Search marketing is a very big deal.
Consider: While Google doesn’t disclose exact figures, numbers are estimated to be anywhere from 3.5 billion to a truly staggering 8.5 billion per day. Any way you slice it, it amounts to millions of searches per minute, all day, every day. And a huge percentage of those users are researching products to buy, deciding whether to buy those products, looking for options from multiple sellers and so on. Search is a huge component of digital marketing and ecommerce.
For marketers, Google’s ubiquity, along with other search engines like Microsoft Bing — and the overall importance of search in general — means that in order to compete for clicks that convert to dollars, a solid search strategy is a must.
This article will walk you through the basics of search engine marketing (SEM), the umbrella under which search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search (a.k.a., pay-per-click or PPC) sit. We’ll look at challenges facing marketers and best practices to meet them and the future of search marketing.
The web is a big, busy place, so marketers competing for consumers’ time, attention and, most importantly, money must understand the critical role search plays in digital marketing — and how to use search to their advantage.
Table of contents
- What is search marketing?
- SEO and PPC: The backbones of search
- Search marketing trends and challenges: What’s next?
- Resources for learning more about search marketing
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
What is search marketing?
Broadly defined, search marketing is a digital marketing strategy by which marketers use search engines to gain visibility and traffic for their online presence. As noted above, search marketing encompasses both SEO and PPC (more on both later), but broadly, the strategy involves any tactic to elevate a website’s visibility on a search engine.
The ultimate goal for marketers utilizing a search strategy is to boost their ranking in search results. In a practical sense, that means when someone searches something like “best snowblowers” or “where to buy teak patio sets near me,” businesses are jockeying behind the scenes for position near the top of the resulting search engine results pages (SERPs).
That coveted real estate adds up to more clicks — statistics show that around 30% of all clicks go to the top search result on Google — and eventually, marketers hope, more purchases.
SEO and PPC: The backbones of search
The two tactics commonly used in search marketing to bolster visibility are SEO and PPC. SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is an organic component of search marketing. Website owners use keywords and other strategies to push their websites as high as possible within a search engine’s results. Identifying what your target audience is searching for, then creating content to address the intent behind their search query is one of the foundational elements of SEO.
The reason for utilizing SEO as part of your search marketing strategy is simple. Google and other search engines use “crawlers” to sweep the web, using the information contained in the pages the crawlers come across to create a vast index, or library, of webpages.
Then, algorithms — sets of rules that search engines use to understand what the webpages are about — analyze the pages to determine the order in which results are displayed and look at factors like site usability, relevance, quality and so on.
Once you’ve got keywords down, the next logical step in SEO is to create helpful content on the topics you’re trying to drive search results for, so the search engines recognize relevance and authority.
Critically, Google, Microsoft Bing and other search engines don’t accept payment for website ranking on their search results pages. But patience is key. Many experts say that marketers should expect these tactics to begin to pay off in three or more months, as it takes work and strategy to optimize your results on search pages.
Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, on the other hand, is a paid strategy. Advertisers use networks such as Google Ads to promote websites above the organic search results. Search engines display PPC ads based on online auctions — which roughly translates into the amount marketers or business owners are willing to pay every time someone clicks on their ad.
Finding the sweet spot between generating the right number of clicks and making sure you don’t blow your budget is key for marketers, as is keeping tabs on performance using services such as Google Analytics and paying attention to which ads generate conversions — and when. But also take note, PPC is not pay-to-win. That means your ads won’t get more attention if your bids are higher. And it’s not just about clicks — it’s about Google’s Quality Score too.
So, how effective are SEO and PPC? Why should marketers care? To start, consider that the average person conducts multiple Google searches per day, while 59% of shoppers reported that they use the search engine to research products they plan on buying.
In 2019, a large majority of ecommerce sessions (65%) originated by search: 33% from organic and 32% from paid, according to the most recent statistics published by Statista in November. There are no two ways about it — jockeying for a position among millions of sites on the web truly requires a robust search marketing strategy.
Google organic search can drive some 60% of web traffic. U.S. search ad revenue grew 33% to $78 billion last year. We told you it was a big deal.
Search marketing trends and challenges: What’s next?
Artificial intelligence and harnessing the power of data analytics is always part of the conversation when it comes to predicting the future of anything in the digital marketing sphere — and that is certainly the case here. Specifically, however, there are a few essential items to keep a close eye on.
First, understand that while Google is the reigning titan of search, there’s room for competition and that it principally comes from Amazon and Meta’s Facebook and Instagram. That’s why paid advertising on Amazon and having the right keyword strategy is important for digital marketers, especially when you consider that customers conducting searches on the site are most likely ready to buy.
One of the perennial challenges marketers face with their organic search strategy is keeping up with changing search algorithms. Google, for example, made major updates to its search algorithm some 10 times in the last two years, as well as running many undisclosed experiments and making minor improvements. Staying on top of those changes — and responding appropriately, as well as focusing on brand-building — is a must for digital marketers.
Marketers should also continue to pay special attention to keywords, both for SEO and PPC (there are differences). Speaking of keywords, marketers should keep in mind that voice-enabled search (especially for local businesses, restaurants, stores, etc.) is rising in popularity and accuracy. Optimizing mobile sites and keywords to support voice search by understanding that such searches are structured in full, conversational sentences is important.
Resources for learning more about search marketing
- Search Engine Land’s excellent primer on search marketing can be found here.
- Google’s advice on search essentials can be found here.
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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
About the author
Johanna Marmon is a writer and editor with more than 20 years’ experience covering a variety of professional services and industries, including law, for corporate, trade, and consumer audiences. Currently a marketer in the architecture/engineering/construction (A/E/C) space, Johanna directs the response to complex RFPs and works with business developers on capture strategy for multimillion-dollar pursuits and proposals.
A native of South Florida, she lives in upstate New York with her husband, two boys, and an unruly Wheaten terrier named Scout. She is never not on deadline.