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Modern advertising: same battle, different battle ground
Since the birth of advertising, businesses have done everything in their power to get noticed and appear desirable to potential customers. They’ve flown banners over planes; they’ve given free samples at supermarkets and shopping malls; they’ve tried radio, television, even giant billboards in Times Square.
The process is a lot like trying to get your crush’s attention in high school. You wear your best clothes, brush your hair, douse yourself in perfume or cologne – anything to make you stand out amidst the crowd of other suitors.
Today, the same principles still apply; businesses still try to “woo” customers by making themselves highly visible and their products irresistible. But the battle ground between competitors has changed rapidly.
Reaching customers online is just as important as attracting them over the airwaves or in a crowded shopping center. If businesses don’t adapt and start playing the game by making themselves both easy to find and appealing in the online space, they’ll flounder.
So how can they beat out the hungry competitors and win over their desired audience? Google is the key.
Google is the new Yellow Pages
Not only is Google the best place for any business to promote itself online, reaching a whopping 85 per cent of searchers globally, it’s now one of the best places on Earth to advertise. In May 2010 alone, Google had more than 365 million unique visitors. Still think TV is king? When was the last time a TV program had 365 million viewers? Try never. The record is 106.5 million.
Unfortunately, having such an all-encompassing online presence also makes Google a very competitive place. To stand out from the crowd, it often takes a truly unique product or pitch. Say, Dean Martin hand puppets or cookie jars autographed by Mini-Me from Austin Powers.
But most of us base our businesses, services and products around everyday utility. That means we have plenty of competition. So how does a florist, mechanic, personal trainer or dentist separate his or herself from the pack?
Thankfully, Google has a magic trifecta – three key services that can give you a leg up. Some are free, some require a fee, but using all three is almost guaranteed to make your business noticeable and, more importantly, make it boom.
1. Google AdWords: Pay for Play
As handy as Google is, it isn’t just a universal service or free resource that flows like a waterfall. It’s still a business with shareholders and profit margins and devoted to making money.
So how does Google do it? In a way, it functions like a newspaper. It sells space – advertising space – using a service called Google AdWords. Using AdWords, businesses can get their message out whenever potential customers search for specific terms.
Try a Google search. Instead of focusing on the results, look at the boxed off areas under “Sponsored links” on the right of your screen. Those are the AdWords boxes. Businesses place their promotional material in those spaces and can program their ads so they only appear when people search certain terms specific to their niche.
Selling studded leather belts? Your ads won’t pop up when someone searches “online poker” and drive uninterested customers your way. You’ll only get people searching for leather belts – and those people are pretty darned likely to take interest in your ads, aren’t they?
Businesses also only pay Google when someone actually clicks on their ads. Unlike in a newspaper, when you pay in advance and cross your fingers hoping the masses read your ad, the transaction only goes through with AdWords when someone clicks on your promo. You pay per click.
The process is still competitive in that businesses have to pay or “bid” higher per keyword/click on more common terms. “Video game store” will cost a lot, as there are countless video game stores out there. But AdWords is also democratic in that it standardizes the look within its boxes. Every ad has the same font size, style and word count. The ads are crisp and clean, not invasive like pop-ups.
2. Google Places: Put your business on the map…literally
Targeting a local market? Google Places is the place for your business to be.
Formerly known as Google Local, Google places lists businesses’ information, including their location and contact details, on local maps. Businesses that use a limited range of reach to be effective – like pizzerias – can ensure that they pop up on Google Maps whenever someone searches for the product or service they offer.
Google Places is free, but users be warned: that doesn’t mean Google will automatically list your business on Google Maps. It’s your job (or, ahem, an expert helper’s job) to make sure Google knows about you. Provide them with your correct address and contact information and voila! You have a free and effective way to promote your business online.
3. Organic Search Results: The natural way
Perhaps the most competitive online battle ground of all is the one not directly associated with advertising: organic search results.
Organic search results are the information that pops up on a basic search. Ranking high – whether it’s first, “above the fold” or on page one – isn’t about spending the most money. It’s about having the most “relevant” content.
In Google’s case, businesses and websites aren’t the first priority in organic search results. First and foremost, Google caters to the searcher. Google is the world’s top search engine because it strives to give searchers exactly what they want when they type in search terms.
To do so, Google has very high standards. It uses constantly changing algorithms with hundreds of criteria to determine the most relevant websites for search results.
So how can businesses crack Google’s code to get noticed online? The first and easiest way is to produce quality content. A good, attractive website with quality content will attract more visitors. Having high web traffic is a key factor in Google’s ranking system.
Other ways to rank highly in Google results include the number of links driving to your site from other relevant, high-quality sites and the types of keywords popping up in your site’s content. Some businesses develop special departments devoted entirely to upping their search engine rankings. Other smaller businesses can outsource it to specialists.
Organic search results can be a tough nut to crack but, if you put the work in to provide quality content, there may be no more effective way to promote your business.
Location, location, location
The right location can make or break your business. That’s an old principle every business owner knows. The next step is understanding that the online space is just as real and important as any location you can touch. Giving it proper attention – and maximizing its effectiveness using Google’s services – can make your business stand head and shoulders above the competition. Google gets you noticed.
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