Just building a website these days without a digital strategy is like planting a flower without watering it and hoping it will grow. In such a rapidly changing landscape, there’s no doubt it can be hard to see the wood from the trees, but as the author finds out, get the basics right is as easy as one, two, three.

For many organisations in the service industry, the cost effectiveness of digital marketing can no longer be ignored. The Audit Bureau of Verification Services reported in February this year that investment in online advertising had hit the $1billion mark, with a 61.5% increase in ad sales year on year. Similar patterns are only set to follow in the mobile sector, and the release of Vodafone’s Mobile Advertising Portfolio, which makes customer contact assets available to advertisers for the first time, is testament to this.

The reason for the surge is two fold. Marketers are fast realising the Internet and mobile mediums are more equipped to segment consumers demographically and behaviourally than any other medium. Digital mediums also have the ability to deliver more than just eyeballs, they deliver engagement, which in turn can be tracked and assessed for relevance and effectiveness, increasing both the strike rate of your campaign and return on investment.

Not to mention the reach potential and a faster response time. No longer just an extension of a more traditional advertising mix, websites are increasingly at the centre of most marketing strategies, with digital leading the way in terms of delivering cost effective advertising solutions.

“So many companies put up a corporate brochure on the Internet and they don’t really think about what the key actions are that they are looking for,” says Phil Baddock, Director of Search Marketing at Melbourne’s Internet specialist agency, Salsa Internet. “Are they looking for them to make a purchase, are they trying to get them to sign up to a newsletter or download software, what are they trying to get from their website?”

Important questions if you want to make the most of your online investment. So what are the basic steps to increasing your profile on the Internet. Well, talking to digital specialists is the first step, and this fortnight we focus on the planning of a Pay Per Click advertising campaign, search engine optimisation and links.

There are two ways to increase your profile on the net so more people find your website when they are using search engines like Google, or they stumble across you when they are visiting other websites.

1. Pay Per Click paid advertising and Search Engine Optimisation

2. Links and Banner ads

Cost Per Click & Search Engine Optimisation

When users are searching the Internet via search engines such as Google, Yahoo or MSN, there are two types of results. Firstly, there is Pay Per Click, which is when your advertisement appears in the right hand column or at the top of a search results page under “Sponsored Links”. And secondly, there is “natural” results, which appear on the left hand side of the search page, and these are free rankings based on the popularity or “relevance” of your website.

Benefits of Pay Per Click
The fastest way to drive more traffic to your website and increase your website’s exposure, according to Melbourne Internet specialists, Salsa Internet, is via a Pay Per Click online ad campaign through Google AdWords or similar offerings from the Yahoo and MSN search engines.

“Pay Per Click is a really good way to get started and just drive some early traffic because you’re unlikely to get organic traffic straight away, you’re not going to rank well on the search engines just because you’ve put up a website,” explains Salsa Internet’s Director of Search Marketing, Phil Baddock.

“There are an enormous number of people trying to find companies via the web still, so they go looking for event companies based on different key word terms on Google, they might be typing in location based terms or different types of events… so I think it’s a really good tool for companies to find new business, or attract people that are looking for those key terms on the search engines,” adds Baddock.

Every time a user plugs in a set of key words or phrases that match the nominated key words you are targeting in your ad campaign, your website link appears in the right hand column or across the top of the search engine page under the “Sponsored Links” categories.

The further up your ad appears on the list depends on two factors. How high you are prepared to bid for specific key words against other advertisers, and the “relevance” of your ad to the keywords searched on, which is measured by the words used in your ad, and the content on your website.

Rather than simply charging advertisers a set fee, which would ultimately lock out the highest sponsored positions, search engines leave it up to advertisers and users to determine the popularity of key words, and thus how much they are worth. So even if a competitor is paying more than you for certain key word terms, your site may get more click throughs because your ad and your website is more relevant to the keywords searched on, and therefore your ad will hold the higher position.

This surprisingly democratic system is particularly beneficial for advertisers in specialist areas where competition for key words is still relatively low, such as “corporate events” because your Pay Per Click bidding rate is considerably lower than more common terms such as “online dating”, where advertisers are bidding more intensely for the these key words, which pushes up the advertising price given the number of ads appearing in this category.

