Think of search engines as the customs gate of an airport through which every person entering a country must pass. The country they’re entering is the Internet, and 1.3 billion people use search engines every day to find stuff there.

That’s a big number and it’s easy to find dramatic ways to illustrate just how big– it’s the size of the entire population of China. But what’s more important than the size of this number is the idea that all your customers and potential customers are using search engines every day and if you don’t reach them there, your competitors will. So your opportunity is to connect with these people as they pass through this narrow gate.

But the reality is, for many marketers today, search engine marketing is merely a sideshow beside the seemingly more important activities that make up the core of their marketing plans. This approach misses an enormous opportunity and it needs to change.

How Your Customers Use Search Engines

There are three critical ideas related to how people use search engines that should guide your search engine marketing strategy.

First, potential customers are not just searching the name of your company, product or service, they may be searching for information that relates broadly to what you offer. So your search marketing efforts should focus on ensuring that your marketing content appears when users enter copy related to what you offer, not just when they enter your company name, product or service.

Second, of the 1.3 billion people using search engines daily, 1.1 billion click on the unpaid listings- versus the paid advertising that appears on the top and sides of the search engine results. So this means that paying for search engine listings through services like AdWords cannot be the core of your long term search marketing strategy. Ultimately you need to create organic visibility for your marketing content (“organic” is the term that describes non-paid search engine listings).

Finally, know that 1 billion daily search engine users (out of 1.3 billion) never look beyond the first page of results. So this means that achieving page-one search results listings is crucial.

How to Build Your Search Engine Marketing Plan

Capitalizing on the power of search engine marketing requires a basic change of mindset for most marketers. Common thinking today is that search engine marketing happens after marketing content has been created. It should happen before, and in fact, search engine visibility should be a prime consideration in what marketing content is created in the first place.

Start with an analysis of the terms that are currently being searched by potential customers. Using free tools available through Google’s AdWords platform, you can see the volume of searches for terms related to your category. Assume for example that you make lacrosse equipment. It is easy to see that the term “lacrosse sticks” is the most heavily searched term in the industry with 27,100 monthly searches. Using other tools from SEOMoz we can see the low amount of content that lacrosse equipment manufacturers have that matches this term. That reveals a big marketing opportunity. How about creating a digital “lacrosse stick buying guide?” Dick’s Sporting Goods has trumped the equipment manufacturers with this, and it is likely that this single page of digital content creates engagement with tens of thousands of potential customers for less than the cost of a traditional ad.

If you’d like to talk more about how to get the most out of search engine marketing, please contact me at [email protected] and we can talk about your immediate opportunities.