'Search Engine Optimization' Entries ↓

Search Engine Optimization for the Motorcycle and Powersports Industry : DealerExpo 2009 Dealernews Live Presentation

As promised here’s my presentation from this year’s (2009) Dealernews Live session. Obviously just looking at the presentation you will be deprived of the immense wit and intelligent insight that my commentary provides in the live session, but hey!

As usual, if you have any questions or issues let me know in the comments section below.

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Selling Online #31 : Local SEO – It’s Not Just for E-commerce Any More!

Every once and a while I’ll get someone saying to me, “Todd, you’re nuts to be giving away some of these ideas for free!”

Well, this month is another great example. As this is my last column of the year, consider it my early Festivus present to you. I guarantee that if you follow my advice in this column your dealership will absolutely, positively  make significantly more money next year even if you don’t have anything to do with e-commerce.

I’m going to tell you about one of the hottest areas of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) right now: Local Results!

At the Search Engine Strategies show that I just attended in San Jose I heard several experts mention that as much as 40% of all web searches that have to do with commerce (i.e. person does a search for widget with the intent of buying widget) have an intent to transact locally if at all possible. Obviously for things like services, that number is more like 100%. Oil changes and brake jobs are not going to get killed off by e-commerce any time soon!

The secret is based on the fact that pretty much the only people that use things like a phone book to find a business are typically sitting in a cave and/or not all that interested in internal combustion engines anyhow (much to the chagrin of your pushy Yellow Pages sales rep of course).

What do people use instead? Why the interwebs of course! They open up their browser and type in things like “motorcycle oil change Las Vegas”, or “atv tires”, or just about any combination of powersports related keywords and a location. Even if they don’t type in an explicit location, most of the major search engines use a technology called IP address geolocation to figure out where they are to add it to what you’re looking for to offer up more relevant search results.

So when someone in your locale types “motorcycle oil change ZIPCODE” into Google (or Yahoo!, or Microsoft’s Bing) does your shop show up in the Local business results for motorcycle oil change near Your Town? Does your competition? How much more business would you be getting if you did?

How do you get in those results? Well, it’s a combination of having a website that is properly optimized for the kind of content you’re hoping to attract people for (for organic search engine results) as well as making sure that you have a business profile created on all of the major search engines out there (and any and all local resource sites that cover your neck of the woods).

If that sounds like a lot of work, you’re right, it can be. And there are tons of sites, firms and consultants that can help you out. Just Google terms like “local search engine marketing” to see how many. Sure, you can hire an internet advertising firm to help you out, but I’ll do you one better. Instead of paying some marketing firm to manage and place your ads and to do the required SEO activity, hire someone internally to not only manage all of these locally focused activities, but to also become your local community relationship manager.

I go into this idea of a Community Relationship Manager from an events standpoint in some detail on my site (http://tinyurl.com/perpetual-events), but it really becomes valuable when you have this same local expert manage all of your local-centric SEO/SEM activity as well. And unlike general SEO/SEM activity that really is a hard-to-master specialty when you are trying to rank for highly competitive keywords across the entire internet, local SEO/SEM is much easier to get your arms around internally (especially if you are not in a technologically savvy/astute area of the country and your competition has not caught on to the potential yet).

I can almost guarantee that the price you pay for the right person to manage your local presence will provide an ROI at least 3X what you would get if you spent the same money you are going to spend on salary on traditional advertising (YP, radio, TV, print, etc.). AND you have the additional benefit of being able to closely track how well the work/money spent on this person is converting to new sales. Try that with a TV ad or an increasingly expensive newspaper buy.

You of course need to hire the “right” someone to make this work out to its full potential. If you need help figuring out who the right someone should be, drop me an email and I’ll help you out with the job description as well as where to look.

There’s almost no limit to what your community relationship manager/local internet marketing person can be doing. Promote your business events using tools like Zvents (www.zvents.com) or MeetUp (www.meetup.com). Zvents is way cool because when you enter in a new event on their site in your profile, Zvents sends that event out to all the partners that are buying their event feeds that are pushed out. So just by posting your event on Zvents, local print and online (newspapers, yellowpages.com,etc.) and local search engines (i.e. MSN’s Live) will also have your company and event information thus dramatically magnifying the reach you have to get more customers into your shop (to see that reach, go here: corporate.zvents.com/company/media.html).

