Understanding Search Engines

The Key to Your Online Success

Most business owners understand that their customers are increasingly going online to find products and services, and they know that much of the activity is driven by major search engines like Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL.

But to really implement an effective strategy for marketing your business online, you need to understand how the search engines help your prospective customers find you.

The Basics – How Search Engines Work

Picture the Web as the world’s largest library. Now imagine walking up to the desk of this virtual library to request information about a topic—say ‘dentist.’ In the blink of an eye, the librarian returns with a truckload (literally) of information about teeth, gums, oral hygiene, dental practitioners and more. To help you a little, the materials are presented in order of how relevant the librarian deems them to be.

That is, in a nutshell, how search engines work. (For simplicity’s sake, we’re ignoring pay-per-click for the moment.) The search engines index sites using proprietary algorithms that consider age, content, structure, links, and more. The more relevant a page is for a particular keyword, the higher that page will appear in the search results.

But because the search engines can’t know precisely what you’re trying to find when you enter a keyword or phrase, they return hundreds (or thousands or millions) of results.

(As the Internet continues to grow, the number of relevant results continues to expand as well. A funny challenge, called Googlewhacking (www.googlewhack.com), has developed from the phenomenon of always getting multiple pages of results from virtually any query. The object of googlewhacking is to find two-word phrases that return only one result in a Google search. Not an easy task!)

Capitalizing on the Power of Online Search Marketing

As a business, you’re faced with the challenge of getting your website to appear in the search results at a place where potential customers will be able to find you. That truckload of materials from the virtual librarian is daunting to the person looking for information, and it’s probable that only what’s at the top of the pile will even be considered.

There are two possible means of achieving that goal: natural (or organic) search and paid (or sponsored) search.

Natural search is what we’ve been discussing thus far. It depends on making your website the most relevant to the search engines. Appearing at the top of the natural search results can be a huge positive for a website. However, given that all your competitors would like to achieve the same goal, it can sometimes be difficult and costly to achieve on a sustainable basis.

Search engine optimization (SEO) can help make sure that your site is structured properly, has good, keyword-rich content, strong links, and more to help improve its relevance to the search engines.

Sponsored search, or pay-per-click, allows your website to appear near the top of the search results provided that you’re willing to pay the search engines for that placement. Every time a web user clicks the link to your site, you are charged an agreed-upon amount. The amount varies based on how much competition exists for the keyword or phrase.

Some smaller business owners balk at the idea of paying to get someone to click on their site. They find it difficult to understand the value of paying for something that is theoretically free, but pay-per-click can be an enormously successful venture for a business to undertake.

Here’s why: Unlike virtually any other form of marketing or advertising, you’re reaching only people actively seeking your products or services. You have control over the budget, the amount you’re willing to pay per click for various keywords, and the copy associated with your ad. Best of all, tracking features provide valuable information that let you know how successful the marketing campaign is and allow you to continually fine-tune it.

If your business is buried near the bottom of the truckload of information search engines deliver, investigate online search marketing—either organic or pay-per-click, or both—to help ensure that your prospective customers find you online.

 by Rob Croll
President, Marlannah Group Internet Marketing 

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