The customer journey is long and full of junctions, because the Internet offers almost everything to every user. This increases the challenge for companies to remain present and relevant. And that means first and foremost: being found, because customers are always on the lookout. Professional search engine marketing is one of the most effective ways to be visible at the touchpoints and to lead the customer journey to your own company. However, expertise and a strategic approach are indispensable for success.
What exactly is search engine marketing?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) helps you show up your products and services ahead of your competitors in search results. The aim is to attract as many so-called qualified visitors as possible to your own offer on the web. Visitors who are really interested in this offer based on their search query. Not doing so would mean accepting a drop in sales. No company today can afford to operate without professional search engine marketing. After all, 94 percent of users use search engines to make their purchasing decisions.
Warning: it’s complex
Just as there is no one size fits all, search engine strategies differ for different business models or target groups. B2B, B2C, online only, offline only or multi-channel retailing – each case must be considered separately in order to develop an individual strategy for success. The more specific the conditions, the greater the complexity. It starts with defining the right KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Closely linked to this is the question: What is the primary corporate goal? There are huge differences here. It is important to select the relevant metrics from all the metrics in a careful process and classify them as hard KPIs.
Halfway along the customer journey
The search behavior of users changes along the customer journey. If they are still in the research phase on any topic at the beginning and are looking for objective information, in the later phases (consideration, preference, purchase) information on specific products and services also becomes increasingly important. Companies have to adapt to this trend and search engines provide the necessary tools to do so.
A look at the search results
According to StatCounter, in March 2017 Google’s market share in Germany was around 87 percent in the desktop and 97 percent in the mobile sector. However, other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo are catching up, at least for desktops, and must be taken into account when planning. Let’s take a look at the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). There are basically two types of search results: organic and paid. The latter are marked as advertising and become important in the later stages of the customer journey. The organic search results can be broken down again into classic search hits, knowledge graph (supporting neutral information on specific topics) and possibly universal search overlays (e.g. images, videos, news, local, maps, etc.).
The two pillars of search engine marketing
This division into organic and paid placements also results in the two main areas of responsibility in search engine marketing. At the beginning of the customer journey, when there is still no interest in buying, it is important to be visible in the front places in connection with certain topics. This is what search engine optimization (SEO) aims for. If interest in specific offers grows, it is possible with the help of search engine advertising (SEA) to book prominent places in the results.
In search engine marketing, search engine optimization can be seen as a permanent process in which one’s own web presence is continuously adapted to dynamic developments using the analysis of KPIs. A distinction must be made between on-page and off-page optimization. The former includes all measures on your own site, such as optimizing usability and information structure, using sensible keywords , avoiding duplicate content, regular updates with new content , etc. Once on-page optimization has reached a minimum level, off-page measures can begin. This includes above all the so-called (natural) link building, eg via content marketing-Measures. Search engines rate a website as more relevant if it is referred to more often. Link building should also be promoted just as organically as the search results that this measure is aimed at. It is important to build sustainable, reputable links. In turn, this works all the better the more intensively the on-page optimization was carried out: valuable content leads to greater interest from other websites and thus to real backlinks.
Search engine advertising is also referred to as keyword advertising because it is linked to specific search terms. At first glance, this seems easy, but due to the strong global competition, it requires expertise and a strategic approach. This begins with the definition of suitable KPIs, target groups and keywords, extends to the actual creation and extends to the analysis of the KPIs and the optimization of all measures according to previously defined metric concepts. Text ads, product ads, display and video ads, etc. are used as media and formats. Billing is primarily done via PPC (pay per click).
Measurable success with analytics and monitoring
With state-of-the-art tools, it is now possible to monitor and analyze a measure over its entire period of effectiveness. From which side does the user come? What data is there about click areas, click rates, interactions with chatbots or hotlines, downloads, specific calls, email inquiries, reservations, bookings. This volume of data creates a meaningful picture. The verifiability and profitability of media spending has never been greater. The same applies to the reliability with which key KPIs such as customer lifetime value can be determined. But not everything that is measured is a hard KPI. As mentioned at the beginning, it is important to proceed methodically here. A grouping into soft KPIs such as essential metrics (page views, unique/recurring/new visitors, referrals, end devices,…), engagement metrics (shares/shared ratio, engagement in social networks, length of stay, completion rate,…), positioning metrics (Google ranking, range,…) and hard KPIs such as purchases, leads, profit, turnover, ROI / ROAS, KUR, average shopping cart per customer, CLV (customer lifetime value) helps here. Based on the results, all measures can then be optimized.
This blog article can only touch the topic. In addition to SEO, SEA and a holistic search engine marketing strategy, search engine marketing also includes other disciplines such as display advertising, shopping & product list ads, remarketing with AdWords ads. In view of the complexity of the topic, larger companies rely on specialized agencies that have the necessary expertise.
SEM is a permanent process. It requires the willingness to invest in the long term and to get involved in the cycle of campaign development, keyword research, traffic analysis and optimization. However, these investments will pay off. In more website visitors, more leads and more sales. Those who invest in SEM today will succeed in guiding the user’s customer journey to their own company.