Finally, while there are currently very real benefits to getting your dealership’s local-centric online presence spruced up, in the future it’s going to become even more important. Pretty much all current and planned cell phones have some kind of GPS capability as well as internet access. Stand alone GPS units are going to begin adding real-time data that goes way beyond just traffic.

When a couple is out on their cross-country trip and need service immediately, they are going to whip out their Google Android-based phone (why do you think Google wants to play in the cell phone market? ADS!!!)  type in “motorcycle service” or something similar. If your shop doesn’t show up and your competition (that read my column and did something about it) does, well my friend, you just lost money.

Happy Festivus!

Here’s a brief list of the major search engines and other local information providers to help get your dealership’s local presence up to speed (a side benefit is that search engines like Google will actually look at your listings in other places and use that information to help you rank in Google’s results).

www.google.com/local/add/businessCenter?hl=en-US&gl=US
listings.local.yahoo.com/csubmit/index.php
ssl.search.live.com/listings/ListingCenter.aspx
dbupdate.infousa.com/dbupdate/startupdate
www.yellowpages.com/advertising/update_listing_form
advertising.superpages.com/spportal/
register.local.com/
www.truelocal.com/listabusiness.aspx
www.zoominfo.com/Registration/Register.aspx?type=6
www.infospace.com/info/kmaint/kdbadd.html
signup.yp.com/
www.yelp.com/signup

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Top Of The Heap!

Well I’m pretty stoked… I just did a quick check of Google’s results for the search motorcycle dealer e-commerce and lo and behold I’ve got two sites in the top 6 results of the SERP! The higher one is the site that I run day-to-day operations for, A&S BMW Motorcycles, and the second one is of course this site.

Now obviously Google is a fickle lover and a day, a week, or a month from now the same search could result in drastically different results. But for now I’m pretty happy that I’m at the top of the industry that I specialize in.

And now, for posterity’s sake, here’s a screen-grab of the SERP in question:

Motorcycle E-Commerce Google Search Result Page

I’m so easy to make happy!  8-)

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How to choose an SEO Consultant : LinkedIn Answers Response

Here was the LinkedIn:Answers question:

Who is the BEST SEO Consultant out there?

I am looking for the best SEO consultant out there, to work with me on a content driven lead gen property we are working on.

This can be paid in Cash / Cash + Equity

This was my response:

There are some good recommendations here obviously, but I think it’s very important that you understand the scope of your question. I’m not trying to be pedantic, and if you already know this stuff then that’s great.

Fundamentally good SEO (and to a large extent SEM) is based around having a good site to begin with. That all comes down to having good content.

From there all the rest of the “stuff” comes into play:
-On page factors
-Intrasite link structures
-quality links to your site from outside with good anchor text
-Properly managed server infrastructure with all the appropriate redirects (if necessary)
-Good site hygiene (lack of duplicate content, etc. etc.)

In addition to that basic fact, SEO is VERY market dependent. If you are trying to compete in an area with highly sought after keywords, it’s a much harder row to hoe. If you are in a niche or long-tail market, it can be much easier. Obviously the nature of the market and the inherent difficulty of the SEO effort in each will determine how “best” you need.

Keep that in mind when you get recommendations as well. Someone with a niche site could have used Person X and gotten great results, but that same person in a more competitive market could have failed miserably.

As you’re evaluating an SEO consultant just be VERY careful of anyone that promises a certain result or rank. They can do all the “correct” work and it can still take a long time to see the results on your site.

That said, if you have the bank account to support it, the two heavy-hitters I’d look at are:

Bruce Clay (www.bruceclay.com)
Stephen Spencer (www.netconcepts.com)

Both of these guys/companies have a much more comprehensive outlook and toolset than a lone SEO consultant can provide not to mention the years and years of man-hours of experience that they can bring to bare on your problem.

