Get Seen The Easy Way: Simple, Practical Search Engine Promotion

Companies have paid me literally thousands of dollars to create the kind of end-to-end reporting tools that now exist with Google AdWords and Overture Conversion Tracking tools. You can leverage these tools for a $5 activation fee (Google) and a few cents per click. Then again, so can everyone else. Keep reading to remain competitive.

In this article, I’ll explain a straightforward "two-pronged" approach to increase traffic to your Website in both the short and long term. Using cost-per-click marketing for short term traffic boosts and market research, as well as a very simple, practical, but highly under-utilized technique to generate links to your site, you can boost traffic to your Website and keep it coming.

I’m not talking about a magic wand solution, esoteric search engine optimization (seo) mantras, or late night spells — I’m talking about the basics of site promotion that all too many Web developers simply overlook. There is a way to get noticed cheaply, scrupulously, and effectively. In this article, I’ll show you how.

The Two-Pronged Solution

Long-term marketing efforts (to gain rank on the "left side" of Google) typically involve hit-and-miss tactics. Cost-per-click campaigns (appearing on the "right side" of Google) often provide clear numbers but can be expensive to maintain in the long term. The solution? Use cost-per-click as a marketing research and short-term promotion tool to drive more focused long-term efforts. This isn’t to say that in the process you won’t hit on a few good keywords that may substantiate a cost-per-click campaign. But what many designers don’t understand is that cost-per-click campaigns can be invaluable market research tools. How? I’m glad you asked.

Why did these companies pay so much for end-to-end (from first click to final purchase) reporting? Not to increase clicks, but to generate percentages. Calculated over a decent-sized test base, these percentages can begin to tell you what your long term return on investment (ROI) will be. And that tells you exactly where to put your money to make money.

Phase I: Win the Cost-Per-Click Game

Google and Overture are the two cost-per-click giants I recommend we focus on, because they "feed" search engine traffic to so many other sites. Signing up for an account is easy ( adwords.google.com and overture.com – choose "pay for performance"). Next, you will want to select some keywords to test. These could be keywords you’ve used as meta tags, or phrases that you know are crucial to your business. Think in terms of what an ideal customer will be searching for on the Web. Brainstorm with your clients, then check key phrases using Google and Overture’s free suggestion tools:

At this point, it’s safe to overdo it. Group keywords into broad categories and write your ads with the ideal client in mind. What will convince them to click? Make sure your ad copy is relevant to the associated keywords as well.

Next, set a test budget. I recommend $100 each for Google and Overture, depending on how many keywords you are testing. Overture will let you pay a lump sum; you’ll have to monitor Google to ensure you don’t go over-budget. Then, bid on keywords. Try to get into the top three positions, but watch your burn rate. A campaign that burns up money too quickly won’t tell you what you need to know about long-term advertising. Gauge it so that your campaigns last at least a couple of weeks. If necessary, reduce the number of keywords you’re testing, or increase your budget.

Finally, select the "Conversion Tracking" section and step through the form. You will be presented with a little bit of HTML to place on your "thank you" page — the page on which you confirm a processed transaction. This tag (which shows up as a small image in Google, but is invisible in Overture) sends information back to the search engines so they can correlate the specific keyword your customer used to generate the successful outcome (a purchase, a contact form, or anything you like). This means that not only can you track click-throughs, you can actually see which keywords bring people in and cause them to take the next step.

If you don’t have a form-based transaction, consider creating one — even for your "contact" page. Or, tag your contact page itself and know that not all "conversions" necessarily meant the customer emailed you – the stats just show how many visited that page.

The ideal is a definite correlation between keyword and click, click and transaction. You will then start to generate clear percentages. Both Google and Overture will display a "cost per conversion" which is useful, but more useful to our efforts is the percentage created by dividing conversions by click-throughs. This tells you how likely to take the next step were people who searched for this keyword and found your ad.

You may find your cost-per-conversion is sufficiently low enough to turn a profit, in which case, after a couple of weeks, you can trim back keywords that aren’t performing well and allocate some of your marketing budget to long term cost-per-click advertising. What most people don’t realize, however, is that you can do more with the data you’ve collected.

Phase II: Act on Your Marketing Research

Whether you know it or not, you have been doing marketing research. If you played the cost-per-click game right, you’ve generated some useful data about what people actually search for when they want your product or service. Even more importantly, you have determined which keywords are used by people who want to take the next step, and which keywords correspond to people who are just surfing.

