PICK YOUR LEVEL
First things first: Where are you in the process?
1. Getting Started: You don't do keyword buying, but maybe you would like to — if it looks interesting, useful, and doable. We'll structure a minimal program to get you started, step by step, so you can see how it works and figure out whether it's going to do you any good.
2. Taking the Next Steps: You do some search-engine marketing/keyword buying, and now you need to leverage your success, to understand how to take the next steps — heck, you need to figure out what the next steps are. We'll suggest some easy ways to start heading up that ladder to better results, more efficiencies, greater opportunity. We'll also ask the important question: Is it time for you to hire someone dedicated to doing this full time?
Mixed in are resources such as AllBusiness.com gurus, Web sites, books, places where consultants hang out, and other expertise you can tap into.
Big Deal: The Benefits of SEM
Search Engine Marketing, or SEM, is a hot topic among those who have business Web sites. And for good reason.
The Web can drive more business your way with every passing day. In fact, the Web may be the best thing to happen to small and medium-size businesses since God invented advertising.
But it's a big topic, and it's a busy world, so you may not be fully up to speed on this topic yet. You may be optimizing your Web site for maximum business conversion — but probably not. You may also have a dedicated marketer buying tens of thousands of dollars in search engine keywords for you each month — but probably not that either. There are 500,000 buyers of Google AdWords, and a similar number using Yahoo! Search Marketing, but there are 25 million small and medium-size businesses in the United States alone — which means this is still a fresh, wide-open market for most of us.
Seriously, if your business can benefit from direct marketing to your most targeted customers, then paid search and Web site optimization — collectively known as Search Engine Marketing — is the greatest tool you could ever hope for in your search for untapped business growth.
Consider the benefits of paid search for direct marketing:
* You can try out paid keyword search for very little cash: How does 50 bucks sound?
* Feedback is very fast, so you can test, test, test — fast and cheap — and keep testing until you hit that buyer hot button that generates the sales you need.
* Google and Yahoo! will track conversions for you even if you don't have your own Web site analysis package, so you can calculate your return on investment more easily.
* You only pay when it works — that is, you pay only when somebody clicks on your ad. So if your first keyword tests are a disaster and nobody clicks, it doesn't cost you a fortune — in fact, it doesn't cost you anything. You can lick your wounds, cheap. It only costs you a fortune when you're making a fortune.
* OK, it's more complicated than that. For you to be making that fortune, all those interested customers clicking on your search ad have to find what they're looking for on your site. So your site has to be reasonably well designed, well organized, and optimized to make it as easy as possible for them to buy things from you. That can be a lot of work too, but again, you can test, test, test. Even better, you can steal — that is, you can learn good design elements and good e-commerce customer flow techniques, by observing the successful designs and buying processes of the big winners on the Web, like Amazon and eBay. What a wonderful world!
As David Saries, the AllBusiness.com direct-marketing guru who manages our own investment in keywords, says: "You pay little for clicks, you get highly targeted results, so you can get good ROI — and everything is trackable!"
Oh, and one more thing. It's easy to get started — all you need, basically, is a credit card. Fill out the application on the search engine's site and start experimenting, then feeling your way along.