I don’t work for them, and I’m not paid to shill for them. I’ve just seen them talk numerous times at shows like Search Engine Strategies, Internet Retailer, eTail, etc. and I’m always blown away by their presentations, and I’ve yet to meet a client of theirs that was not amazed with their results.

I write for and consult to the motorcycle and powersports market (www.radicalpowersports.com) which is a pretty niche space, so perhaps my outlook is different than say a large consumer goods space.

But I’d suggest starting with these top guys and if they don’t work for you, I’m sure they can point you a good, trusted company that would fit better for you.

Good luck, and my the Google gods smile on your efforts!

Links:

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Selling Online #22 : Search Engine Optimization : Part 3 : Finale

OK class, this column marks the end of the series on SEO (search engine optimization), as well as the end of my columns for 2007. First I talked about the what’s, last month the how’s, this month I’m going to finish up the SEO stuff with a short list of some of the biggest how not to’s. And because even in three months I’ve only begun to be able to scratch the surface on SEO, I’m going to provide some really good SEO resource sites for you to dig into in the future.

First, as you will recall, when it comes to SEO, content is king. That means that the content on your site needs to be readable by the search engine spiders. What this primarily points to is that you want to make sure that your text is actually text! That seems amazingly obvious right? Well, when I look around at a lot of motorcycle dealer sites, I see quite a few sites where the text on a page is actually an image. Sure, by placing the text in an image it might look a little nicer, and you have infinite control over the formatting, but Google and the other search engines don’t see text, they just see a picture! You really, really don’t want to have any text as an image. And if you do have text in an image (for instance as a button, etc.) you want to make sure that you take advantage of the accessibility parameters I talked about last month like ALT and TITLE so that they mirror the graphical text in the image.

The other place where a lot of sites fail in terms of SEO is using Flash. Flash is an interactive, rich-media technology developed by Macromedia that was recently acquired by Adobe. While Flash can have a great place in your Web toolbox (for instance the one place where most people are interacting with Flash is via YouTube’s video player which is distributed as a Flash asset) you should be very leery of developing an entire site in Flash. Currently most of the search engines don’t have any way to crawl into and index a Flash site so your SEO results are going to be total crap.

If there are some real propeller-head types out there (especially if you are a Flash fanatic) you will no doubt be yelling into the magazine that it’s all libelist, anti-Flash propaganda and it’s entirely possible to develop a Flash site that is SEO-worthy. I concede that you can develop a SEO-friendly site in Flash by jumping though a lot of extra hoops, doing a lot of extra development work, and so on (for more on this topic, you can check out http://www.jehochman.com/articles/seo-friendly-flash.shtml). But why would you want to? Considering that most of the dealers I’ve interacted with over the past year or two barely have the resources to do e-commerce at all, I just don’t see the point in making it even more work by using Flash extensively on your site. Besides, most of the cool Flash-like stuff can now be done with standard-compliant technologies like DHTML and CSS. I know that this is going to generate some nasty emails from “web developers” that seem to prey on the naivete of some in the dealer community by locking them into complete Flash-based sites. Oh well…

The final thing I’ll tell you to avoid, and I know I’ve stressed this before, is what’s called black-hat SEO techniques. Don’t buy into webspam providers, or SEO/Marketing firms that talk about setting up hundreds or thousands of dummy sites full of keyword-rich links that link to your site. You may see an amazing impact in your SERP results or Page Rank in the short term, but you risk getting totally de-listed or even black-listed from the search engines for your troubles.

Stick with the tried and true real-world SEO techniques that I’ve written about over the past few months and you should be on your way up the SERPs!

