What SEO is justifiably famous for is its ability to convince the search engines—the algorithms that index your website—that your webpage is the most relevant one for the keywords being searched. For years, strong SEO has been every marketer's go-to tactic. But even while you've grown more adept, search engines have grown increasingly complex. These days, you can't just optimize and sit back.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)—placing ads that appear above search results—should already be in your bag of tricks. It's is more accountable, because sites like Google offer in-depth data about the performance of your ads. If you aren't already using SEM, consider making it a part of future marketing campaigns. Here’s why:
The reason SEO isn't ideal for lead generation is because its primary function is to increase your site’s ranking in "natural search" results. That means it's unreliable—the placement of your website is largely out of your control. You can work on SEO for months, and your site may still not get the "natural search" traffic you want. Search engines such as Google one-up you by constantly changing their algorithms to ensure that search results aren't being fixed or manipulated by savvy marketers. Which makes SEO a bit of a cat-and-mouse game. But SEM is firmly within your control. Because you choose the key words and pay for the ads.
It’s difficult to quantify SEO as a lead-generation tool because you can’t be sure how many leads actually came from your SEO efforts. For example, suppose someone visits your website and signs up as a lead. How do you tell whether that person found you cold on a search engine, or if he or she searched for your site after hearing about your company from a friend? Perhaps a combination of these factors led the person to visit your site. Measuring the number of leads you get from SEM, on the other hand, is much more straightforward.
SEM is one of the few areas where finishing second place or even third place can be just as beneficial as finishing first. For example, say you have an ad on Google. After a week, your ad is consistently showing up in search results in second or third position when using the keywords you’ve chosen. If so, you may be compelled to bid extra money just to gain that top spot. The fact is, search engine users will often consider clicking on the second- or third-position ads in search results just as seriously as they would consider the first-position ads.
An SEM ad hinges, more or less, on how well it's written. Other factors include how good the offer or call-to-action is to the customer looking for that product or service. You can tweak all of those things to fit the customer you want, and then vary it up depending on the leads you get. You get more control, and more options, than you do with traditional SEO.
—David T. Scott has served as CMO and Head of Marketing for startups, Fortune 500 companies and billion-dollar organizations, including GE, AT & T Wireless, PeopleSoft, Foresee, and Intermec. He is the founder and former CEO of Marketfish, Inc. and a graduate of the Wharton School of Business. He is the author of The New Rules Of Lead Generation.