Google?s Siren Call ? Is It Crashing Your Search Engine Marketing?

It's difficult to dispute the rational behind the rant since Google continues to outpace its rivals in popularity with an 89% "strongly positive experience" rating from an opinion poll of U.S. Adult Internet Users conducted by eMarketer in early 2005. Google certainly achieves mass exposure and logically it's fair to attribute a first position ranking to gaining access to the masses.

However, your success in search engine marketing should not be reliant on a single source of visitors. Although the convenience of focusing on Google is comforting in the whirlwind of new search and Internet technology, the outcome from it could be disastrous to the growth of your business.

An effective search engine marketing strategy leverages the advantages of all of the major search engines and their advertising channels including natural and paid.

Why?

Here are three essential reasons why you should expand your search engine marketing strategy beyond just Google, paid search or any other singular search engine marketing strategy to encompass the broader opportunities available for your business.

(1) Paid versus Natural Search: Relevancy and Conversion

A common strategy of search engine marketing companies and Internet marketers is to bid for the top paid search listing in Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) or Google Adwords as a way to acquire the perceived "bread and butter" position in the search results page. The concept is that a search result appearing at the top of the list is the most relevant to the search users' keyword query and therefore will receive the most click-throughs and conversions.

However, research from Enquiro as well as many other research firms, found a "significant amount of confusion over sponsored links." In the research conducted, over 77% of participants when performing a product research search choose a natural listing over a paid listing. Even during an actual purchase scenario, 67% of participants still choose a natural listing over a paid one.

And what about Google specifically? The Enquiro study showed that 85% of Google users choose a natural listing while 14% clicked on a paid "sponsored" link. The study stated that, "Google users also had the lowest level of confusion about what was a sponsored link on the search results page." Compare these numbers to 42% of search users on non-Google search engines like Yahoo and MSN choose a sponsored link over a natural listing.

Also, the conversion rate whether sales or leads may be affected by the source of a website visitor's click-through. A study conducted by MarketingSherpa called "Search Marketing Metrics Survey" in July 2004, showed that "conversions from (natural) search engine results are 25%+ higher than paid search ad conversions." Relevancy from search result listing to website is critical however you also need to consider the relevancy associated with the ad type ? paid versus natural.

So you know the insight ? what's the solution?

Easy ? don't get caught up in an "either/or" decision, as a search engine marketer you must focus on both natural search through search engine optimization and paid search.

As the Enquiro study stated, "Unless a company is willing to forfeit either 70% (in the case of natural) or 30% (in the case of paid) of their potential market to the competition they have to seriously consider both search channels."

(2) Cross-Search Engine Builds Brand Credibility

Tempting as it may be to put all of your eggs in one basket for convenience sake, Google is not the only major source of quality website visitors. In the most recent search engine rankings issued by Nielsen/NetRatings in March 2005, Google was first with 47% of searches (among work and home users in U.S.); Yahoo second with 20.9% and MSN third with 13.6%. If you only focus on Google, you are missing access to over 53% of the marketplace.

In addition, another separate study conducted by Nielsen/NetRatings determined that "the majority of Internet searchers use mutliple search engines." As a ClickZ article written by Rob McGann on February 28, 2005 stated, "The (Nielsen/NetRatings) study found that 58% of Google searchers also visited at least one of the other top two search engines, Yahoo and MSN Search."

So what happens when a potential customer finds your search listing on Google yet you are no where to be found on MSN or Yahoo? What if they only see a sponsor listing on Google which they immediately view as less than relevant? How about a major slam against your credibility?

Yes ? that's right. Because of the wide-spread utility of the internet for research and consideration during a buying cycle, if you are not found across search engines for a particular keyword search, you don't exist in the eye of the searcher as a potential option to fulfill their needs. On the other hand, if you are found across multiple search engines, you instantly receive a relevancy and credibility boost.

So you know the insight ? what's the solution?

Focus on generating search result listings for at least the top three search engines ? Google, Yahoo and MSN. Because these three feed a number of other search engines like AOL and AskJeeves (for paid listings) you will gain cross-search engine exposure.

In the worse case, work on generating natural search listings in Google and perform paid search in Yahoo and MSN using Yahoo Search Marketing (formerly Overture) to achieve the broad search exposure.

If search users are adopting multiple search engines to conduct their keyword searches then build your credibility with them by appearing across the major search engines especially for your top brand-oriented keywords.

(3) Search Engine User Demographics

Depending on the type of product or service you are selling, focusing on just Google or any other single search engine marketing strategy may be placing you in the entirely wrong marketplace. Although absolute demographic figures are difficult to gather, a 2004 Enquiro study titled, "Search Engine Usage in North America" provided some interesting demographic characteristics for the top three search engines:

? Males are more likely to remain loyal with one search engines (primarily Google) while females are more likely to use more than one search engine (Google, MSN and Yahoo).

? Males prefer Google while females had a strong preference for MSN.

? For both males and females, a trusted site that offers unbiased information with the natural search results was the strongest preference.

? As educational levels increased, an affinity towards Google increased as well. This may imply that Google uses are more sophisticated.

? Google users were more Internet savvy than non Google users therefore, for technology-related products Google may be a better source of qualified visitors while MSN and Yahoo may be better for non technology-related products.

So you know the insight ? what's the solution?

Visitor behaviors are dynamic ? they have a tendency to change as frequently as the weather. Therefore, do not assume that your potential customers are sophisticated and therefore reside in the Google pool. Instead, use paid search engines to test all three major search engines to generate a sense of where your potential customers hang-out. Once you find a populated pool of qualified visitors work on building your natural search listings to support and ultimately replace your paid search engine strategy.

Although it is easy to want to simplify search engine marketing by focusing all of your efforts on the biggest and most popular search engine, Google ? it is business smart to avoid the temptation. Yahoo and MSN are prominent players in the search engine market and may possess hidden gems that could explode your business growth. Even more so, moving beyond the top three search engines is also important to extend your brand exposure on an international level.

By focusing your efforts across the top three search engines whether using natural or paid listings, you are placing yourself in the best position to build credibility, relevance and conversion ? the main variables that lead to significant search engine marketing success for your business.

Kevin Gold is a writer, speaker and co-founder of Enhanced Concepts, Inc. Enhanced Concepts specializes in turning website visitors into leads or sales through web conversion strategies and ROI-driven search engine marketing. If you want to increase your leads or sales and get a free copy of "Understanding Your Conversion Rate" and "12 Surefire Ways to Increase Your Website Conversion" visit http://www.enhancedconcepts.com

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