Finally, here’s a good list of SEO related sites that will show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes:

  • www.searchenginewatch.com – I think this is the best place there is if you’re only going to pick one site
  • www.searchenginestrategies.com – Want to attend a conference where people that make SEO their life (I honestly can’t imagine why you would when you could go to Indy instead and have a heck of a lot more fun)? This is the conference arm of SearchEngineWatch. It actually is a very useful thing to see if you have the time and resources.
  • www.mattcutts.com – Matt (an employee of Google) is sort of the man on the mountain for SEO types. He sort of cryptically hints at some of the deep, dark, inner workings of Google. Totally worth reading, as well as the comments of others in his blog.
  • www.seomoz.com – A great site for SEO. You need to pay to be a member to some of the more advanced stuff, but it’s a place where all kinds of SEO folks hang out.
  • www.seobook.com – The site for a pretty good SEO book (obviously) as well as some pretty decent blog posts
  • www.seoroundtable.com – Great place to go for advice and a good launching point to other good SEO forums
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Selling Online #21 : Search Engine Optimization : Part 2

Last month I introduced some of the technical groundwork on the why’s and the what’s of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). This month I’m going to talk about some of the how’s.

As I have hopefully (and pedantically) beaten into your heads by now, when it comes to SEO, content is king. The merchandising copy and product descriptions should not only sell the product to your customers, but it should be both keyword rich and relevant for your entire business. If you sell authentic Ducati apparel, when you mention a jacket make sure you call it a Ducati Motorcycle Riding Jacket. All of those keywords are very important. And make sure you use keywords that your customers would look for and use. While the OEM may use the term brake friction block, people are going to be looking for brake pads.

If you hope to achieve outstanding organic search results, it’s not just the words that humans are going to see that are important. Search engine robots also read and index every available bit of information on your site. Even though there is considerable debate about the relative importance of a lot of these various “non-human” bits of information, it is understood that they do have a positive impact if you use them right. So here are some tips that can help your SEO above and beyond obvious textual information:

Name the images on your site with SEO in mind:
If you have an image of an oil filter for a Ducati GT1000, don’t just keep the name off your camera (like DSC-2054.jpg) or call it something like oilfilter.jpg, give it a nice descriptive name like 444.4.003.2A_Ducati_GT1000_oil_filter.jpg. If someone does a web search for the part number, the brand, the bike model, etc. they all are supported by a search result that will highlight those keywords in the search engine results page (SERP).

Use all of the “extra” HTML attributes that are available:
Modern HTML code is designed for what’s called “accessibility.” There is extra data that can be inserted into a page to help things like screen readers (programs that actually read everything on a site out loud using speech synthesis) for the blind. You can use these extra bits of data to incrementally help your search results (again, it’s debatable how much it helps, but it’s easy to do and it does seem to make a difference in real world use). Use the ALT (this is short for alternate, typically used to describe what the image is) attribute for image tags. In the above example of the oil filter, the image’s tag should have the ALT attribute set to something like Ducati Oil Filter For Ducati GT1000 – Part Number: 444.4.003.2A.

There is another attribute that most tags also posses, and that’s the TITLE attribute. An example would be using this in a link’s anchor tag to provide extra information about the link. So in your site’s navigation, or within editorial copy, you could have a link to Ducati Riding Apparel with a TITLE attribute set to Ducati Motorcycle Riding Apparel. This will not only provide a tool tip pop up when you mouse over it, but it may help with SEO as well. Of the two (ALT and TITLE), TITLE attributes impact on SERP placement is the most dubious, but it can’t hurt, and every little bit helps.

URL’s:
URL’s are another area of hot debate in the SEO world. Most e-commerce packages will create URL’s for your categories and products that look something like this: http://vroomvroommoto.com/product_detail.aspx?8675309 where 8675309 is the internal ID number of the product. This is totally sub-optimal for SEO purposes. What you want is a URL that looks like this: http://vroomvroommoto.com/ducati_motorcycle_oil_filter.aspx. If your e-commerce package does not support what’s known as re-writing URL’s there are several methods and tools that you can use to do it at the server level or by installing and using various add-ons.

Page Titles:
Page titles absolutely make a huge difference in page ranking. The first and most important thing is that the most important things needs to go first! The most important keywords need to be in the first 5 to 7 words in the title. Most companies will put their company name first, then the other stuff. That’s backwards, unless your company name also has the keywords you’re hoping to promote. Lets say that your company is Vroom Vroom Italian Moto Works and you sell Ducati and Moto Guzzi. It would be pointless to have your page titles read Vroom Vroom Italian Moto Works: Ducati and Moto Guzzi Motorcycles. Instead it should read Ducati & Moto Guzzi Motorcycles, Parts, Accessories, and Riding Apparel from Vroom Vroom Italian Moto Works. Now you’re covering all the bases and getting all the important keywords at the front of the title.

