Search Engine Marketing – A Basic Overview


How many times have you gone to Google, Yahoo or any other search engine? Probably more times than you can remember, huh? It’s a pretty simple process – just type in a few terms in the search bar, click the search button and bam! You’ve just produced a massive amount of information that will help you with whatever it is that you were searching for. It’s easy… right?

When you are doing your searches, I guarantee that most of you out there don’t think about why those certain companies show up in your search results and how they got there. Well, I’m here to tell you the “why” and the “how”. It might be an easy process on your end but on the company’s end, “easy” is not a term to describe this complicated world of coding and algorithms. The process of getting a company’s listing in front of your eyes is not as easy as you might have thought.

Search Engine Structure

First, let’s talk about the structure of a search engine. Search engines are made up of many different sections. Now days, it’s common to find maps, shopping, images and news sections in addition to the search section. Search engines are evolving constantly to meet the demand of the changing world’s wants and desires when it comes to searching on the internet. For the purpose of this article, we are going to concentrate on the good old-fashioned search section.

On most search engines, the search section is divided into two main parts – a Sponsored section and an Organic section. The Sponsored section is home to those companies who pay a fee to the search engine to be listed there. This fee is generated on a pay-per-click (called PPC in the industry) basis. This means that for every click a company receives on their listing, they have to pay a fee to the search engine. How much is this fee? Well, here is where it can get complicated but we’ll go over this in a little bit.

Now – on to the Organic section…

This section of a search engine is the free section, meaning companies do not pay the search engines to be listed there. There are many benefits for why companies would like to be listed in this section. First and foremost, it’s a free listing! Now, let me stress something here… just because the company does not have to pay the search engine to be listed in this section, it does not mean that it is entirely free. And again… here is where it gets complicated. I’ll explain more about this soon as well.

Sponsored Section

As mentioned above, advertisers in the Sponsored section pay for each click that their listing receives. Before we go into how much this fee is, let me first explain the process of how advertisers get their listing to appear for various search terms.

A company who would like to participate in the Sponsored section will first need to set up an advertising account with that search engine. Once that is done, the company would then need to create a list of keywords (terms) that it would like to show up for in the search results. So for example, if I had a flower delivery company, I would select terms like “flowers”, “roses”, “flower delivery” and “flower bouquets”. These would be some of the terms that I would like my company to show up for in the search results. After a company selects their keywords, they would then need to create an advertisement for each keyword (the description that you see for each company). In addition to creating the advertisements, the company would also need to figure out what links to send people to once their listings are clicked. One of the final steps would be to set the bid (fee) for each click, per keyword.

Now, let’s talk more about this bid. The amount that a company could pay-per-click can vary – from a few cents to a few dollars. It all depends on how popular the word is. For example, general terms like “flowers”, “shopping”, “cars” are all popular terms, meaning that people search on these terms a lot. Since these terms are popular, the competition is high among advertisers (who offer products/service/information in these related industries) to have their listing shown in the Sponsored section on the first page for these keywords. The bid for popular words can be up to a few dollars per click, sometimes even more. On the contrary, terms like “rose flowers”, “shopping at Wal-Mart” and “race cars” are not as popular and therefore not as competitive among advertisers. When terms are not as competitive, their corresponding PPC is a bit less (when compared to the more popular terms).

Once the advertising campaign is launched, the search engine will now have to determine where to position the listing(s). Ad positioning is mainly based on two factors – quality of the advertisement/site in relation to the keyword and also the bid for that keyword. If a company’s listing has a quality description that matches the subject of the keyword that the searcher is searching on along with having one of the top bids for that keyword (when compared to other advertisers that are bidding on that keyword), then their listing will be positioned towards the top of the page in the Sponsored section. For listings that do not have a quality advertisement or a high bid, those listings will be placed toward the bottom of the list within this section. In some cases, companies with low bids can rank in the top positions if they have a quality advertisement. It really all comes down to a balance between the two. We can go into more detail on this but for the purpose of this article, we’ll move on.

Organic Section

Now that we’ve covered the very basics of the Sponsored section, let’s dig into the Organic section. The Organic section is where companies are listed for free – meaning that money is not paid out to the search engines for those listings. Before we dig deeper, let’s talk about how the search engines get the listings for each company in this section. I mean, if these companies don’t pay the search engines to be listed here, then how are the descriptions, links and keywords produced for each listing? Well, this is where we get into some complicated business. For the purpose of this article, I am going to give a very basic explanation, just for easier comprehension.

Search engines create special algorithms that have the ability to “look” at websites across the internet. With these algorithm, they can “look” at the content, structure, incoming links, coding and many other aspects of a website. The goal of these algorithms is to determine what the subject matter is of all of the websites hosted on the internet. Once the search engines “figure out” the main subject of each website, they then list these sites in the Organic section for related keywords that they think would represent the websites the best. Also for each website, the algorithms pull some of the content on the pages or use content within the HTML coding to display the descriptions for each listing.

The position for each listing under the Organic section is also determined by the search engines. For each keyword, the search engine places the websites that represent the keyword subject the best towards the top of the search results in this section. Ideally, most companies would like to be listed on the first page towards the top because studies have shown that the majority of visitors tend to click on the organic listings over the paid listings. Also, by having a listing towards the top of the results, this would in turn would generate more visits to the website (when compared to listings being on the second page and so on). This traffic can be thousands of visitors each day, depending on the keyword.

The main goal of any search engine is to satisfy the searcher. They want to provide the searcher with the websites that best match what is being searched on. With this said, the goal for my flower company would be to prove to the search engines that my website is one of the best choices to show to searchers for flower and flower delivery related keywords. There is a term out there that you might have heard or read about… it’s called Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short. In simple terms, this is the practice of convincing the search engines to show my website for those certain flower terms, ideally on the first page towards the top. There are many different tactics that you can use in SEO. If you owned a website, a few SEO tactics that you would most likely incorporate into your site are as follows:

– Having quality content that highlights the keywords that you would like to show up for
– Inserting the proper coding into your HTML that the search engines “like” or “look at”
– Having quality websites that fit within your category linking to your website

We could go into much more detail on the above tactics as well as other SEO strategies. But for the purpose of this article, a brief introduction will suffice.

So who does this SEO work? Companies can either hire outside companies to do the work or they can create an in-house SEO team. Either way, money is being spent – either on a third party company or by hiring a person(s) internally. This is why I stressed earlier in this article that just because a fee isn’t paid to the search engines for creating the listing, it’s not entirely free to the company.

And there you have it- a brief overview of search engine structure and marketing! So next time you go to Google, Yahoo or any other search engine, keep in mind the time, effort and money it took to put those listings in front of your eyes.

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