Tips for Optimizing SEM Efforts, Part 1

Search engine marketing has long been a top driver of online traffic and a key area of investment for e-commerce merchants. After all, using search engines as a resource dominates online life for all users. Consumers turn to search engines specifically for shopping-related queries. According to Forrester Research, 83 percent of online consumers conduct product research prior to purchasing and 39 percent of first-time online purchasers begin their shopping with search.

Merchants have responded to this behavior by investing in optimizing their sites to rank well in organic listings (search engine optimization), as well as by budgeting significant dollars for paid search advertisements (SEM). To build an effective search marketing program on a realistic budget, focus on quality rather than quantity. Choose the right opportunities to maximize visibility to the right audience rather than trying to stretch thin to cover too much territory. You can accomplish this by doing the following:

  • putting as much effort into planning as into execution;
  • balancing your spending and search strategies between the best search engines for your target customers as well as between natural versus paid search optimization; and
  • fine-tuning your paid search campaigns to target audiences to make your budget go further.

Prerequisites for optimizing SEM
Before leaping into campaign building and site optimization, it’s critical to research and plan your SEO/SEM strategies. Specifically, you should follow these steps:

1. Know which keywords are worth investment. This is imperative to gaining a firm understanding of which search terms users prefer or which are most competitive for paid search advertising. Use keyword research tools to identify the right key words. Competition for top pay-per-click keywords is fierce. Both Google and Bing offer keyword tools for insight into which terms shoppers use and how competitive these are for paid search.

Google’s tool is based on paid search data. Be sure to select “exact match” and use the advanced options to filter by device types such as desktop/laptop and mobile. Bing’s tool is based on organic search data, but requires site registration and verification.

2. Analyze your site’s search logs to focus on specific terms your shoppers are using. For example, “window treatment” is an industry word; shoppers search using “curtains” or “blinds” much more commonly. Mine other internal data such as keywords used in the subject lines or calls to action of successful email campaigns.

3. Study your competitors. Use the keyword tools to view the most popular keyword searches on their sites and study their site content to see which terms are emphasized.

4. Use paid search to test the validity of keyword terms. Allocate a portion of your paid ad spending for keyword research. Since paid search advertising can be enacted quickly and offers instant results, this is a handy way to vet keyword terms before incorporating them into your site for SEO purposes.

5. Determine whether to plan for search engines other than Google. Google is far and away the dominant search engine with 66.4 percent market share, attracting 47 percent of the world’s web traffic daily. However, Bing is the default browser for Internet Explorer users, with 87 percent of its traffic coming from that browser. The demographics for Google and Bing also differ, but in general it’s cost effective to design your strategies based on Google’s requirements and modify as needed for other search engines rather than devising separate plans for each.

6. Analyze how your shoppers interact with natural versus paid search results. Although studies have repeatedly shown that consumers favor “natural,” unpaid search results generated by search engines over paid search placement, searches with a specific commercial intent are a different matter. Natural search results may drive more volume but paid search placements can bring more focused prospects to your website. Use analytics to determine your ideal mix of natural versus paid search strategies.