Page titles on your product detail pages absolutely should display a comprehensive product description before anything else if you want the search engines to rank the stuff people are searching for at the product level on the search engines. In the oil filter example, the product detail page should read something like Ducati GT1000 Oil Filter: Part 444.4.003.2A – Ducati & Moto Guzzi Motorcycles, Parts, Accessories, and Riding Apparel, not Ducati & Moto Guzzi Motorcycles, Parts, Accessories, and Riding Apparel from Vroom Vroom Italian Moto Works : Ducati GT1000 Oil Filter: Part 444.4.003.2A. On the product page, the most important keywords are the ones that have to do with that product.

Some of this may have seemed kind of propeller-headish, and hopefully the web developer you are using is up on this SEO stuff, but it’s still a good idea that you have at least some exposure to it so you can manage and verify.

Keep in mind that none of these techniques are a silver bullet, and these suggestions are by no means even close to exhaustive, but when combined with good site design and merchandising copy they can help you get higher up in the SERP’s.

Next month I’ll finish the SEO series on a list of the big no-no’s to avoid at all costs if you want anyone to ever find your site via a search engine!

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Selling Online #20 : Search Engine Optimization : Part 1

Last month I wrote about the online advertising practice of paid search. As I alluded to in that column, and that you may have found out if you have looked into it on your own, it can be a really expensive endeavor, and accurately measuring the success or the ROI of all that advertising spending can be a headache.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a way to get people to your site without having to spend all that money? The good news is that there is a way. It’s known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

You should have noticed that frequently during past columns (such as the design, development, and merchandising columns) I’ve already made mention of SEO. The reason for doing that is because to do SEO right, you need to design your site from the ground up with optimization in mind. The next series of columns will now go into the nuts and bolts of actually bringing all that SEO stuff together.

Just like some of my other columns that deal with stuff that has a strong technical underpinning, it’s going to take more than one issue to get through it all because it’s important to understand the why’s of SEO as well as the what’s because it’s the why’s that will most likely drive the how’s.

Just to get my bona fides out of the way; feel free to Google “BMW Motorcycle Parts” or “BMW Motorcycle Accessories” or even model specific stuff like “BMW R1150RT Parts.” That’s the site I run (A&S BMW Motorcycles) at the top. It’s been in the #1 position for 3 years running for just about every permutation of BMW Motorcycling related keywords you can throw at it, and if we’re not at the #1 position, we’re in the top 5. We’ve even been above the BMW corporate site for the search of “BMW Motorcycles” (BMW makes special effort now to see that doesn’t happen anymore!).

All of this is all so vitally important because when most people are looking for something online, they typically start at one of the major search engines like Google (the 800 pound gorilla), Yahoo, Ask, and so on. Each search engine has it’s own methods of “discovering” websites (typically known as spidering where an automated web surfing program called a robot just goes from page to page, indexes what it finds on that page and follows all the links that it finds to the next set of pages, over and over, and over again) and of sending back a series of pages ranking the return results (known as the Search Engine Results Pages or SERPs) when you enter a search term.

When companies talk about how well their business does with regards to SEO, they use a term called organic results. That term is used to separate how visible they are based on the pure search results vs. any type of paid search campaign that they may be running at the time, not if they use pesticides or keep their chickens in tiny cages. Everyone wants to have good organic results for the primary search terms that describe their business. Or more correctly, they want to rank at the top of the SERPs for the keywords that their customers are searching for. That can be a huge distinction when it comes down to the difference between just driving traffic to your site, and driving shoppers to your site.

