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Frequently Asked Questions

What are natural or organic search results?
Natural and organic search results both refer to the search results that are returned on the left side of a search engine such as Google, Yahoo or Microsoft, i.e. all the results that are not listed as "Sponsored Links" (Google) or "Sponsored Results" (Yahoo) or "Sponsored Sites" (Microsoft). Note however, sometimes these search engines will return the Sponsored results on the left side right above the natural or organic search results. When this happens, these results will clearly be labeled as "Sponsored Links" (Google) or "Sponsored Results (Yahoo)" or "Sponsored Sites" (Microsoft).

What are paid search results?
These are the search results that are returned on the right side of a search engine, or occasionally, on the top over the natural search results, and are labeled as "Sponsored Links" on Google, "Sponsored Results" on Yahoo, and "Sponsored Sites" on Microsoft. These are company advertisements. Companies buy, or rather bid on, specific keywords to have their advertisements appear when users search on those specific keywords. These companies (advertisers) then pay the search engines money only when the user clicks on one of those advertisements and gets taken to a page (known as a landing page) on the advertiser's website.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to a process you undertake so that a page or pages on your website display prominently, when a user does a search on search engines such as Google or Yahoo. Note that ideally, you want your site (rather, a page within your site) to be returned on the first page of the search results since very few people go on to view results returned beyond the first page on search engines.

Typically, SEO includes all of the following and a lot more:

  • Identifying keywords (the specific words or phrases that you target so that your site "does well" when a user searches on those words or phrases).
  • Including these keywords in your meta tags, and in the web copy. Up to a point, the more often you include the keywords in your web copy, the more it helps.
  • Creating internal links within your website to link to the page or pages that you are targeting. If you can include the targeted keywords as anchor text, so much the better.
  • Working with external organizations to create links from their site directly back to the page or pages that you are targeting. Again, if these links can include the targeted keywords in the anchor text, so much the better.

What is Search Engine Marketing?
The definition of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) varies a bit in the industry based on who you ask. Some would define it as generating visitors to your site using (only) paid search campaigns. Others would define it as generating visitors to your site through both paid search campaigns and natural search optimization. For the purposes of our discussion here, we will define it as the former. That is, SEM is really the Interment based Advertising initiated by a user Search.

Why should I engage in either SEM or SEO?

You may have witnessed and perhaps even benefited from the meteoric rise of Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) share price. This unprecedented wealth creation of $ 150+ Billion (in stock market valuation) of a company formed in 1999 owes its success to the burgeoning revenues streams delivered by millions of small, medium and large businesses engaged in Search Engine Marketing (SEM) at Google. The beauty of undertaking a SEM campaign is that you can take advantage of the scale of the internet reach i.e., 60 billion searches conducted globally every month per COMSCORE, and yet, you can chose to spend as little as $ 5.00 per day on direct ad-spend! Of course, not all 60 billion of those searches (growing at 25-30% per year) are relevant to your product, service or your company. But even if a very tiny percentage --- say one hundredth of one percent of the searchers happen to be searching for the products or services offered by your company, you are still looking at 600 million searches related to your product or service! Sounds unbelievable? Well consider this: even well established and highly recognized Internet brands such as eBay find it profitable to conduct SEM campaigns on an extensive scale.

The bottom line is this: In the 21st century Internet age, companies that proactively make themselves available to be found (by their prospective client) at the precise moment that their client looks for their products or services have a high chance of survival and wealth creation. Those that continue to do "business as usual" will seal their fate and become as relevant as the 19th century horse buggy whip manufacturers.


Is it better for me to spend money on Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing?

Well, it depends on your business strategy and what it is that you're trying to achieve in the short and long-term. Usually you would want to do both. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has to be viewed as a long-term investment with ensuing results taking weeks or months to materialize. But once the results are achieved, they stay with you for a while as well. Of course, even after the results are achieved, you constantly have to monitor and update, to ensure that your natural search engine rankings do not slowly degrade over time.

On the other hand, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) allows you to enjoy the results almost instantaneously. And should you choose to so, you may turn off your SEM campaign just as fast and begin witnessing for yourself the decline in new customer acquisition. But it costs you to get those quick SEM results, i.e., in terms of advertising costs that you pay to search engines such as Google or Yahoo. SEO typically also requires more "human to human" time in building the back links which are so critical to the success of your SEO initiative.

Here are a couple of examples to clarify. Let's say that you are introducing a new product and that you want your sales to pick up quickly. In this case, you wouldn't want to wait for the SEO campaign to take its course in delivering you the clients or leads. In fact you would want to be aggressive and pursue a well funded SEM campaign that ramped up ad-spend upto the point where you continued to extract profit out of every transaction. Alternatively, say you're in a services business where the product offering doesn't necessarily change dramatically and your business isn't affected by seasonal cycles, then the slow and steady SEO approach will be better suited to deliver on your long-term goals of business growth.


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