A simple guide for business leaders to Google and Search Engine Marketing

I’m not going to do a massive amount of blogging on how to generate leads with Google as there is plenty of information on this topic available on the web and this is a blog for SME Business Leaders.

What I did think might be useful for some readers though was a brief introduction to some of the concepts and some of the jargon involved.

Start with the end in mind – Be clear about your goal and make sure you can measure it

Firstly be clear about your desired end result – presumably people buying from your site, or is it simply enquiring online and then buying by phone, or even in person?

And once you are clear on the result you want, make sure you can measure it!  To understand the value of any investment you make in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) you will need to be able to identify whether a sale was a result of your web activity.  Not always easy – think of a restaurant.  Did the person that walked in the door find the restaurant online?

So having understood the business end result we want and made sure we can measure it, what next?

The starting point is to understand that you want relevant people = prospective customers = prospects to look at your site. You can measure the amount of interest your site attracts (traffic) in a number of ways, including the total number of pages viewed (page hits), the number of visitors or probably most usefully the number of unique visitors in a particular period.

But unique visitors is not quite the whole story as you are also interested in how long they stay on the site and how many pages they look at. So really you’re interested in getting the RIGHT unique visitors – those that are actually interested in what you have to offer.

Which brings us neatly on to the role of Google as part of the marketing mix (and whilst I will refer to Google, most of the comments I make also apply to other search engines).

Marketing using Search Engines (Search Engine Marketing or SEM)

Google is a search engine that is in business to helps people find what they are interested in online.  Google will therefore try to direct to your site visitors that are what you have to offer interesting. And that is key – Google succeeds when visitors end up at a site they find interesting and fails when  they don’t like what they find.  So always remember that is what drives Google as a search engine.

In simple terms Google does this by trying to work out what your site is about and how credible it is.

Then when someone types in a relevant search term, it will list your site IF it thinks your site is relevant to them. And if Google believes your site is the MOST relevant site then it will list you first.

Search Engine Optimisation or SEO = Driving natural search

This is the jargon used to describe the process of persuading Google that your site is the one it should direct people towards … or to be more precise the one it should direct the RIGHT people (meaning the ones entering the right words) towards. This process relates to what is sometimes known as Natural Search.  The results that Google gives naturally without any funding from you.

This process is simple in principle – you need to make sure you use in your site the words that you expect searchers to use AND somehow to get other important sites (the BBC is one of the best) to refer people to your site.

It is however tricky in practice. I have radically simplified the extremely complex and top secret mechanisms Google uses to make its decisions.

The most important point though is that a really good understanding of your market is necessary to be able to guess what potential customers might type in to a search engine… and a similarly good understanding of potential partners who might refer people to your site from theirs… that is really important in persuading Google you are credible.

Don’t though be put off by my comment that it can be tricky and blindly outsource the process to one of the many companies that offer to do SEO for you. There are good SEO companies and there are lots of less good companies … and you can do it yourself if you have the aptitude and time and buy a good book like SEO for Dummies or get good training.

The key issue in assessing an SEO supplier or doing it yourself is the need to really understand your customers and be able to guess what they might enter in a search engine. So if you are a SME choosing an external supplier of SEO, go for the one that works with you closely to understand your customers and your offerings. The supplier that doesn’t ask you lots of questions and really get to know you and your market cannot do a good job.

And finally don’t believe anyone who tells you they have a fool proof method of tricking Google into sending people to your site.  Google is the most successful search engine business because it does the best job of directing people to the most relevant sites and it is too big, clever and powerful to give up that position based on clever tricks.  If you can help it do a good job great, but don’t try to trick Google – when it catches you out, it will penalise you heavily by regarding your site as trickery and downgrading it.

You may now be asking ‘is there a quicker way?’… and there is – at a cost.

Pay per click (PPC) – Adwords – paid search

Influencing Google costs money and or effort.  So Google, keen to make money itself offers you a shortcut, called Pay Per Click, Adwords or PPC.  Google reserves up to three or so places at the top of the page and a string of places on the right of the page for relevant sites prepared to pay for that visibility.

Again I simplify, but broadly these places are available for auction.  You, the SME business bid for a place and the highest bids from relevant sites get the highest listings.

Notice I use the words relevant sites.  Because Google is driven to deliver good results, these places are not totally decided by cash.  Google remains interested in delivering good sites to its searchers, so if you pay a lot of money to get to the top of the list and then Google finds people that click on your site don’t stay, then it will downgrade your position.

Again, the principles are simple and the practice can be tricky, and whilst Google will help you manage your spend within a budget, getting value for money with Pay per click is often difficult.  And the same points apply as to how to do it effectively.  It’s not beyond most people to learn how to manage PPC if they have the time and a good book or good training.  And there are good and bad suppliers who will save you the time and money developing the expertise yourself.

And for those SMEs that want to do it themselves, have worked out the basics of PPC and now want to optimise their return on investment, here’s a good article I found recently: 7 steps to optimise Google Adwords

Summary

The key points to remember are:

  • Be clear about the end business result you are trying to achieve and how you will measure it
  • Whatever techniques you use and whether you do it in house or outsource it, ensure that your actions are based on a really good understanding of your customer their interests and and their behaviours
  • Focus your efforts on working with Google not trying to trick it
  • Use SEO for best long term return on investment and PPC for quick results (in the interim)

Bob Bradley

Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.

Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.

Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.

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