The real benefits of Pay Per Click however, is the ability to target online audiences with such accuracy, which increases the propensity of purchase, and you only pay if a user actually clicks on your link and goes through to your website, making it an extremely cost effective form of advertising – in other words, you only pay for results.

Companies such as Salsa Internet specialise in planning and implementing Pay Per Click campaigns that start with a monthly ad budget of $200. “That’s about $6 a day on advertising,” explains Baddock. “But again that depends on the words that you’re targeting, you may get five or six clicks a day or you might get 10 or 20 clicks, depending on the keyword terms.

“We’ve also got access to quotation tools for Google, Yahoo and other search engines, so we can reasonably accurately predict how much you will pay for site visitors, or clicks based on the different words you’re targeting.”

Pay Per Click campaigns are also a good way to check the effectiveness of your website from a useability perspective to understand more about how people interact with your site, and the results of each visit.

“Google Pay Per Click allows you to implement a technology called conversion tracking, so every time somebody places an enquiry through your website, purchases something, or signs up to a newsletter, it sends a message back to Google and it allows you to track how many ad dollars that is costing you. It also allows you to test how many people who come to your website actually go on and sign up or make an enquiry,” explains Baddock.

“So Pay Per Click is a good way to get some early traffic and also to test the effectiveness of the site, in terms of how well it converts and how well it delivers enquiries.”

Benefits of Search Engine Optimisation

In addition to Pay Per Click online campaigns, you can also increase your “natural” rating on search engines by optimising your website to rank higher in the URLs featured in the left hand column, which are free listings that are ranked according to the popularity or relevance of your website.

Similarly to planning a Pay Per Click campaign, specialists such as Salsa Internet can optimise your website so it has a greater chance of appearing in the search engine results for desired key word searches, and using specialised software, Salsa Internet can actually rate your potential key word search success against your competitors, which is an ideal method for measuring potential campaign effectiveness.

“We also do key word research from a search engine optimisation point of view to find out how many other companies are actually targeting those specific clicks and how competitively intense that is and how hard it is going to be to get into the top five rankings on Google for those,” explains Baddock.

Planning your online approach, whether it is via search engine optimisation or Pay Per Click advertising via Google AdWords, the traditional marketing rules of thumb still apply, such as defining your target audience and your unique selling proposition.

“One of things we talk to people about in a client’s strategy, is to really think about what is different [about your site],” says Baddock.

“What’s your unique selling proposition, what is different about you and therefore what are particular key word terms you can target that are still getting reasonable traffic, that you can optimise for where you’re not competing against every man and his dog.”

Depending on your budget, it might pay to do the two in tandem. Optimising your website to ensure your site is performing at its best in the “natural” search engine results, as well as topping this up with a Cost Per Click campaign to get you off and running and increase the number of click throughs.

“For the average business you’re probably looking at six to eight months to start to rate well for various terms,” adds Baddock. “With Pay Per Click you turn on the ad campaign and tomorrow the visitors start arriving, whereas with search engine optimisation, it’s typically a minimum of a few months to start to get ranked well in the search engines.”

Links & Banners

Now that we know search engines like Google rate our websites based on popularity and relevance to the terms being searched on, it makes sense one way to increase our ranking is to have as many links as possible on third party websites pointing back to our site, so we have a higher chance of click through.

But not all links help drive the popularity stakes, and this includes traditional banner ads, logos and standard URL link exchanges placed on third party websites. According to Baddock, Google tend to discount or devalue any links they can identify as paid for, including exchanges, which is when you feature another party’s link on your website in return for them doing the same for you.

“Banners will still get you referral traffic by people clicking on them and coming through to your site, so banner advertising can be effective,” explains Baddock. “But if you want to rank organically and if you’re looking for rank benefit in the free listing results, then you really want links that are inside the content of the page,” such as editorial mentions in news articles or blogs, which you can usually find on content rich websites such as BizParade, or other niche sites that provide dedicated content that people refer to on a regular basis, especially by an RSS feed.

“Links that come from other places, so from third party sites linking to your website are counted as a vote of the website’s importance by Google,” Baddock adds. “If you want to rate well in the organic or free results, you need to have lots of links on other people’s websites that are pointing to your website,” but they need to be the right types of links, such as white papers, news articles, press releases, or e-books, which are distributed to a range of websites and available to download or access for free.