It’s hard to think of many businesses today that don’t have at least some Internet marketing component to what they do. For most, a big part of that effort to find new buyers over the web will involve search engine marketing, the process of trying to improve a business website’s ranking on Google, Yahoo, and Bing for the keywords and search terms that customers use most frequently.

Because the search engine marketing process tends to be long, tedious, and occasionally expensive, some business owners and managers try to avoid the issue by ignoring search engines altogether. We urge you to avoid making that mistake. Not only is search engine optimization and marketing not going away anytime soon, it’s likely to become even more important over the next few years.

The reason is simple: Customers like to find products and vendors online, and search engines are the overwhelmingly favorite first stop on the Internet. Consider that Google, which receives the lion’s share of search traffic, processes more than 2 billion search requests each day, and you can easily see why it’s imperative that buyers be able to find your company on the first couple of pages. Optimizing your site for search isn’t just a good online marketing strategy, it’s necessary just to stay competitive.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be the painstaking process that many people think it is. Here are a handful of tips for maximizing your business website’s search engine marketing profile in 2012:

  1. Think precision targeting, not mass appeal. A lot of effort that’s put into search engine optimization is wasted. That’s because there is a tendency for business owners and marketers to want to focus on the keywords with the highest amounts of traffic, rather than the ones that strongly indicate that a buyer is ready to make a purchase or contact a vendor. Think very carefully about who your best customers are, and what they would be most likely to search when they are serious about moving forward. Those answers may or may not coincide with the keywords and phrases that get the greatest amounts of traffic.
  2. Make the easy adjustments. Although search engine optimization, as a discipline, can get quite complicated, some of the initial steps (like creating search-friendly page headings and filenames) are fairly inexpensive to execute. Even if you aren’t ready to undergo a more comprehensive search campaign, it’s a good idea to get together with a marketing agency or search engine specialist to identify these beginning strategies and get them working.
  3. Exercise a little patience. If anything, the Internet has taught us all to be a little less patient than we used to be, especially given that communication and information are virtually instant these days. The Internet is a huge place, however, and it takes the major search engines a lot of time to continually scan it and update their rankings. What this means to you is that the search engine optimization process is likely to take a little bit of time.
  4. Try Pay Per Click advertising. If you simply can’t stand to wait, or want to try out different combinations of keywords and marketing messages before you invest a lot of time and money into a bigger search engine strategy, then consider advertising via pay per click ads. Although these usually cost more, than traditional “organic” search engine optimization does, they work in a fraction of the time and allow you to immediately compete for important keywords and phrases. If nothing else, they should give you the confidence to move forward with a more comprehensive search marketing plan later.

It’s a good bet that more, not fewer, customers are going to be coming to you via search engines in the next few years. So, if you aren’t already in one of the top few positions on the major search engines, why not get started on moving into one of them today?

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