Best search engine marketing strategies for small businesses

Best search engine marketing strategies for small businesses

Search engine marketing is evolving. Here’s what you need to know to enhance your business’s presence online.

Since many people learn about companies online, a search engine marketing (SEM) campaign can open the door to new customers. But an effective campaign requires a nuanced approach to balancing paid and organic search, as well as a thoughtful understanding of what potential customers are searching for on the internet.

Paying for placement so a search engine’s ad platform will place your business higher than that of a competitor often involves putting money behind popular keywords and phrases. When internet users search for those terms, your website is more likely to show at the top of the page.

But given increasingly sophisticated algorithms and the ever-evolving nature of online search, opportunities for using paid keywords have expanded, says Stacy Poliseo, SVP, digital marketing at Regions Bank. “When we talk about keywords, the best practices are different from what they were in the past,” she says. Here are three strategies for developing a more sophisticated—and effective—SEM campaign.

  1. Understand what motivates search

    Many search terms are transactional. They describe what action a user wants to take. For example, a transactional search term for a bank might be “open a checking account.” But if your strategy doesn’t include broad search terms to engage people at various stages of the sales funnel who are trying to educate themselves about their options, you could be missing out on potential new customers.

    “Searches tend to be motivated by three factors,” says Poliseo.

    • Some people are seeking to further educate themselves or answer a question by looking for information about a product, service or topic.
    • Some are looking for navigational information— either the location of a product or how to find a particular website or webpage.
    • Some are looking to make a transaction, such as buying a product or service.

    “People might solely think about sales or getting more account sign-ups. But if they only focus on those already showing transactional intent, that could be short-sighted,” Poliseo says. Using the same example of a bank, a broader approach to keywords might include terms like “how to open an account for my business,” which captures users who might be looking for information or trying to educate themselves.

  2. Focus on longer keywords

    A decade ago, asking Siri or Alexa to find the best sprinkle cupcakes in Miami Beach wasn’t even an option. Today, search phrases are trending longer as more people speak into a voice-activated search function instead of typing their request into a search box. Think about moving away from common keywords (best cupcakes) and toward long-tail keywords, which are specific longer phrases (best sprinkle cupcakes near Wynwood open on Sunday). Long-tail keywords tend to get less search traffic because they apply to fewer people. But they typically have a higher conversion rate because they target users who are more likely to be ready to buy or commit.

  3. Consider keyword competition—and cost

    There are a variety of tools, both free and paid, available for assessing keywords and optimizing spend. Google offers a suite of free resources, including Google Ads Keyword Planner, which helps you search for keyword ideas, view statistics and set competitive bids. SEO marketing tools like Semrush, Moz and Ahrefs can also help businesses strategize the best keywords for their business goals.

    A keyword bid is the amount you are willing to pay whenever an internet user clicks on your ad. The more popular the keyword, the higher the bids. For example, a highly searched term in the banking industry like “credit card” will have a pricy cost-per-click, says Poliseo. As a result, it is important to monitor campaigns to balance the cost of a popular keyword versus its performance.

    Though you might feel pressure to invest in a popular keyword, it could be cost prohibitive, and it might make more sense to invest in a keyword that’s less widely used but more specialized to your particular business.

Understanding what your customers want and how they use the internet to find it is key to coming up with a paid search strategy that works. The goal is not to hit every keyword, Poliseo says. But when a keyword you do have attracts a potential customer, you need to ensure you are providing relevant information to support the potential customer’s search intent, “by being clear and concise, and having a strong call-to-action.”

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This information is general education or marketing in nature and is not intended to be accounting, legal, tax, investment or financial advice. Although Regions believes this information to be accurate as of the date written, it cannot ensure that it will remain up to date. Statements of individuals are their own—not Regions’. Consult an appropriate professional concerning your specific situation and for current tax rules. This information should not be construed as a recommendation or suggestion as to the advisability of acquiring, holding or disposing of a particular investment, nor should it be construed as a suggestion or indication that the particular investment or investment course of action described herein is appropriate for any specific investor. In providing this communication, Regions is not undertaking to provide impartial investment advice or to give advice in a fiduciary capacity.