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Making Sense of Internet Marketing for your business profile

The key components of an Internet marketing program include Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Paid Placement, Affiliate Marketing and Viral/Social Marketing.  The goal of all of these is to increase a website traffic (number of people who visit) however each uses a different tactic to meet this goal.  An effective Internet marketing program leverages a mix of these components to maximize their value at a particular point in the overall program.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an attempt to increase your website ranking in organic (non-paid) search results in Google, Yahoo! and other search engines.  Search engines use complex, proprietary algorithms to determine how a page ranks.  In general higher ranking is achieved by optimizing the actual website content to increase its relevancy to certain search words (keywords).  Additionally, SEO attempts to increase the website perceived authority by acquiring quality links to your website from other complementary sites (back links).  Finally higher ranking websites are highly visible to search engines meaning most or all of their web pages are indexed by the search engines.

Many aspects of a complete SEO effort can be outsourced, but some
aspects are more effective when controlled by those most familiar with the
product or service.   SEO generally has a
longer-term ROI than other Internet marketing methods because a websiteÆs
authority is generally built over time. 
It is important to know that SEO is never truly finished.  Competition and buyer preferences change and
evolve over time, therefore, the authority of a website changes and must be
re-evaluated routinely.

Effectiveness of a SEO program is measured in terms of search
result rank, search engine saturation and overall visibility.  Result rank is determined by how high a
website appears in organic results. 
Saturation is an indication of how much of a website is indexed by
search engines and overall visibility shows how many references are found for a
website.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) essentially is a shortcut to increased search result rankings.  By sponsoring links in search engine results, advertisers can ensure that relevant links are displayed along with search results whenever certain keywords are searched for.  These are generally displayed above or in a separate column beside organic results.  In these pay per click (PPC) programs advertisers bid to determine ranking and only pay when links are actually clicked by a visitor.

SEM can be, and probably is best, outsourced.  Experienced SEM practitioners can maximize
the results of a pay-per-click program by increasing the quality of website
visitors.  Additionally, knowledge of the
bidding process and keyword selection can significantly reduce the amount paid
per click-through over time.

SEM has the shortest term ROI as resulting traffic is immediate
and measurable.  The ability to tightly
control expenses, all the way down to cost per click, makes the expense very
predictable.  Negatively, there is little
if any residual value effect of SEM beyond potential relationships with new
buyers.  SEM is predominately a point in
time exercise, although it can be very effective during a campaign.

Paid Placement is similar to traditional print or media advertising.   Advertisers pay a fee to have their add is played on a website or alongside search engine results.  Ads are often banners that include a marketing message that entices viewers to click the ad and be transferred to the advertiser website.  Paid placement also includes sponsored links on content pages, paid reviews or pop-up ads that appear before or on top of a content page.

Paid placement can include SEM tactics, but here the sponsored links appear on content websites rather than search engine results pages.  Placement is based on relevancy of selected keywords and the displaying website content.  The advertiser has limited control over where ads appear.  Ads on content sites generally rank higher for lower bids than on search engine results.

Direct placement of ads on specific content sites is generally
based on a set fee or per million impressions (displays).  Direct placement allows an advertiser to
specify specific website, durations and potentially exact placement on a
page.  This is most effective if a
product or service would appeal to visitors of a specific website.  For instance, Dell might place an ad on a
computer buying guide website.

Purchase and management of direct placement ads can be outsourced,
although it requires less expertise and oversight than SEM.

Affiliate Marketing allows website owners to resell products or
services for a percentage or set fee commission.  Commissions may be paid for sales, leads or
even website visit referrals.  Almost all
major retail stores support affiliate marketing programs and generally use a
third party service to manage the relationship with affiliates.  While affiliate marketing allows a product or
service provider to extend its marketing capability it is still responsible for
all aspects of distribution.

Affiliate marketing can be outsourced in part or whole.  Generally the affiliate marketer selects an
affiliate management provider to handle acquiring and managing new affiliates.

Although not an absolute, Affiliate marketing tends to be most
utilized by product or service providers who have a wide range of products to
offer.  This increases the likelihood
that content site owners are going to assign valuable screen space to a
product.  Alternatively the provider may
offer higher incentive commissions or target very specific content sites.

Friends holding up thought bubbles with social media concept icons

Viral/Social Marketing is similar to traditional word of mouth advertising although done through websites.  Marketers attempt create buzz about their products by leveraging social networks, emails, blogs, videos or other venues that allow viewers to easily spread the word. This form of Internet marketing is often associated with the term Web 2.0 because it tends to leverage more user driven venues and content rather than commercial content sites.

Viral/Social Internet marketing, much like SEO is an ongoing effort and similarly it is possible to outsource all or some efforts in this area.  Development of complex marketing campaigns would likely be outsourced to a marketing firm specializing in leveraging the Internet, however, smaller campaigns and the tactical aspects could be handled internally or by your SEO/SEM partner.

In closing, an effective Internet marketing program will leverage some or all of these components in a complementary way.  Each component brings visitors to a website through its own unique tactics, timeframe and cost.  If planned and managed properly, each component can be utilized by the next one to create even greater value.  A successful Internet marketing plan will consider the short-term, long-term and budgetary goals of the product or service provider, deploying the components that met those goals.

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Is Branding a Legitimate Internet Marketing Strategy?

Internet marketing is all about hard results, not generic concepts of branding. Still, there are ways to go about branding your product or service on the net without spending a fortune.

Branding refers to the vague notion of creating an identity for a product, service or name with consumers. The classic example, of course, is Coca Cola. Being first on the scene, the company has been able to create such a strong name brand that most people use the word coke instead of soda when ordering. This is true even when they prefer Pepsi. In the world of marketing, we all bow before the marketing team that accomplished this branding. The Internet, however, is a different beast. That same marketing team would be crushed if they went after a similar strategy on the net.

The Internet is so large that branding is an expensive and difficult goal unless you are the first major presence in a niche. Sites like EBay and Amazon were the first major money players in their fields, giving them a huge advantage over subsequent competitors. Unless you are coming to a field with a lot of money and no current dominant site, your branding efforts are going to meet with failure or limited success at best. If you want to stick with it, the only cost effective and ultimately successful strategy is to pursue a width search engine optimization campaign.

Search engine optimization is simply an effort to get pages on your site ranked high in search results on the three big search engines Google, Yahoo and MSN. To establish your brand, the best Internet marketing strategy is to identify every single phrase your prospects use to find services or products in your business area. You then build optimized pages for every single phrase and get them ranked.

This strategy has two benefits. First, it will produce free traffic to your site. If you build 200 pages and each gets 50 visitors a day, your site will receive 10,000 visitors a day. The second benefit is your brand becomes established. Regardless of what the prospect searches for, they keep seeing your site. This creates both recognition and credibility with the prospect as they tend to equate high rankings with quality. As they visit your site over and over, they will also become readily familiar with your unique selling position as presented on the site.

If you want to establish a brand, avoid wasting your money on banners and such unless you are in a niche that isnt dominated by any single site. Instead, use the width search engine optimization tactic to establish your site and pick up free traffic.