You’ve had a taste, felt the rush, and now you can’t stop.
In my time as a web designer/developer/marketer, I’ve seen many businesses who use Google Adwords as the foundation for their online sales and/or lead-generation. And why not? Advertising is advertising isn’t it? You pay someone for exposure to a market, which brings you leads, then you convert those leads for your own business profit.
But in today’s digital market place, automation and commoditization of ad placement has created the perfect-storm for facilitating an on-going addiction for short-term marketing bumps, often leaving ad-junkies with minimal gains, lighter pockets, and the need to spend more. Pay-Per-Click: In my personal view, it’s an epidemic of sorts.
The reason these businesses use Adwords as their primary (or only) means of web marketing, is because they plainly just didn’t know any better. They knew when it came to the web and marketing their business, Google was it. But upon scratching the surface of why Google itself is even relevant, they found it: pay-per-click. A ridiculously simple way to start advertising then and there. Google probably even gave them a taste for free. Right away, they were hooked.
They spent the next several months strategizing, pouring over statistics and click-analytics. They tested increases in allocations of marketing dollars in one keyword area, then tried another. They increased their dosage to see what would happen. Often times it produced a rush. They strung out their marketing budgets — knowing they’d find the perfect combination — bringing lead-bliss. But they were already blinded by the empty seduction of the click. The minute they stop paying: they have nothing.
Without a doubt, Google is the holy grail of internet marketing. But it’s important to ask yourself: how did this come to be in the first place? When you start to answer that question, you’re taking the first step towards recovery.
Google is the 117th biggest company in the US (by annual revenue; at the writing of this article), and 98% of their money made is on advertising. Now for the irony: the main offering that originally made Google the the brand that dominates web search, and still keeps them above and beyond all others today, earns them absolutely nothing. That’s right, I said nothing. Zero.
I am of course talking about Google’s search engine. The incomprehensible masterwork of language and mathematics, that finds what we’re looking for amongst billions of interconnected documents on the world wide web. In the main results of your search, you’ll find hundreds of listings, none of which paid Google a single cent to be listed there.
Of course, strategically mingled in, are the listings that advertisers paid for –but they are clearly marked: “Sponsored Links”. These sponsored links live in 2 spots: in the smaller right hand column of Google’s results page, and at the very top, highlighted in yellow.
Now, this distinction is important. Google needs to not only disclose that those listings were paid for, but visually divide them from the other non-paid listings. Why? The answer is simple: credentials. Google’s search engine isn’t the most used by chance. It’s used the most because it’s the best. If you were considered the best at making recommendations to your friends, wouldn’t your credentials suffer a hit if they suddenly found out that you were being paid to make certain recommendations to them? Even if only a small portion of the recommendations you were making were paid for –the majority of them were legitimate, but the paid ones where hidden within the others– It wouldn’t be good for your reputation.
Google, of course, knew this. And as a search engine, credentials are your most prized asset. Google’s credentials as the search engine that finds the most relevant results for our searches didn’t come lightly. Millions of dollars have been poured into the technology that makes this possible. So why would Google allow their precious technology that finds these results to be marred by bribery? They wouldn’t. And not only that, but they also don’t want people to be confused about which links were produced by their search technology, and which were the result of simple paid-placement. So they label them.
Well let’s be honest. Does Google care if you accidentally think a paid listing is an un-paid one, and click it? Of course they don’t. Those are the links that they make money on, every time they are clicked. But in the interest of protecting their reputation for a superior search, they do want to disclose this –and make cues that hint this– accessible to everyone.
Currently, there’s probably decent amount of people who use Google, and don’t internally acknowledge the difference between paid and non-paid listings. But as the savvy of internet users is on the rise, the understanding of this point is surely following. Even Google themselves are training users to disregard their own advertisements, in some respects. Gmail, a widely popular webmail client and frequent ‘Top 10 Used Internet Site’ in itself (Google Search typically ranks #1), also displays ‘Sponsored Links’ in the same primary location as paid links in it’s search results. As millions of users (and growing) use gmail many times a day, they are being classically conditioned where to look for primary content, and where advertising exists that they can promptly disregard.
So, I’m saying Adwords is useless? No. Pay-per-click advertising still holds it’s place in a broad strategy of internet marketing. But if you’re relying on Adwords as your primary channel for lead-generation on the web, well, I’d argue that you have a problem. Your online marketing strategy isn’t healthy. If there were “Marketing Food Groups”, then your business would be trying to survive solely on candy. You wouldn’t do that to your body, so why do it to your company?
So what else is there?
OK, so you want to break the habit. You want to develop a healthy presence on the web. You want Google to look at your website and display it in search results because it’s a great site -pertaining to the user’s search, not because you’ve paid them for a hit. Once you get into Google’s main search results, maintaining and even enhancing your position just takes a small amount of additional effort over time. Do nothing, and it still could even take months for your presence to fade. That’s because it’s healthy.
Step one for building a healthy presence on the web is by having clean, standards-based, HTML. Your code itself should make sense, and enhance your topic. Developers call it “semantic-markup”…… You can even boost up certain parts of your site by including additional signifiers inside the code that explain important elements. Think of it as vitamins for your website, to make it stronger. Aside from meta tags, there’s hundreds of ways to enhance your code (the right way). This isn’t always the place for people who don’t know what they’re doing ‘under the hood’. It might be best to hire a standards-compliant web developer to straighten your site out.
Step two: write good, meaningful content. Google’s checked out your code and determined you look good. Now it reads through your content to determine if you’re genuine, if you’re shifty, or if you’re just a raving looney. Google is a pretty damn good judgement of this, so be true with your content, and be thorough.
Don’t try and trick Google in either of the two capacities mentioned. If you have a strategy that is in any way based on deception, you’re looking to fail. You aren’t as smart as the nerds at Google, and even if you get some positive results from your attempts, they’ll eventually nail you.
And finally step three: work on the presence of your business on the world wide web away from your website. If you want Google to determine that your site is of the highest relevance, you want referrals. On the web, a referral is simply a link to your website that is housed by another website. Not all referrals are the same, however. Google considers a referral from a popular site to be worth more. The content of the linking site has relevance too. If you are linked from a popular site that is relevant to your subject this is valued more in Google’s all-seeing eye.
Lastly: Keep your AdWords account, and use it. I’d probably recommend dialing back you expenditures if they’re too much. Personally, I wouldn’t spend more then 30% of my web-marketing budget* on AdWords. (* Specifically, money budgeted for marketing efforts on the web only) Don’t have a web-marketing budget? I’d seriously consider allocating a portion of your overall marketing budget to the web. (I think it’s here to stay) Don’t have a marketing budget? You have bigger problems.