Among small-business owners, it's well-known that finding customers through search engine marketing can deliver shoppers who are farther along in the buying cycle -- that is, they've passed the research stage and they're looking to buy. But how to do it effectively isn't nearly as clear.
A successful search-marketing campaign needs to be thoughtfully crafted -- and updated, says Ben Kirshner, chief executive of Elite SEM, a boutique search-engine marketer in New York City.
"This is not something you can set and forget," says Kirshner.
To ensure that your search marketing campaign is on the right track, consider following these six steps:
1. Expand your site. Just having a website isn't good enough anymore. As consumers become more accustomed to viewing higher-budget sites, owners need to up their ante, says Kirshner. "If you’re going to invest in the SEM experience, you need to have more than a one-page website."
To boost your Web prowess, check out crowdsourcing sites like 99 Designs or crowdSPRING.com. For $500 to $600, you can get a website made by outsourced designers, says Kirshner.
2. Choose keywords carefully. You'll want to choose keywords that are both relevant to your business and focused. For instance, choosing "small-business accountant" will be expensive and won't likely net you much in the way of sales. But choosing the keyword phrase: "women-owned small business accountant in Raleigh, N.C." will likely deliver more plentiful and less expensive results.
Include relevant keyword variations, singular and plural versions and, if applicable, seasonal or colloquial terms, alternative spellings, synonyms and product names. For help figuring out which to choose, try Google AdWords' keyword tool.
3. Code in keywords or phrases. Once you've nailed down a few choice keywords, make sure they're both in the site's copy and embedded in its source code. Doing so will improve your site's Google quality score, says Kirshner. "If you don’t have that phrase or keyword on your site, it’ll be confusing and Google will penalize you," he says.
4. Write relevant ads. Include keywords and other enticing attributes about your company or products along with special promotions or available discounts. You should also include a call-to-action such as "buy," "sell" or "sign up" to encourage shoppers to click through.
5. Customize landing pages. For even more traction, create landing pages specific to your chosen keywords rather than direct shoppers to your site's homepage, suggests Kirshner. After all, the last thing you'll want to do is pay for someone clicking over to your site from Google or Bing just to have him get confused, get lost or worse, leave your site unhappy because they couldn't find what they wanted.
6. Keep testing. To ensure that you're on the right track, test out variations of keywords, phrases or ad copy. One keyword, for instance, might yield more click-throughs, while another could generate fewer clicks but more purchases.
How has your experience been with search-engine marketing? Leave a comment with any helpful tips you've picked up along the way.