Website Promotion – Search Engine Optimization vs Pay Per Click Advertising
In a recent request for a quote to design and produce an Ecommerce Website, I was asked if I offered a refund if no visitors showed up. I think this question highlights the confusion that a lot of small business people and entrepreneurs have with exactly how the Internet works. Granted, it can be confusing, especially for non-technical people.
Those of us who have worked with it on a daily basis for a number of years may forget that its structures and processes are not really naturally intuitive. That’s the reason that good information design and interface design is so important in translating the reality of the Web into a good user experience. In this article I will try to explain what Website promotion is on a basic level, assuming little knowledge of the secret inner workings of the Internet.
For the purposes of Web only promotion, you have two main avenues:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and
The way people find things, including your Website, on the Internet is by typing a word or phrase into a Search Engine. The major search engines used are Google, AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask Jeeves. There are many other search engines, but if you show up high on the search engine results pages (SERPs) of these, your going to meet your marketing goals.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engines are in business to deliver relevant results. If you continually don’t find what you want after typing your search terms in to a search engine, you are going to try another.
Search engines do three things to deliver you results:
- They crawl all the Websites they can find using spiders and record the resulting text found in their index.
- When you type a search term into the engine, they search the index using their “algorithm.” This is a proprietary formula designed to give you the most relevant results for your search. The main characteristics of a page addressed by the search algorithm are a) keyword relevance – how often, where, and in what overall word ratio your search terms appear on the page, and b) link popularity – how many pages are linking to the indexed page and how popular those pages are.Webmasters are constantly trying to figure out a search engine’s algorithm, and devising tricks that will get high ranking for their Websites. Search engines, on the other hand, are constantly changing their algorithms to neutralize these tricks, because they feel that the best results are based on good, popular content, and tricks just undermine the relevance of their search results.
- They display search results on the SERP or Search Engine Results Page. In addition to the natural results (products of the algorithm) they also display sponsored results. These are paid ads, which segues us in to the next section:
Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
As mentioned in the previous section, search engines sell space on their SERPs to advertisers. These ads are usually prominently displayed as sponsored results and get slightly less traffic than do the natural results. However, provided the ad meets the search engine’s editorial guidelines, the advertiser gets to choose the keywords that trigger the ad, choose how much they pay per click, how much they pay per day, and so on. This creates a kind of auction for the top position in the sponsored results, as the advertiser who pays the most per click wins the highest position.
Pros and Cons
So which should you choose, SEO or PPC? Well, that depends on the competition.
- How many other pages on the Web contain your targeted keywords or phrases?
- How popular are the Websites that contain them compared to your Website?
- How many advertisers are targeting your keywords in their campaigns?
- How much are they paying per click?
- What kind of ROI do you need for your campaign to be successful?
In general, when considering these questions, remember that SEO is a longer term solution, and is less reliable than PPC. It can take months for the search engine to find your Website, or notice changes you’ve made to try to improve ranking. Also, without constant attention your page one ranking will undoubtedly drop off the SERP as others compete for your position. PPC can be pretty expensive, depending how competitive the market is. If the ROI isn’t there, it may eliminate itself as an option for you. Most succesful Internet businesses use a combination of SEO and PPC to promote their Websites. Even with top ranking in natural results, eliminating a space for the competition and plastering the SERP with your name on a PPC ad can be a winning strategy.