Few things annoy me more than bad advice given to Maryland business owners on the topic of search engine marketing (SEM). Companies that specialize in SEO tell business owners that they shouldn’t be paying for what they could be getting for free, and paid search companies oversell PPC advertising.
If you own a business in Maryland and you get leads via your website, here’s how you need to look at things:
Search engines direct most of the traffic on the web. Some exceptions aside, prospective customers ARE searching for your products and services on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. How easily can you be found? If you’re not seeing at least two listings on every search results page for keywords and keyword phrases you think someone would use to find you, you’re losing business to your competition. It’s not a question of IF (you’re losing business), but a question of how much you’re losing!
Now don’t do a search and immediately start to panic. Search engine marketing is not a sprint—it’s more like the Tour de France (complete with cheating competitors!). You’re probably not going to have two listings for every search phrase relevant to your business, but you should know that having two spots is BETTER than having just one. Also, while you may never get multiple listings for certain keywords, you might be able to get three to four listings for a variety of other terms—and this can more than offset not having multiple rankings for other keywords.
I talk to business owners all the time who claim they don’t need SEO or PPC because they already have a listing on the first page of Google for XYZ search term. This is a huge mistake because there are more visits, leads, and sales out there! One listing on page one will NOT result in the maximum number of web visits, leads, and sales from a particular search phrase. So even if you’re already listed once on the first page of search results, don’t stop investing in SEO and/or PPC.
Rankings Mean Nothing If You Can’t Convert
Before you invest in traffic (via PPC or SEO), you should determine what your website’s conversion rates—typically, the percentage of visitors that convert into a lead (however you define a lead). In order to determine your website’s conversion rate, you need a system that can accurately track the number of visitors that go to your website and either call you or email you vs. leaving. You need this information across all traffic sources because direct visitors behave very differently than visitors coming from search engines.
Of course, you have to have traffic to determine your conversion rates, but I digress.
So, which is more effective, SEO or paid search?
The work for both SEO and PPC is front-loaded, but SEO requires even more upfront work. While you may not pay every time someone clicks an organic listing on a Google page, it can take HOURS, WEEKS and even YEARS to get a top organic spot. What is the cost of your time OR how much does an average SEO consultant charge per hour? When you think about it, those free clicks really aren’t free at all.
Paid search offers an immediate impact. If you put up ads today, they will be up by tomorrow at the latest! How’s that for instant gratification? Yes, every time someone clicks one of your paid ads, you get charged. However, you shouldn’t think in terms of cost per click as much as in terms of cost per lead, cost per sale, and ROI. You can manage a pay per click account using all of these metrics which makes PPC a highly effective form of advertising.
Across all of our clients, top organic listings tend to generate the most clicks and the most gross conversions, but paid search visitors tend to convert at a higher percentage. When managed correctly, the cost per lead and sale is often lower with PPC—unless the client has always enjoyed top organic listings—that is, they didn’t have to do any work to be listed at the top of Google. You find this in certain types of businesses where one business has been around forever or has very little competition in the market they serve.
A Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Tip for Maryland (MD) Business Owners
Instead of looking at a search results page in terms of paid ads OR organic listings, start thinking of the page as a piece of virtual real estate. Think of the page as if it were a virtual Monopoly board. The more listings (properties) you have, the more visitors, leads, and sales you’ll receive! The most effective search engine marketing strategies combine BOTH paid search and search engine optimization (SEO) activities.