One thing that you need to keep in mind as you launch your site is that even if you do a perfect job with your SEO efforts, it is going to take a while for your stuff to show up at all, let alone near the top. New sites are hard to find. It’s going to take a while for the search engines to find you (all major search engines have a registration process where you can request yo have your site indexed), and even after you are indexed, you may end up spending several months in a type of limbo while you are deemed a worthy site and not just some fly-by-night scam site (this limbo in Google’s case is called the Sandbox. This sandbox, unlike the one’s from your ill-spent youth, is not fun to be in).

Propeller-head alert!
From an informational standpoint the Holy Grail for the web would be something called the Semantic Web. This mythical beast would function in such a way that when an author creates a site, they could tag the site, a page on the site, or even a term on the page, in such a way that it removes all ambiguity related to what the content is about, and the search engines would not have to essentially guess how to index the site. It would add a layer of intelligence to all of the pure data out there and theoretically allow much better search engine results.

Unfortunately there’s a huge number of complete scammers out there that are more interested in pushing adult toys, Mexican Viagra, and naked pictures of Paris Hilton that would stop at nothing to cram as much semantic information that has nothing to do with the crap they are selling but would yield high search results just to get people to their site.

It’s primarily because of scammers that semantic information (you’ll hear terms like META data, keywords, descriptions, etc.) is virtually ignored today by all major search engines and they instead have to rely on keyword pattern matching, relevance ranking, as well as other more complicated algorithms that analyze intrasite as well as intersite link structures to determine at best worth, and at worst (and most typically) popularity. Yes that stuff sounds complex ( What do you think all those multiple PhD’s do all day at Google?), but if you want to get your site on top and make bags of money you’re going to need to understand it.

Now that I’ve laid out the landscape a little bit so that you have some context, in the end, it all boils down to content! Content is king. And like your mother used to say, it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it that makes it really important. The next column I’ll teach you how to speak in a language and syntax that the robots can understand. Domo arigato Mr. Roboto!

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Selling Online #19 : Paid Search

You’ve got your wonderfully designed website up and running. It’s merchandised with all sorts of stuff that you’re sure people will want to buy. You’ve got great merchandising copy, a ton of awesome images, and your operations are all set up to handle hundreds of orders a day without a hitch.

There’s only one problem. No one is coming to your store! You’ve yet to build up a customer list so your e-mail marketing is not going to do a whole lot at this point. You’ve got your URL slapped on your business cards, billboards, direct mail pieces, etc. but still your potential customers seem to be ignoring the axiom, “if you build it, they will come!”

What’s worse is that because your site is so new, Google and the other search engines have not really found out about you. Perhaps there are not enough pages indexed on your site to give relevant returns for search terms you are looking for, or maybe you’re still in Google’s “sandbox” where they put new sites until they essentially prove (through some mystical mix of longevity, inbound links, black magic, etc.) that they are not just some spam site. For whatever super-secret reason that Google, Yahoo, or the rest have, your site is nowhere to be seen in the organic search results for the keywords you or your customers care about.

If you follow the link to Wikipedia above on the Sandbox effect, make sure you check out the talk section to understand the dispute about what may or may not be going on. Regardless of what you read there, in my view it’s pretty much accepted that you are indeed placed in some kind of purgatory when you have a new site.

What can you do? Well, if you’ve got the cash, you can resort to what’s known as paid search or search engine advertising/marketing.

Paid search is the reason that Google is worth bazillions of dollars today. What’s interesting is that Google didn’t invent the concept (The credit for that goes to one of the early DotCom’s then known as GoTo.com. GoTo.com eventually changed its name to Overture, and then was purchased by Yahoo when Yahoo discovered that it had its pants around it’s ankles and Google was stealing all its lunch money because it didn’t have either a paid search strategy or the technology to do anything about it even if they did have one. To read more check out this story in Wired. Because Google is the 800 pound Gorilla here, most of my examples will involve them and their AdWords program, but keep in mind that most search engines offer paid search of one kind or another.

The concept is fairly simple. Businesses wanting to advertise on Google bid on keywords (let’s say “motorcycle parts”), when a search engine user does a web search for those terms, in addition to the long list of “organic” search results (pages that are listed because Google has determined that they are the best result for the search term), there are also results on the page that represent the advertiser’s links. You’ll see them along the right edge in a column under the heading of Sponsored Links or for certain highly relevant ads, along the top (again with the identifier of “Sponsored Links”).