The brick-and-mortar tactics that achieve the same kinds of results typically involve sending out some kind of mailer with a business reply card, then hiring a staff to process these cards and track the responses through to "taking the next step." The cost? Thousands of dollars in printing and staffing, plus at least six months to generate any kind of useful data. You paid $205.

Let’s put that $205 to good use. The next part of the equation is deceptively simple. Search for those keywords and phrases that generated conversions (remembering to use quotes around phrases that contain multiple words). You now get to see the Websites you want to be — the Websites that rank in the top 10 on the left (free) side of Google for keywords that you know are successful.

For each of these ten listings, right click them and open them in a new window. Then, copy the URL to your clipboard. Now, go back to Google. Type in the exact phrase "link:" (no quotes), then paste in the URL of one of these top ten listings. Make sure there are no spaces between "link:" and the URL. Hit enter.

What you’re now seeing is a list of the top Websites that link to this top-ten listed site. These are the sites on which you want to be listed. Browse through these links and copy any URLs for sites at which you might have a chance to be listed. Don’t worry if they’re free or paid directories, educational sites or anything else — if you stand a remote chance of seeing your link there, catalog the site. Paste the URL and site title into two adjacent columns of an Excel spreadsheet.

Doing this for the top ten linkers to the top ten listings should produce one hundred results (10 x 10 = 100). Probably less than half of them will be useful to you. The other half, however, are the beginnings of your reciprocal link database.

Continue this process — set aside some time, or train and hire a temp or p.a. to help you out. Collect data for every performing key word or phrase you discovered in Phase I. Do this for both Google and Overture — the process is identical because they both support the "link:" search.

Then, sort your Excel spreadsheet by URL. Scan down the list and look for repeats. These are the sites you want to target first. They are sites whose links are valuable to you for multiple keywords or phrases that have already proven effective. Having them link to your site is a powerful vote of confidence in the "mind" of the search engine.

You will find many paid and free directories that list sites in your industry or area using this technique. In fact, you will also find some of the sites your competitors have already found and can thereby begin to level the playing field.

You will also probably find sites that cover your industry or topic in a more educational way. Consider writing articles or engaging in other community-building activities so that these sites will consider linking to you. Sites are much more likely to link to educational over sell-heavy content.

Furthermore, you can recycle this educational content, citing it at appropriate times in newsgroups, mailing lists, and at the bottom of your email signature. Because this information is a community service, and educational in nature, you’re unlikely to offend anyone by presenting it. Furthermore, building your presence as an expert in a topic or range of topics not only makes your site more link-worthy, it increases your profile in the real world, as well.

Checklist

Follow these simple steps to start gaining traffic:

Phase I:

  1. Sign up for Google Adwords and Overture Pay For Performance accounts
  2. Choose keywords and write ads
  3. Enable your "thank you" page with conversion tracking tags
  4. Run your campaigns for a set amount of time and money; recommended minimum is 2 weeks and $100 each

Phase II:

  1. Calculate your conversion rate (conversions divided by clickthroughs).
  2. Note keywords with high conversion rates that bring in a clear ROI; consider a long-term cost-per-click campaign using those keywords or phrases.
  3. Take other keywords and phrases that have reasonably high conversion rates; perform a search to bring up the "top 10".
  4. Search for the "link:" to those top 10 phrases.
  5. Repeat this for all keywords and phrases to generate your reciprocal links database.
  6. Target the URLs that show multiple entries in your database first. Always list with free directories; consider the advantages and price tag with paid directories.
  7. Consider authoring community-building and educational content to encourage links from the educational sites in your database.
Conclusion

Leveraging end-to-end reporting via conversion tracking will see you put to use data that was formerly only available to companies with hefty marketing budgets and plenty of time.

You can start to see return on a couple of hundred dollars in a couple of weeks — or sooner.

Creating links to your site from reputable sources is the single most valuable way to increase your search engine ratings. It is the democratic principle upon which Google was founded and, by now, most other search engines have followed suit.

Using end-to-end reporting data to power your search for other sites to link to yours combines two powerhouse tactics into a deceptively simple, yet proven approach to increase not only your site traffic, but also your "conversions" — be they sales, inquiries, or any other end result you want your online marketing effort to achieve.

So, put away your doorway pages, hidden text, and voodoo chickens! Go out there and get seen the easy way.

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