Making Sense of Internet Marketing

The key components of an Internet marketing program include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Paid Placement, Affiliate Marketing and Viral/Social Marketing.  The goal of all of these is to increase a website’s traffic (number of people who visit) however each uses a different tactic to meet this goal.  An effective Internet marketing program leverages a mix of these components to maximize their value at a particular point in the overall program.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an attempt to increase your website’s ranking in ‘organic’ (non-paid) search results in Google™, Yahoo!™ and other search engines.  Search engines use complex, proprietary algorithms to determine how a page ranks.  In general higher ranking is achieved by optimizing the actual website content to increase its relevancy to certain search words (keywords).  Additionally, SEO attempts to increase the website’s perceived ‘authority’ by acquiring quality links to your website from other complementary sites (back links).  Finally higher ranking websites are highly visible to search engines meaning most or all of their web pages are indexed by the search engines.

Many aspects of a complete SEO effort can be outsourced, but some aspects are more effective when controlled by those most familiar with the product or service.   SEO generally has a longer-term ROI than other Internet marketing methods because a website’s authority is generally built over time.  It is important to know that SEO is never truly finished.  Competition and buyer preferences change and evolve over time, therefore, the authority of a website changes and must be re-evaluated routinely.

Effectiveness of a SEO program is measured in terms of search result rank, search engine saturation and overall visibility.  Result rank is determined by how high a website appears in organic results.  Saturation is an indication of how much of a website is indexed by search engines and overall visibility shows how many references are found for a website.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) essentially is a shortcut to increased search result rankings.  By sponsoring links in search engine results, advertisers can ensure that relevant links are displayed along with search results whenever certain keywords are searched for.  These are generally displayed above or in a separate column beside organic results.  In these pay per click (PPC) programs advertisers bid to determine ranking and only pay when links are actually clicked by a visitor.

SEM can be, and probably is best, outsourced.  Experienced SEM practitioners can maximize the results of a pay-per-click program by increasing the quality of website visitors.  Additionally, knowledge of the bidding process and keyword selection can significantly reduce the amount paid per click-through over time.

SEM has the shortest term ROI as resulting traffic is immediate and measurable.  The ability to tightly control expenses, all the way down to cost per click, makes the expense very predictable.  Negatively, there is little if any residual value effect of SEM beyond potential relationships with new buyers.  SEM is predominately a point in time exercise, although it can be very effective during a campaign.

Paid Placement is similar to traditional print or media advertising.   Advertisers pay a fee to have their ‘ad’ displayed on a website or alongside search engine results.  Ads are often ‘banners’ that include a marketing message that entices viewers to click the ad and be transferred to the advertiser’s website.  Paid placement also includes sponsored links on content pages, paid reviews or ‘pop-up’ ads that appear before or on top of a content page.

Paid placement can include SEM tactics, but here the sponsored links appear on content websites rather than search engine results pages.  Placement is based on relevancy of selected keywords and the displaying website’s content.  The advertiser has limited control over where ads appear.  Ads on content sites generally rank higher for lower bids than on search engine results.

Direct placement of ads on specific content sites is generally based on a set fee or per million impressions (displays).  Direct placement allows an advertiser to specify specific website, durations and potentially exact placement on a page.  This is most effective if a product or service would appeal to visitors of a specific website.  For instance, Dell might place an ad on a computer buying guide website.

Purchase and management of direct placement ads can be outsourced, although it requires less expertise and oversight than SEM.

Affiliate Marketing allows website owners to resell products or services for a percentage or set fee commission.  Commissions may be paid for sales, leads or even website visit referrals.  Almost all major retail stores support affiliate marketing programs and generally use a third party service to manage the relationship with affiliates.  While affiliate marketing allows a product or service provider to extend its marketing capability it is still responsible for all aspects of distribution.

Affiliate marketing can be outsourced in part or whole.  Generally the affiliate marketer selects an affiliate management provider to handle acquiring and managing new affiliates.

Although not an absolute, Affiliate marketing tends to be most utilized by product or service providers who have a wide range of products to offer.  This increases the likelihood that content site owners are going to assign valuable screen space to a product.  Alternatively the provider may offer higher incentive commissions or target very specific content sites.

Viral/Social Marketing is similar to traditional ‘word of mouth’ advertising although done through websites.  Marketers attempt create ‘buzz’ about their products by leveraging social networks, emails, blogs, videos or other venues that allow viewers to easily ‘spread the word.’  This form of Internet marketing is often associated with the term ‘Web 2.0‘ because it tends to leverage more user driven venues and content rather than commercial content sites.

Viral/Social Internet marketing, much like SEO is an ongoing effort and similarly it is possible to outsource all or some efforts in this area.  Development of complex marketing campaigns would likely be outsourced to a marketing firm specializing in leveraging the Internet, however, smaller campaigns and the tactical aspects could be handled internally or by your SEO/SEM partner.

In closing, an effective Internet marketing program will leverage some or all of these components in a complementary way.  Each component brings visitors to a website through its own unique tactics, timeframe and cost.  If planned and managed properly, each component can be utilized by the next one to create even greater value.  A successful Internet marketing plan will consider the short-term, long-term and budgetary goals of the product or service provider, deploying the components that met those goals.

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