SEO & SEM: The Dynamic Duo of Website Traffic | Content Strategy Basics

Batman & Robin SEO SEM

The Dynamic Duo of SEO and SEM

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are essential techniques for driving users to your website properties. These core tactics are similar, but not the same.

SEM and SEO are often confused, particularly since these acronyms only differ by one letter. Of course, if they were the same thing, we wouldn’t name them different things. Plus, it’s the acronym that’s different, not the underlying meaning.

I’ve found an easy way to remember these different tactics. These may help you differentiate for your extended strategy teams. If you’re a content strategist, it is essential to know how SEO and SEO work together.

SEM: Paid Advertising for Driving Traffic to Your Website
For SEM, the “M” may as well stand for “money.” That’s a nod to the fact that this includes an out of pocket (OOP) expense.

SEM works for a wide range of click traffic to websites, mobile properties, YouTube, apps, and more. Google and Bing give brands many options for driving traffic. For simplicity, let’s just talk about website traffic for now, even though your specific needs may be in a different channel.

It has been pointed out that this isn’t marketing at all. That’s true. SEM is primarily paid advertising. At some point, there was an effort to rename this search engine advertising, but the name didn’t stick.

The dominant player in SEM is Google. Their Google AdWords platform accounts for the majority of their billions of dollars in income. Google earns money each time someone clicks on a paid ad, which is why SEM is also referenced as pay per click (PPC).

Google AdWords and Microsoft’s Bing Ads both work from a similar auction-style model. There are limited ad slots and users bid for top slots. The highest qualified bidder (more on this later) will get the top slot. Continue reading

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery Fails

StumbleUpon Logo

If you’re a new blogger trying to figure out how to get more traffic to your site, then you’re not alone. Everyone wants new traffic. Yet it’s not enough to get traffic, you want to get the right traffic. Qualified readers. Right?

On Word+Pictures=Web, I am usually trying to attract readers interested in technology, marketing, photography, new media, gadgets, comic books, and fun stuff like that. Digging into my stats, I noticed that I was getting some good traffic from StumbleUpon.com.

Note: For blog analytics, I use a combination of Site Stats from WordPress and Google Analytics. Both packages are free.

StumbleUpon Paid Discovery became available in March, 2011, so I guess I am an early adopter here. It required a new sign up and some basic information, all of which was quick and easy. Paid Discovery offers three pricing teirs, which includes Light, Standard and Premium.

  • Light – 5 cents per visitor
  • Standard – 10 cents per visitor
  • Premium – 25 cents per visitor

At this point, I selected Light because I was just getting started and there really wasn’t much information out there. There is a lot more information about how to run search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns on Google AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing, but not much on Paid Discovery.
Continue reading

Microsoft + Yahoo = MicroHoo Search

The Search landscape is once again changing. With Microsoft’s purchase of Yahoo, there seems to be a new challenge to Google, which currently holds a majority share of search traffic. In fact, Google is both #1 (through Google.com) and #2 (through YouTube, which is not typically thought of as a search engine).

It’s always exciting to see new innovations and changes. To their credit, the folks at Google have not simply sat on their lead. They keep giving us search marketers new and interesting tools for attracting leads and running Search Engine Marketing (SEM) campaigns.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine has been showing a lot of promise, and we’re already running campaigns there. MSN search always had some intriguing demographic targeting tools, but they never pulled enough traffic to see if the system would scale.

As they join forces with Yahoo, it will be interesting to see how MicroHoo (that’s Microsoft + Yahoo to you) approaches services beyond keyword search. Let’s see some solid new ways to drive and measure relevant traffic from content, site, and video targeting.

Microsoft and Yahoo have some solid resources and assets. It will be interesting to see if Yahoo can effectively pull properties like Flickr, Delicious, Yahoo Video, or even Avatars into Search. On Microsoft’s side, they have some interesting properties that could be part of Search, including Silverlight, X-Box, Zune, Healthvault, Money, Streets, and Windows Mobile.

Let the (new) games begin!

Help Wanted: Search Specialist

As we increasingly move to an Internet-centric society, we’re seeing all kinds of new and interesting careers spring up. Soon, we’ll see some interesting career opportunities for smart, adaptable workers.

A few years ago, we saw the rise of professional bloggers and search engine marketing specialists. Right now, we’re seeing professionals developing mobile applications and social media widgets.

In 2009, we’ll see the evolution of the Search Specialist. Now, these people are already out there in niche jobs (and they’ll probably be able to find this blog posting). But coming soon, we’ll probably see headhunters and HR departments looking for knowledge workers who can quickly and effectively mine the Net for super-specific information.

