Internet Marketing and what SEO & SEM really mean

Internet marketing is a very vague term, although most folks that aren’t sure what they want, but know they want more people visiting their site, go out in search of “internet marketing.”  That seems to make sense, but the more you learn, the sooner you will realize it’s too generic of a term and can be quite misleading.  So, let’s break internet marketing down in to a couple of the most relevant components that make up such a term.

But before we do, here’s a word to the wise – beware of folks that tell you they specialize in “internet marketing” because that could mean as little as setting up an Adwords account or a Facebook fan page, if you’re not careful.

But as usual, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.  We’re just going to cover the two primary pieces of internet marketing today, and will get into the social marketing aspects in another post.  Promise.

Search Engine Optimization

A little history for you, Google wasn’t the first thing on the web.  Really.  It seems like it today, because internet years make dog years seem like an eternity, and what you could do on the web in 1998 was already laughable in 2001 – and so the story goes over and over again until today.  But one thing Google did better than anyone (and they arguable still lead in this field), is put solid logic behind discovering websites that seemed to fit with what folks were searching.  And this was the birth of search engine optimization (or SEO for short).  It can be defined as the efforts made by webmasters and hacks alike, to make their sites become the most relevant result for certain search terms.

So here is a first warning in an effort to get help on SEO – don’t listen to folks that say your site isn’t turning up high enough in the search rankings, or that they can get you to number one in Google.  That means nothing, because anyone can get any site to #1 for an obscure enough term.  Also, anyone telling you that your site isn’t performing well in search engines, before asking you what terms you’re optimizing for, is trying to slip something by you.

But for now, I’ll leave SEO with this brief intro, and promise to write more about SEO in the future.  I can get a bit fired up on the subject, because there are so many scam sites out there preaching SEO services and it stinks for the legit agencies (ah-hem, like us – with all humility, naturally) because they give the industry a black eye, and it doesn’t need any more of those.


Search Engine Marketing (a.k.a. Adwords)

To be clear, there is a difference in search engine marketing and Adwords, but Google Adwords is such a predominant leader in this field, that we understand when people think they need Adwords, when more correctly they are really looking for search engine marketing (i.e. SEM – this industry loves acronyms, FYI).

We like to start with a definition in non-techie terms.  At least we like to try.  Search engine marketing is paying for placement (a link to your site) at the top of the search engine results pages.  In Google, this usually means showing up on the right side of the search results page.  Also, unlike SEO, where Google decides the ranked order of the sites based on who’s the most relevant (in their eyes), a site’s ranking, or how high it shows up in search engine marketing results is a combination of how much you’re willing to pay for each click, as well as how relevant your site is to the term.

In the old days, enough money behind the payment for each click, or PPC (pay per click), and you could be at the top of any search term.  Google has realized that this compromises the integrity of their results and has added in additional relevancy factors that are taken into account for search engine marketing rankings (but don’t get us wrong, the amount you’re willing to pay per click still goes a long way).

While we won’t go into intricate detail here and now on Adwords / SEM, we will leave this section with a word to the wise (I just love giving advice, can you tell I’m a parent?).  Be wary of search engine marketers that tell you that they’ll manage a certain number of keywords, or a certain number of ad groups for you.  What you want is a firm that is willing to do the testing and can synthesize the data / metrics to gain understanding from the results, so that they will run as many or as few adwords as are needed to ensure profitability.

Also, be wary of pricing structure.  A firm that wants to be paid based off a percentage of what they spend is dangerous.  Their motivation is to spend your money so that their slice of the pie is as possible – with no regard to profitability.  Another pitfall is dealing with a company with a large fixed monthly fee.  I don’t like this, even if it’s becoming more standard, because I don’t feel like the client really knows what they’re getting from the relationship.

The safest pricing structure we’ve found on the web is one that is based off of net revenue (SEM firm gets some % of revenue (after marketing expenses have been subtracted).  Or even better, the search engine marketing firm earns a percentage of profits.  Why is this way so favorable?  It’s simple, because the SEM firm and the website owner’s incentives are aligned.  If the website makes a lot of money, the search engine marketing firm makes more money.  If the SEM firm is ineffective and unable to drive profitable sales, then the website owner pays them little.  Now, finding a firm that will take a pure net revenue share or profit share is nearly impossible because all the risk is on the marketing firm.  But if you can find a firm with a low monthly retainer, that is willing to take some shared risk and upside by participating in a net revenue or profit sharing model, you can rest assured that the folks on their side are working as hard as you to make the site profitable.  And from our experience, our egg head statistics team works even harder than website owners, cause they really love and get into the statistics & reporting (weird, I agree completely).

Well, consider yourself well versed in SEO & SEM 101, and if you think you’re ready to upgrade that website, take the internet marketing bull by the horns, or finally create your first site, you can either call Ghostbusters or your friendly neighborhood experts.  Take luck!