In January, GoDaddy.com, an online domain registration and internet services company, managed to stand out with its controversial Super Bowl ad that featured a scantily clad woman testifying before a Congressional committee.
Did it work? According to USA Today, GoDaddy.com increased market share by 40% in the two months following the ad, jumping to number one in the category. GoDaddy estimates that news coverage generated publicity worth an estimated $11.7 million.
The ad time reportedly cost $2.5 million. Gulp.
On the other end of the spectrum is an equally powerful, yet mostly undiscovered, brand-building opportunity: search engine marketing (SEM). In contrast to betting it all on one big bang, SEM helps a company touch a highly targeted and, in most cases, highly motivated audience one person at a time.
So what is SEM? It involves a combination of both natural search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine advertising, also called pay-per-click advertising. Through SEM, an organization can maximize the likelihood that its listing and brand will appear when someone searches a particular term.
SEO is the practice of modifying web content and navigation, and encouraging links from other websites in the hope of naturally earning high placement on search engines for desired terms. Search engine advertising is paid placement of listings that appear near the natural search results in the major search engines. Advertisers only pay when their ad is clicked.
Studies show that a majority of search engine users don't differentiate between a natural listing and a pay-per-click listing.
So how does one use SEM to build a brand? While most PR pros are not responsible for managing an SEM campaign, it is important that PR work closely with marketing to manage the brand in the search engines. For instance, integrating the key messages in the news release with the key terms being searched elevates the news release's role in the marketing mix.
When considering methods of distributing a news release, maximize opportunities within it to link to your website with key terms for which target audiences are searching. PR Web offers PR Web Direct, which makes these link-backs possible.
If you are - or would like to be - the dedicated SEM champion for your organization, these six steps will get you started:
1. Sort keyword phrases by number of times a term is searched. This information may be obtained for free at sites such as www.overture.com or www.wordtracker.com. From your list, determine the ones that you believe are most important to your business' success.
2. Revisit your tagline based on your keyword research. Does your tagline really say what you do for people?
3. Evaluate your logo. Search engines only evaluate text, so a text treatment logo translates best for the search engines.
4. Evaluate your positioning statement to ensure that it is consistent with your keywords, tagline, and text logo. Craft text for paid placement listings by leading with your brand name, followed by a hyphen. This maximizes the brand impression on every web searcher.
5. Review and tweak your website as appropriate. The headline should be the dominant graphical element of the page and must be consistent with the brand story, the text of the ad, and the intentions of your new site visitor. The headline should reinforce the reason that the visitor arrives. No surprises.
6. Many are tempted to measure the success of SEM through conversions and web traffic alone, but the bigger battle is the battle of the brands. Maximize the opportunity to make a lasting impression on the 95% to 99% of searchers who will not click the paid listing. If done right, search engine listings equal brand impressions.
Google AdWords and Overture.com offer tracking of paid-placement campaigns to help determine conversion rates of selected search terms. However, augment this direct ROI by getting creative with copy to keep the conversion rate high and keep the brand name in front of the internet public at all times.
Most of us will never have the opportunity to take the kind of gamble that GoDaddy.com did. But SEM is a new and affordable branding heavyweight that will soon stir up the marketplace.
By acting carefully and quickly, PR pros can take advantage of this new industry to build a strong and healthy brand that will last even after search engine marketing matures - and for a lot less than the $2.5 million that GoDaddy spent on a one-time publicity and advertising shot.