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How Businesses Can Use Search Marketing To Grow Performance

When a business considers the ways it can drive more performance, Search Marketing should be the opportunity it prioritizes first. That's because Search Marketing generates awareness with consumers who are actively expressing interest in a product or service. It also drives website traffic most likely to convert by being at the right place at the right time.

​For example, let's say that a pizzeria wants to increase its delivery sales. To accomplish this, it gains a strong presence on Google's "pizza delivery" search result pages. By appearing in front of hungry-for-pizza searchers, it can increase awareness with its target audience and generate more sales by fulfilling the desire that sparked the consumer's query.

Search result pages have two parts that are served by different practices:

  • Natural Results: This is information search engine algorithms place on result pages in order to provide answers to queries. Each engine has their own algorithm to populate their own result pages, and this makes Google's search result differ from Bing's search results. The engines do not charge businesses to appear here. Businesses can increase their natural presence through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).​

  • Paid Results: This space commonly appears above Natural Results and consists of text and/or image ads. Businesses purposefully place these on specified result pages through Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Here's an example of a paid text ad from Dominos appearing on the top of the page for the query "pizza":

Let's take a deeper dive into these practices that serve each part of the page.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Google and other search engines use crawlers that go across the Internet and gather information about all the content they can find. The crawlers bring all those 1s and 0s back to the search engine to build an index. That index is then fed through an algorithm that tries to match all that data with certain queries that bring value to the searcher.

While the engines do not openly share how their algorithms decide what content should show on specific search queries, SEO specialists know certain actions can be taken to improve the likelihood of strong natural presence. These actions fall into two categories: on-page actions & off-page actions.

Here are some example on-page actions that can improve a page's natural presence:

  • Relevant keywords are naturally placed into a site's title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, and so on

  • Page copy is written & optimized with quality

  • Contains clean, uncomplicated page URLs

  • Has fast page load speed (especially with mobile)

  • Google authorship is incorporated

  • Social sharing is integrated within page content

Here are some example off-page actions that can improve a page's natural presence:

  • Other sites that are high quality & authoritative link to your site naturally

  • Acquires quality traffic (i.e., not from click-farms in Asia)

  • ​Pages are referenced within social networks

  • Pages are bookmarked in platforms like Stumbleupon & Reddit

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)​

Like SEO, SEM also requires both technical and creative actions to attain a strong presence within search result pages. Both require figuring out the right queries to show against, constructing a fast and responsive  site (especially for mobile devices), having site content that serves the need of the searcher, and so on.

However, SEM differs from SEO in some significant ways. Here are five examples:

  • Business's have to pay for SEM's traffic

  • SEM can attain a strong search result page presence significantly faster than SEO

  • Paid listings commonly appear above natural listings and can take up more page real estate

  • Paid listings are highly customizable and can present information that natural links cannot (addresses, phone numbers, opportunities to show other pages deeper in the site, promotions, reviews, app store downloads, and more)

  • Paid listings can target searchers based on their gender, age, geo, household income, past site visits, personal interests, time of day/week, and much more

There are a few other things to know about paid search:

  • All ad impressions are free. Advertisers only pay when a searcher clicks on an ad.

  • There is no minimum amount of money required to spend per day. If a business only wants to spend $5 per day, that is possible (however, ads will likely not drive much traffic with that daily budget).

  • The amount of money an advertiser is charged for a click can vary by query. That's because Google and Bing place ads within a search result page through an auction-based system. The number of advertisers wanting to show an ad can vary by query, and queries with a lot of advertisers are likely to be more expensive than those queries with less competition.

  • While an auction system is used to place ads, it isn't a direct auction in the traditional sense. Google and Bing take other factors beyond the auction bid to determine where an ad is placed on the result page and how much to charge for a click. The formulas used to determine the placement and cost-per-click are complicated, but know that having ad copy relevant to the query, a strong engagement rate (# of clicks / # of times an ad was served), and a landing page experience relevant to the query can place you higher on the page with a lower cost-per-click.

What's Best For My Business?

Ideally, a business should maintain a strong presence in both paid and natural search listings for several key reasons:

  • Stand Out From The Clutter - Search result pages can be very crowded with other links, maps, tweets, news articles, images, and much more. Given this landscape, it's easy to have a link overlooked. By obtaining a strong presence in both paid and natural positions, a business increases its likely of being noticed by a relevant searcher. Eye-tracking studies over the years support this as searchers pay the most attention to content towards the top of a result page.

  • Own Your Traffic - Search engines allow competitors to appear on queries highly related to a business as long as the ad's copy does not contain trademarked terms. For example, H&R Block could appear on the competitor queries like "jackson hewitt" as long as the Jackson Hewitt trademark does not appear in H&R Block's ad. By participating in SEM, Jackson Hewitt can protect its own turf and discourage consumers from engaging with H&R Block's message in the space above natural results.

  • Gain Authority - Past search studies suggest that maintaining a strong presence can improve a business's overall engagement rate. This is commonly referred to as the "1+1=3" theory. For example, let's say a Spa #1 has a strong natural/SEO presence on the query "spas near me" but no paid/SEM presence. Spa #1 may have 10 out of 100 searchers click on their natural link. Spa #2 has a strong paid/SEM presence on the query "spas near me" but no natural/SEO presence. Spa #2 may also have 10 out of 100 searchers click on their paid link. However, Spa #3 has a strong natural/SEO and strong paid/SEM presence on the query "spas near me". Spa #3 may have 35 out of 100 searchers click on their natural & paid links because they take up more real estate on the search result page and are viewed as the authority for spa services by the searcher.


While other online channels like Facebook can contribute to performance, Search Marketing is arguably more important in making a business successful. Search Marketing provides awareness and conversions like no other marketing channel can, and it plays a huge role in "closing the sale" with searchers actively looking to fulfill a want or need. As a result, SEO & SEM can provide a higher rate of return when compared to other forms of marketing.


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