The concept behind Search Engine Marketing is quite simple:

search engine marketing cycle

when a consumer or business person searches the Web through either a text box or by clicking through a directory hierarchy, he or she is in "hunt mode." This psychological state is unique because it signals to the search engine (and to marketers) that the person is looking for information, often of a direct or indirect commercial nature.

Marketers understand that this "hunt mode" means that the searcher may very well be at the beginning, middle, or end stages of the buying cycle. When someone is researching a product or service to satisfy an immediate or future need they are in an unusual state: they desire relevant information and are open to digesting and acting on the information at their fingertips, all made possible by a search engine. This makes search engine results some of the best sources of targeted traffic, whether this traffic originates from "organic" unpaid search listings or paid advertising listings.

Many marketers think of search engines as delivering the search results or SERP (Search Engine Results Page) in the form of purely textual results. The truth is that search results can be any mix of text, images, video, audio, or other file formats.

All search engines use algorithms to attempt to provide the most relevant results to each searcher, taking onto account not only the search keywords used but also the searcher’s location, device, operating system, previous search behavior, and even identity. The better any specific search algorithm for paid or organic (unpaid) results is, the happier the searcher is with the results. Because search engines compete for the attention, eyeballs, and ears of searchers, there is great incentive for constant improvement and innovation.

To leverage the power contained within this targeted traffic source, marketers must understand how to effectively use both paid and organic SEM and have realistic expectations about what they can expect each methodology to achieve.

    Search engine traffic is unique in the following ways:
  • Search engine traffic is a non-intrusive method of marketing. The majority of online and offline advertising intrudes on the audience, interrupting its current activities. Search is unique in tapping a searcher at the exact moment he or she is seeking knowledge or a solution. Searchers are on a mission – its "just-in-time marketing".
  • Search engine traffic originates from voluntary, audience-driven search behavior. This means the visitors from a search results link (or otherwise engaged in search results) have not only selected your content (link, image, video or other format) from among your peers, but chose the search query that resulted in your content (ad or organic) being shown.
  • "Organic" search engine marketing (organic search listings) combines the best practices of creativity, technology, usability, copy, and online promotion / PR. This is because many search engines base their relevancy algorithms on a combination of the text they see on a page, site, video, or image and combine the content information with external elements such as links and user behaviors/preferences demonstrated over time for a domain, content source, or specific content element.
  • Some marketers believe that there are "tricks" that will improve the relevancy of sites within the search engines that are spider- (crawler-) based. Not only do some of these tricks not work; many of them can result in negative relevance penalties as the engines take measures to punish search marketers seeking to manipulate ranking and relevance. That said, there are still compelling reasons to put legitimate efforts behind organic SEO optimization, particularly efforts in site design, content formatting, content clarity optimization, and server platform adjustments.