by Paul Griffiths
Search marketing is made up of two components: search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search engine management (SEM), which comprises fee content ads and pay-per-click results. Deciding how best to employ these components can be a confusing process.
To better understand the process, you should realize that not all pages on your Web site are equal. This fact also applies to your home page. The better indexed your site is in a search engine, the deeper linked your content becomes, so the importance of your home page as an entry point begins to diminish. Although home page promotions are a good first step to raise awareness for existing visitors, you will find that search marketing is a much better direct-response tool than it is a brand-building tool. In fact, if you run a paid search or price-per-click campaign and redirect people to a home page that promotes many different service lines, your ads may be demoted!
Instead of thinking of search marketing as a different animal, integrate it with your existing campaigns. That is, as you develop print, radio, and TV plans, leverage the same research and strategic thinking in your search marketing. To do this well, you’ll need three things: a campaign-specific page on your site with relevant content, a reworking of related pages to be optimized for this campaign, and paid search text or image ads that tie the campaign together.
Building a search campaign
By way of an example, let’s imagine you’re working to drive sign-ups for a new digital mammography service at a regional hospital. As the print and radio components are developed, you would likely pick a campaign-specific URL – either painfreebreastexam.com or myhospital.com/pain-free – and develop a few pages of content around the new offering. Much in the same way you would test a variety of offers via direct mail, you can create search-engine-specific offerings – employing multiple variations of search-engine ads and landing pages on your site. Finally, when you put up the page content on your Web site, you will optimize the keywords, title, and images to be on-topic for that campaign. Instead of “Digital Mammography” as a title, you want to be as site-specific as possible: Pain-Free Mammograms|Women’s Health Center|St. Luke’s Hospital|Tempe, Arizona.
Once you launch the campaign, you should generally see a significant uptick in traffic to your site with search terms such as “St. Luke’s Mammogram” or “St. Luke’s Pain-Free.” That shows your offline media is gaining traction. But what you really want to see is an increase in searches that don’t include your hospital’s brand name, such as “Pain-Free Breast Exam” or “Digital Mammography Tempe.” These terms indicate that your online marketing is reaching people who are looking for that service, but maybe don’t know you have it.
Paying for a search campaign
If you’re faced with the tough job of carving out funds from your existing budget for this channel, the best place to start is by focusing on the most strategic service line possible. For you, that might be the highest revenue-generating program, the highest-margin program, or a program that the organization is desperately trying to grow.
Once you’ve identified your campaign subject, advocate trimming the offline brand-building budget by 10 percent or so and plow that money into online search. Since radio and TV slots are sold by audience reach, you can successfully argue that visitors to your Web site are an even more qualified audience. By embedding the radio and TV creative into a search landing page, you can reach a more highly qualified group than a general audience and turn brand-building ads into direct-response vehicles. As an advertising channel, search marketing has a clear, measurable rate of return. What amounts to a small budget in the traditional media world can have a significant impact online. In addition, the feedback is immediate, giving you a whole lot more to report about the impact of the rest of your marketing budget!
Getting the most from your search campaign
SEO and paid search work better together than either one does alone. Strangely enough, users have begun to rely on paid ads more than organic search results. As good as the search algorithms are, paid ads combine algorithms and human intelligence: a thinking human being still has to generate the copy and place the ad. Irrelevant ads are weeded out by the search engine while underperforming ads are removed by the ad sponsors. What’s more, if you can achieve favorable organic results on terms you’re also running ads against, users are more likely to click on the free result. Well-placed paid ads lend credibility to the organic results even though you don’t have to pay for them.
This is why a campaign-specific approach works so well. Paid search can get more visitors immediately to your campaign and you can throttle it as needed. SEO takes longer – usually two to three months to become effective – so you need to start immediately, as a comprehensive SEO plan will ultimately increase the impact and reach of future paid searches.
A targeted, service-line-specific campaign is the fastest and most cost-effective way your organization can advance its Web presence. By selecting a strategic focus, investing wisely, and leveraging both organic and pay-per-click search marketing, you’ll soon be showing off results that will have your executive team sitting up and taking notice.
Paul Griffiths is CEO of Cambridge, MA-based MedTouch. The firm provides Web intelligence for healthcare organizations, from consumer-facing Web sites to online marketing programs. He can be reached at 617/621-8670 or firstname.lastname@example.org.