It would be natural to expect this to go to someone with a library sciences degree, but I think Search Specialists will evolve from people who work within specific industries.

I’ll give you an example. I worked as an editor at a small e-marketing agency specializing in pharmaceutical communications directed at healthcare professionals. On my team, I had an editor who was a wizard at uncovering information on the web.

Sure, she was good at Google, but that’s a given. She also knew how to dig deeper and get information in other search engines, like Yahoo, Ask, and MSN (all of which give different results). She also knew how to search blogs, message boards, and news articles to dig up more information.

This is going back a few years before the big YouTube and Twitter explosion. But a Search Specialist will be the kind of person who can quickly and effectively dig up, organize, and present highly focused data sources.

In our case, this editor could dig up information, sort the gems from the junk, and generate an informed position on just about any topic you can imagine. Going forward, and it’s going to be important to access all kinds of information on the public Net, even the stuff that isn’t well tagged and indexed by Google.

Blogs, videos, Flash interfaces, games, e-books, Twitters posts, social networks (including Facebook & MySpace), manuals, databases, closed communities, news archives, software, all contain valuable information. Some of this information is indexed, but most of it is not.

Several industries already leverage search specialists, including patent and other legal businesses. In the future, other industries will seek people out who can mine and measure information from Net sources.

Search Specialists will be needle-in-a-haystack researchers who defy traditional job roles. Some of them will be research specialists or editors or scientists or journalists or work from home entrepreneurs.

In the beginning, they will be underpaid and under appreciated. But one day they will be valued and coveted knowledge workers who can extract stubborn data from nearly any source. In the right organization, they will be highly paid and highly promotable, especially as they research corporate strategies.

If you like to search, discover, and organize, it’s probably a good time to start positioning yourself as a Search Specialist in your current career. Eventually, as the career landscape shifts, you’ll be prepared for a new career as a Search Specialist.

Which 1,400 search engines do you use?

Okay, sharpen your keyboards, and get ready to search. Which of the 1,400 top search engines do you use?

What? You only use Google? Pfeh! You mainstream, conformist, follower. (Use Yahoo? Don’t gloat, it’s not exactly “indy.”)

By industry estimates, there’s over 1,400 search engines floating around these days. Really. Here’s the Top 100 Alternative Search Engines.

And that doesn’t even include http://www.cuil.com, which recently launched.  (It’s pronounced “cool.” Yes, really.)

Some of the others have equally creative names like ChaCha.com, Twerq.com, Twingly.com, Famhoo.com, and Mahalo.com.

So why so many search engines? Well, most engines have highly specialized search parameters. That’s a fancy way of saying that they narrow searches to a specialized audience.

Again, so why so many search engines? Well, if you’re Summarize.com, it’s for profit. Twitter.com bought the Twitter-only search engine Summarize.com for a cool $15M.

Search is big business and it’s getting bigger. Hey, I have a great idea. How about a personal search engine for everyone in the world? I’ll make billions!

What? Oh yeah, they already have that at Rollyo.com.

That’s clever web-speak for “Roll Your Own.” Oh…how cuil.

Free Isn’t Really Free

Lots of people, including me, use free applications. This blog is on the free version of WordPress.

But free really isn’t free. There’s always a price.

As Google grows, more people register to use their free tools, including GMail, Google Documents, YouTube, and this little tool called “Search.” Yes, and it’s all free. We love free, right?

Google is a for-profit company that has a responsibility to it’s shareholders and employees. The smart engineers who write the code for these free applications…well, they need to get paid. Everyone needs to get paid.

So how does Google make money? Well, right now, they leverage the immense amount of data that they capture every time we do a search. Or they monetize the content of our emails. Or our social networks. Or our video viewing habits.

And it’s all legal and completely above board. It’s right there in their privacy policy, if you choose to read it. It’s really not Google’s fault if you dont read the fine print. Google is an exceptional company, creates a lot of great of amazing products and does a lot of wonderful socially responsible things. But all this is made possible because they also run a hell of a business.

Google, Yahoo, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, WordPress and others offer free services with the hopes of getting a LOT of people to register. Then, they monetize it by selling profiling data about how we use their free services. (Note: Broadcast television and radio work in similar ways. Newspapers charge a fraction of what it costs to print and deliver the paper. It’s all fueled by advertising.)

Many people are thrilled that there’s a free alternative to Microsoft’s Office suite. But when you buy their software, you get a certain amount of protected anonymity. Microsoft isnt data mining information from your private Excel spreadsheets, but free services like Google Documents and Zoho can. The front end of these services are free, but they need to find a way to earn a profit. And currently that’s done by aggregating user behavior and selling it to advertisers.

