David has an update on [Google happenings in Singapore](http://prspeak.wordpress.com/2007/11/17/google-singapore-marketing-briefing/). He shares these tips from Google:
4 Ways to Strengthen Your Business Online
> 1. Make sure people searching on Google find you easily (more info at [http://adwords.google.com](http://adwords.google.com))
> 2. Use AdWords starter Edition and Business Pages (more info at [http://adwords.google.com](http://adwords.google.com))
> 3. Improve your website and convert more visitors to a sale (more info at [http://google.com/analytics](http://google.com/analytics))
> 4. Earn money from relevant ads on your websites (more info at [http://google.com/adsense](http://google.com/adsense))
I love using Google Analytics (tip #3) because it offers a comprehensive range of statistics and is much more user-friendly and attractive than many other stats programs, some of which we have to pay for.
But regarding tip #1, I don’t entirely agree that we need Adwords for our websites to be more easily found. It can help, though, if you really need the push in the short run.
I don’t claim to be an uber expert on search engine marketing, but I do have strong opinions on it, so allow me to expand on this.
Before we look into purchasing search keywords, our website’s content must have substance in the first place. That involves having domain knowledge and awareness of the right target audience. The next question is whether we are speaking the right language to this audience. Terminology has to be customer-oriented and not how we, as the organisation, see things.
Next, the website content must be tagged and coded in a semantic way. Page titles and tags like h1, h2 are important. I usually make it mandatory for my vendors to use web standards and keep things semantic, though it is not easy to enforce or upkeep as pages get changed along the way. Old-school table code layouts should be avoided, unless tabular data is being displayed. CSS should be de facto standard – away with messy font tags that just bloat up the code.
Also, maybe it’s a subjective issue but I hardly ever click on the ad boxes on top or beside the actual search results. I know those links were paid for, and there must be a reason why they’re trying so hard to stand out – because they can’t make it to the top 10 or 20 list of search results. If this company has trouble getting its website onto Google’s first couple of pages, it is probably too new, has a low [Pagerank](http://www.google.com/technology/), or doesn’t have enough relevant content (in which case I’d say, go back to the drawing board).
It’s probably a vicious or positive cycle, depending on how you see it. If the website was established enough, its company wouldn’t need to advertise so much – just as the top hawkers in Singapore don’t need to advertise their food because word of mouth referrals and good reviews in the press have taken care of it. They can be hard to find, but because people really want what they’re offering, they’ll travel to the other end of the island to get it. If all the advertising in the world doesn’t get you many more customers, then go back to the drawing board and improve your dish, or invent a new one.
On a similar note, I do not believe in paying when your customers can spread the good word themselves. Word of Mouth is so much more credible and effective (see this [AC Nielsen report](http://www2.acnielsen.com/reports/documents/TrustinAdvertisingOct07.pdf)). Which would you rather end up on – a positive review in a [Boing Boing](http://boingboing.net/) post, or an ad in a side column on the same blog? If you could choose to be on TV, would you rather appear on the news itself, or the Sellavision commercial that comes right after it?
The other thing is, if you do buy keywords, be honest. I’ve heard of instances where keywords purchased are not related to the actual content, which would actually turn people off when they realise they’re not getting what they want. The advertiser either doesn’t know the product well, or is insecure and hopes to lure visitors using irrelevant keywords. This does not help build long-term relationships with your visitors.
Before you even start a marketing campaign, make sure your product is inherently good. If so, it will be easier to create buzz and sustain customers’ interest. I prefer doing this rather than spending a bomb on advertisements, most of which people today don’t believe. I can see our own campaigns heading this way, in the form of new blogs, social networks and Youtube.
Quite often, though, we have opportunities to use both paid and unpaid media and these are worth exploring. When combined they can grab customers’ attention through repeated messaging. But to me, PR lasts longer because it can be nurtured. No matter how much money you’re willing to spend at one shot, you cannot buy a long-term relationship that’s been fostered over the years. You may be able to buy attention, but it is an increasingly scarce commodity with a correspondingly lower return on invesment these days. But you cannot buy trust.
In a few campaigns, we’ve reached the stage where we no longer have to try so hard to get the news out, because our customers have been busy making the news themselves – posting comments, linking to us from fan sites, joining our online communities and uploading videos with our names on it. That is the way to go. You can’t “engage” your audience by simply having a lot of “hits” in the first month, bolstered by a massive ad campaign which will end when the money runs out. A true test is whether visitorship can be sustained, through regular, relevant content updates and, if possible, a sincere, personal touch in any possible way.
Easier said than done, of course, but not impossible. It’s certainly not the easy way out. Some will falter and stick to big-bang advertising rather than building a long-term relationship with customers, which is more labour-intensive and less glamorous. But for those who care, it is certainly the best approach.