The cost to you as an advertiser as well as the placement of your ad are determined by a number of factors (as is typical of Google, not all of those factors are known or communicated to you, the advertiser). The first and most obvious is the amount of money you are willing to spend per ad. Actually you are bidding on how much you are willing to spend for each click by a search user (cost-per-click or CPC). Typically, the more you spend, the more likely your ad will appear, and if you spend enough, your ad will appear closer to the top.

One of the clever bits about Google’s AdWords shows why Google is the king of this game. Instead of just allowing ad display and placement to be driven by the keyword’s bid price, Google also keeps track of how many people actually click on your ad. Obviously Google wants to make sure that they are displaying relevant ads that will lead to a search user clicking on them so Google gets paid, and their advertising customers see people coming to their site from these ads. If Google didn’t do it this way, Viagra spammers and the like would just buy up a ton of the hottest keywords so their totally irrelevant ads would show up all over the place, driving out potentially relevant ads in the process.

Because Google has a stake in the game this way, they want your ads to be good ads that people click on. Google provides a ton of tools and guides to help you craft the most effective AdWords campaigns possible. They will guide you through choosing the best keywords as well as the best ad copy. However, even with all of Google’s guidance, it’s still important that before you dive into paid search advertising that you do some serious thinking about 1) your budget, and 2) what keywords you want to focus on.

Those two elements are very closely linked. Once you start using AdWords, if you’re not careful to set realistic daily maximums or choose targeted keywords, you will be in for a potentially VERY nasty surprise when your first AdWords payment comes out of your shop’s credit card. Make sure that you understand how to set up your campaigns to be effective but within your budget, otherwise it will seem like you’ve got a tweeked out teenager with a no limit credit card running wild through the mall!

Unless you’ve got more money in your advertising budget than you know what to do with, I’d recommend focusing on very specific keywords and phrases and avoid something like the example at the start of the column (“Motorcycle parts”). Open ended or general keywords are going to be pretty expensive, as well as show up on a lot of non-relevant searches.

Here’s another example. Let’s say all you sell are motorcycle helmets. Let’s say that you didn’t read this column or pay any attention to the guidance that Google tries to provide and bought keywords like “helmet”, “Motorcycle”, “motorcycle riding”, and so on. Essentially you think that you want to cast a really wide net and get anyone even remotely interested in motorcycling to your site with the logic being that they all need helmets. So you end up paying $5.00 per click for a term like “motorcycle”, or $8.00 per click for “helmet”. You’ll soon discover that your daily ad budget is gone in like 1 hour and you’ve got zero sales based on those clicks! Why? Because while your ad was showing up all over the place, it was showing up for things like a kid doing a book report on The Mouse And The Motorcycle, or people searching for information about the band Helmet or mountain bike helmets.

Now, if you are smart about it, you’d typically decide that with your limited ad budget you’d better focus a little more and start bidding on really tight search terms. Examples would be “discount motorcycle helmets” or “Scorpion Helmets.” There’s very little point in placing your ad in front of people that are not really interested in what your selling. Getting your ad out there “just in case” will become very expensive and typically very ineffective.

Considering the billions of dollars that Google is worth, all because of paid search, it’s no surprise there is a considerable industry involved in it. There are firms that do nothing but create and execute paid search campaigns, and software that does nothing but try to optimize your paid search campaign. This column can really do nothing more than give a brief overview. There are all kinds of other issues that could be columns unto themselves, such as click-fraud (for example, your competitor hires a team of monkeys to click all of your ads, thus depleting your ad inventory. Google is “supposed” to protect against this, but Google “click fraud” and you’ll see it’s a real issue).

Hopefully this gives you enough to get started exploring paid search as an advertising possibility. One thing I can guarantee is that once you start doing it, you’ll realize why so many people spend so much time and energy trying to get good organic results. Paid search can be really expensive! The next series of columns is going to cover getting your site on top of those organic lists so you can cut back, or even eliminate your paid search altogether.

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