Effective Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Keyword Advertising Without Losing Your Shirt

You may or may not know that traditional methods of marketing (emblematic items, broadcast ads, printed ads, etc.) can be integral to successful marketing on search engines. I will remain very broad in covering the topic because there are many options available to you , and some of them will be better suited for your particular goals than others. Up front, the best advice I can give is to talk over your specific goals with a qualified Website solution provider who practices SEM and is familiar with integrating it into Website design.

The ways to market your business (specifically your Website) via the search engines make up a lengthy list. The pay-for-placement methods are somewhat fewer, and can be broken down into three general categories as follows:

  • You can pay for the number one spot (in the page margins) of the search engines by individual keywords. Although this kind of placement may seem appealing, it is only as reliable as your advertising dollars allow. You can be outbid by someone who is willing to pay more for that position.
  • You can pay-per-click (PPC) for given keywords, and depending on your budget and the popularity of the word(s) you select, your positioning will vary. Again, this is effective in getting traffic, but there is a difference between someone who clicks their way to your site and someone who makes a purchase once they’re there. (You aren’t paying-per-click for customers who buy something. You are paying just to get the visit.)
  • You can pay to advertise on other peoples’ Websites by having the search engine companies liaison between you and the other site owners. This is a comparatively newer way to advertise, paying to put out an advertisement while other Website owners receive some search engine indexing and kickback benefits for allowing your ad to be on their sites. In theory (and usually in practice), this is a win-win option.

Of these three general methods, keyword ad campaigns can usually be limited to a pre-specified number of dollars per month (or until your account is replenished). So you aren’t really writing a “blank check” to advertise with keywords in these ways, but you do need to manage your budget and your account carefully. Buyer beware!

I have had several clients who came to me because of keyword ad accounts that were handled poorly by their previous service provider. In the worst cases, some of them were victims of out-and-out fraud. One case in particular stands out in my mind.

I had an accountant approach me with complaints that he had been spending $400 to $600 per month for the previous 6 months for 200 guaranteed clicks to his Website per month. “Wow… that’s a pretty good guarantee,” you might be thinking. And he received a report from his provider each month that substantiated that he was in fact getting that kind of traffic (more than 200 hits per month) from his keyword ad campaigns. His complaint, however, was that he had no new clients that came from his Website (otherwise called “conversions” from ad response to customer). The ratios of hits (impressions) to sales (conversions) seemed unreasonably low. I was suspicious.

I did a bit of research on his Website’s performance, and what I found was disturbing (but all too common). His account was set to automatically replenish (re bill his credit card) on the fifteenth of each month, up to his specified maximum monthly budget of $500 or so. That means that if his account balance was $250 on the fourteenth of the month, another $250 would be charged to him to restore his account balance to $500. Each click cost him money, and over the next 30 days his balance would incrementally be debited until it came time to replenish it on the fifteenth of the following month. If he ever hit zero, his ad would “fall off the map,” but such a billing plan assured him that he would never go beyond his budget. Sounds like a foolproof way to advertise, right? Guaranteed hits with no cost overruns! It gave him a false sense of security, and he was getting scammed!

When I did an analysis of his Website traffic, I saw a steady trend of visitors that came from a variety of sources, some of them from his paid-for advertising campaign. I counted about 20 to 30 hits related to his pay-per-click deal. Suspiciously, however, he had about 150 to 180 hits on the fourteenth of each month, the day before his account replenished. It never took him down to zero, so he didn’t think anything strange was going on. But it seemed apparent that whoever was managing his account was taking advantage of his trusting nature, and he was paying for artificial hits. His reports showed over 200 hits, just as he was promised, but he was unwittingly padding the pockets of his account manager!

Don’t let that happen to you! I didn’t relay that story to scare you or to deter you from using paid-for advertising. Really, paid ads are extremely effective in the right situations. I simply want you to realize that, like everything else with doing business online, there is often more than meets the eye. Forewarned is forearmed. Get into the game of marketing your Website, but do it with a wise eye and wary wallet. The best approach is likely to be one that combines the three types of advertisements bulleted above, so you can measure which one works best for your particular campaign. You might also want to try a Text Message Marketing (TMM) portal to supplement your variable advertising budget with a flat rate option! Text Message Marketing (TMM) is a relatively new marketing trend that appeals to millions of consumers for a number of reasons.

Most solution providers and SEM companies that have been around for awhile are reputable or they wouldn’t stay in business. But you must take an active interest in the management of your advertising budget. Ensure that your SEM provider gives you more than just a total-hits-per-month report and an invoice for recharging your account. You should require them to provide you with the Website analytics that show all of your traffic, the trends, the hits-per-page, hits-per-day, sources of hits (so you can ensure they’re from different addresses), keywords used to find you, and so forth. Even if you never look at the details of those reports, the fact that they are provided to you will be a deterrent to keep your SEM provider honest. They probably are honest anyway, but in the end you have to CYA (cover your assets).