Be encouraged! The list industry is not dying; it’s evolving – into a dynamic, data-based infrastructure of targeted direct marketing opportunities -and the World Wide Web is bringing it all together. You might be asking, “Shouldn’t this article be listed in the Search Marketing column?” Not really, this is a message for list managers, list owners, and database compilers who simply want to leverage their assets and increase revenue. This is not another promotional effort to redirect marketing dollars to paid search campaigns, and it is not another empty promise. Furthermore, I promise to keep it simple!
The birth of the World Wide Web, circa 1990 coincides with the learning age for the next generation of direct marketers. These search-minded entrepreneurs and business professionals are ‘Googling’ their way to the top, and are less inclined to depend on traditional methods for learning about their respective markets. Furthermore, those who are looking for innovative customer acquisition strategies are turning to the Web. “OK, but how does this tie back to my efforts to market my list title and generate list rental revenue?”
The same basic search engine marketing (SEM) principles apply. For starters, take a visit to Google and run a quick search on the mailing list you are trying to promote: i.e. “Advo Mailing”. You might be surprised by what you see. If you’re doing a good job with search engine optimization, then the mailing list promotional link could actually appear above the list owner’s corporate site – and all this happens without paying a cent for paid search. For list managers and list brokers, you also want to keep an eye on your competitors’ rankings. Surprisingly, you may find out that you’re not too late in getting on top of the organic search listings. Take a look at the search results for “List Manager” and “List Broker”. What do you see? How far down the list did you need to scroll to find your company’s name? Are any of your key competitors on top? If you’re looking for the big names, then you may need to go deep; so seize the opportunity and embrace search engine marketing for your business. It takes time for your web pages to get indexed, so the sooner you get started – the better.
Fine – but how? I know there are several search engine optimization (SEO) consultants out there that charge big bucks just to give advice on key words, and just as many others who are actually qualified to deliver a comprehensive strategy. Here are a few tips for getting started:
o Educate yourself. Invest the time to read a beginner’s text on search engine optimization. It will not only boost your confidence, but also help you to recognize a qualified consultant.
o Run searches. One of the easiest ways to see what’s working is to run a few searches. Search on list titles, key words, clients and competitors to get a feel for who’s on top and doing things right.
o Take a look at your own website to see which pages are indexed. You can do this in Google and most other search programs by typing in the following text in the search engine results page (SERP): site:your website URL. Here’s an example for the United States Postal Service: site:usps.com.
o Talk to your hosting service or marketing technology services provider about how to improve your list title page ranking. Here are a few basic principles to guide your conversation:
o Search algorithms are not only extremely complex, but also a carefully guarded secret. Don’t get caught up in trying to figure them out, but spend your time implementing strategies that have historically been successful for others.
o Getting you web pages noticed involves both managing the page content (on-page) and placing links (off-page) on other web sites.
o The content on your web pages will be indexed in search engine databases by key words and phrases. Search engines do not scan the web for content – that is the job of ‘crawlers’ or ‘robots’. The search engines are actually retrieving results from a database of indexed keywords, locations and formats.
o Keywords are indexed in the search databases by the document ID for the URL where they are found, the actual position in that document, and the type of position in the document (heading, title, body, link, etc.).
o The links to your web pages are not ‘created equal’. The page-ranking implications of an off-page link are not only based on the referring site’s popularity, but also on the number of external links on that site. This is an important point that is often missed by the less experienced SEM professionals. A link that is placed on a popular site may actually be less effective than a link that is placed on a less popular, more targeted site that has fewer links.
o Other documents that are posted on your site may also add value to your page ranking. Search engines will convert Microsoft Word documents and Adobe Acrobat (PDF) documents to HTML in order to index the information contained within them. Furthermore, the font sizes, styles, and other attributes may also be captured and used further down the road in the user-search algorithms.
o Note: if you hear the word ‘vector’ mentioned in the conversation, don’t run for cover. All you need to know is that a ‘vector space model’ can be used mathematically represent a web page. This makes it easier for search engines to match user-defined search terms to the most relevant web pages. It’s much more complicated than that, but I promised to keep it simple.
o Look into advertising programs available through marketing technology services providers. Examples include contextually targeted advertising and preferred provider programs. These targeted programs are similar to paid search, but available exclusively within direct marketing list search applications.
o Finally, be patient. It takes some time for your changes to be indexed by the search engines, so you may not see results for weeks or months.
Don’t be discouraged if you begin to feel like you’re chasing a moving target as you learn more about search engine marketing. The field of search engine optimization continues to evolve as companies like Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft implement new personalized, localized, and contextualized search methods – but this should only improve the user experience and increase the relevance of search results. If you’ve done the SEM job right as a list manager or list owner, then these users (or mailers) will be waiting at your online doorstep to place their list order. So be encouraged about the future of mailing lists… but don’t ignore the role that search engines play in directing existing customers and future prospects to you and – that’s right – your competitors.