns to be truly successful, it's highly likely that your website needs some significant tinkering. And if you are already tinkering, why not tinker better usability into the website as well? Okay, 'tinkering' possibly isn't the right word, especially when the work is going to cost you money - but you see the point? Search marketing is an involved process and each of the three elements of the holy trinity has a significant role to play.

The usability glue (bear with me) to a successful search marketing campaign is a consideration of how you convert people with little knowledge of their options, to a customer who has not only decided that yours is the product they want, but that you are the people to supply it. People at the start off the conversion process understand they have a need, but aren't necessarily aware of their options for fulfilling their particular need. They are likely to use open and questioning search terms and look for websites that provide information - rich guides, decision tools and recommendations. Once they have built up a picture of how they can meet their need, these people begin to shop around. Their search terms become more specific and include qualifiers such as 'highest quality', or 'cheapest'. They are looking for websites that satisfy these qualifiers (or promote better ones) and allow them to compare offerings or download guides they can use for later comparison. Having made their decision, they are looking to buy. Their search terms become more specific, often including brand names or particular features. They are looking for websites with a clear call to action and the means to complete the transaction.

So how do you develop a search marketing strategy to achieve this conversion? The following simple steps should help:

  1. Do some rigorous keyword research and bundle words up into 'learners', 'shopper' and 'buyers' to support the conversion process just described. This is a fundamental step and you may want to get professional help with this.
  2. Ensure your website has pages and features which address each part of the conversion process and optimise the relevant pages for the keywords you've already identified (as well as the general SEO you are already doing - hopefully).
  3. Select a number of keywords for your PPC campaign. Keep these to the later stages of the process where more qualified prospects can be expected and link to the relevant pages (if necessary creating new pages for a specific campaign). There is a double benefit to this - these specific keywords are likely to be cheaper and each 'click' is more likely to convert.
  4. Manage the process. You need to understand what is working and what needs to be adjusted. You also want to keep a close eye on those PPC campaigns if you aren't to waste money.

Search marketing is an involved process. The rewards can be significant though, particularly if you sell into a highly competitive market. Keeping each element of the trinity in mind will make sure you come out on top of the competition.