There’s really no such thing as free. And with Internet applications, free is a temporary concept. Eventually, we will all have to pay.

Techronyms for Search

In the technology business, there’s a new acronym for every new product, idea, or process. They call these “techronyms.”

Anyway, I find that mnemonic tricks sometimes help me remember techronyms and people’s names.

I wanted to share a quick one that comes up all the time when I talk with people about Google Adwords and Yahoo Search Marketing. Here’s one to help you remember the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

Remember that the “M” in SEM stands for “money.” The “O” in SEO is for “zero-dollars.” That’s because SEO is free.

As I think of more techronyms, I’ll post ’em. If you’ve got any, post ’em.

Google’s Usability – Only 76%?

At first, this may seem like a criticism of web usability legend Jakob Nielsen, but it’s really not. When it comes to web interface, Nielsen was a true pioneer and continues to be a voice within a world that he undeniably influenced.

No, this is a different take on the same data that he uses to inform his clients. And the industry at large, hence, probably even my clients.

A new article in SEORoundtable.com referenced a study conducted by Nielsen that “One-Fourth of All Internet Users Cannot Perform a Simple Google Search.” The lead noted that “usability expert Jakob Nielsen blogged about how difficult it is to perform a Google search

Now, considering what I know of Google, I wondered how “difficult” it can be to perform a Google search.

Anyway, according to Nielsen’s research, there is evidence that suggests that nearly 1/4 of Internet users cannot actually use Google. Now, he readily admits that 76% of the people he surveyed CAN use Google, but he’s more interested in the 24% who CANNOT.

Well, this glass-half-empty perspective is the part the grabs headlines. Listen, Nielsen is a web usability pioneer, so I am not surprised that when he talks, people listen. But this is sort of the opposite of what the headline should have been.

The headline should have read “76% of Internet Users Leverage Google.”

Consider for a moment what Google does. Based on a few words (aka keywords), Google gives you a list of websites that you might want to “visit.” Despite the fact that these are only digital destinations, we’re asking people to consider at least two abstract concepts:

  1. The idea that there are networked computers that lead to an online destination that doesn’t really exist in the real world and…
  2. There’s some kind of engine (another real world object) that helps you find this non-existent destination.

Even if people don’t need to wrap their hands around the abstractness of it all, they do learn pretty quickly how to use Google to find what they want. If 76% of people have learned how to use Google, that is a testament to the usability of the site. Heck, that’s probably significantly higher percentage of people than learned how to set the clock on their VCR.

Nielsen’s research is probably well designed and would likely stand up to research scrutiny, so it’s doubtful that it’s somehow loaded (to get a specific result). But if you look at the “task” they asked people to perform, then it’s even more impressive that they got a 76% success rate. In Nielsen’s own words, “in one of our test tasks, to find “a strong vacuum cleaner that is easy to use, can pick up pet hair, and costs under $300”)”.

Well, Google would only be one starting point in your web search. If you were a user, you might be looking to buy something, so you’d focus on shopping sites right? But if you were in a research mode, you might also try a review-oriented website.

But if you really wanted to know if it was “easy to use” you would have to look past the marketing copy. Because every vacuum cleaner will claim that it is “easy to use.”

So how do people find out if it’s easy to use? Reviews! Professional reviews, social network reviews, and user-generated reviews will tell you if something is “easy to use” which is a highly subjective qualification. Google is designed to find word matches on facts, not offer a subjective opinion on quality.

Now, back to our 76% success rate….considering the test question, Nielsen should be amazed at how many people were able to use Google to actually find information that helped them find a vacuum cleaner. What other tool has this kind of usability success rate?

Consider the huge differences in education, experience, and attitude of Internet users. Yet, Google created something simple, yet incredibly powerful, that bridges the gap between the gap of human diversity. Let’s face it, Google’s success is due in part to it’s ease of use. People like powerful tools that are simple and pleasurable to use.

Finally, this study wasn’t just about Google, it was about searching on the Internet using a search engine. Google may be the biggest player in search, but Google isn’t the whole Internet. It’s just one corporate brand that happens to dominate their category. Would those people tested know how to use Yahoo? Ask? MSN?

Also, if Nielsen polled those same people in a week, would they have still been unable to use Google? It is an exceptionally easy tool that actually fosters learning.

I deal with clients every day. Most of them do their own research, and I wonder how they will respond when they see a headline like this from an industry legend like Jakob Nielsen. Will they wonder if Google is “easy” enough to use? Will they feel that Google may not be the right channel for communicating their brand message to their target audience?

Of all people, Nielsen should have been headlining the fact that 76% of people can actually use a common tool like Google to make use of the increasingly complex Internet. Not the opposite way around.