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Need a SEM Strategy? You Have Nothing to Lose but Your Web Business

By David Howlett
Posted Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Just over a year ago I was speaking at a seminar for small business website Owner’s and part of my presentation covered the subject of trying to make sense of the website server logs. I talked about how Google was dominating the referrals, how to make use of the keywords in the logs and the importance of links.

At the end of the seminar a lady walked over and started to tell me about the thousand of visitors her search engine marketing (SEM) company was driving to her website. She even had a copy of the sites web log report for me to look at.

Short of time and trying to clear up after the event I glanced over the report, before handing it back praising her for her success. It was only on the drive home that I thought there was something odd about it. The visitor numbers were certainly impressive, but the average stay was counted in seconds and the referrals consisted of Google and many other sites but few other search engines.

I’ve been reminded of this conversation several times recently while visiting clients and the subject comes up of how effectively their search engine marketing company is helping them. Again visitor numbers are in the thousands but the web logs tell the same story of very short visits, with few search engines but many linking sites as referrals. Far more worrying is the website Owner's tales of struggling to convent even a fraction of these visitors into paying customers.

So what’s going on? Is this yet another example of unscrupulous SEM specialists ripping off website Owner's? Unfortunately the issue is not that simple. Part of the problem lies with the Owner’s of the website’s themselves: they’re paying good money for the service and they want results. Currently most of them see success as a numbers game and don’t fully understand the difference between focused visitors interested in their products and someone who stumbled on the site for any number of reasons.

So if its numbers the customers want there are plenty of SEM companies who will give them just that. They set-up or join multi-linked referral sites pointing to the target website. Then they promote the links they’ve made and sit back and wait for Google to rate the site with its PageRank system.

And, up to now anyway it’s worked. When Google started, SEM specialists quickly discovered the PageRank system can be manipulated to get results and they’ve been refining their techniques ever since.

Of course there are still plenty of other ways to drive traffic to a website. Carefully planned, page-by-page keyword optimisation will work but it takes time and effort and if you’re paying someone to do it, you won’t see the results instantly.

But is all this really such a problem? Search engine marketing has always been a cat and mouse game. If you believe the media the cold winds of change have arrived and the easy to get website visitors have gone and gone for good. However many successful website owners will know there never were any easy website visitors, only focused ones that would convert into something useful.

The real question is: how does all this affect the average small business website? My experience is the real enemy here is fear. Many website Owner’s have worked hard to make their websites successful and they’re terrified that in one swoop all their efforts will be worthless. Should they be worried? If they’ve developed a broad holistic search engines strategy then probably not. But if they rely on their visitors from dozen of links pages they may have a problem and their businesses may suffer.

So how do you go about getting a SEM strategy? It needn’t be anything complex. Nor even anything you even need to write down. You just need get it straight in your mind how you’re going to approach the problem of getting you site a good listing on the search engines.

Are you going to ask someone to do it for you? Are they prepared to tell you in detail how they will go about the task? Will you be doing the work yourself? How will you learn what needs to be done? How much time do you have?

These are all questions you need to be thinking about when developing your SEM strategy. The most important thing is knowledge. Whatever method you choose to carry out this vital task you will need to have some understanding of the subject. There are several websites such as Search Engine Watch, or Search Engine Guide, who have extensive resources to help you develop your strategy.

Need an SEM Strategy? Maybe you don’t but you’re web business does. Whatever happens things are going to get a whole lot tougher in the race to get the visitors on your site and a well considered SEM strategy will give you a fighting chance.

About the Author
David Howlett has been helping businesses with their websites for the past seven years. He has used many of the skills he's learnt in his own website that specialises in selling all types of garden plants: (


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