How to Strategically Generate Search Engine Traffic

Learn the differences between the search engines and the various ways you can promote yourself to help maximize your ROI.

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It’s easy for a newcomer to the world of search engine marketing to assume that the search engines (e.g., Google, Microsoft) are all the same and that clicks from them all behave in the same ways. In order to optimize your efforts, you need to know the differences between Google and Microsoft, their search engines and shopping engines, mobile vs. desktop and much more. Learn about what you’re doing wrong and how to do it right. 

Google vs. Microsoft

The biggest difference between Google and Microsoft is reach: Google is larger than Microsoft, which includes Bing, Yahoo and AOL traffic in its network. According to Statista, that difference is around 63 percent market share for Google and 25 percent market share for Microsoft in the United States, so Google is around 2.5 times the size of Microsoft. You would think that suggests you should focus your initial efforts on Google to get in front of more users, right? Perhaps, but everyone else is also thinking that. There is less competition on Microsoft, and you might be able to acquire the same amount clicks at a lower cost per click and improve your ROI in the process.

There’s also a material difference in demographics between the two networks. Google tends to attract a younger, more college-educated, higher-income, and a generally more tech-savvy audience that Microsoft, and more Microsoft users are parents. Depending on your product offering, that could mean nothing to you (e.g., either audience watches movies). But maybe that demographic difference presents and opportunity for you (e.g., selling a product targeting older Baby Boomers may perform better on Microsoft).

Those looking to attract users from outside the United States should know that Google’s international reach is also bigger than Microsoft’s.

Search vs. shopping

Just so we are clear, search ads are the sponsored listings that appear at the top of search engine results when you enter in a keyword (mostly text links). Shopping ads are the product listings that appear in the “shopping” sections of those same search engines (mostly visual product images). The shopping ads are typically a direct feed of your products from your website created using a management tool like Feedonomics or DataFeedWatch. If you’re in ecommerce, the natural instinct is to advertise in both sections. That may work fine for you, or it may not, as we learned at my business, Restaurant Furniture Plus. 

We learned the shopping section mostly attracts consumers, not commercial buyers. There was a significant difference in our average order size between the two sections, let’s say $500 from shopping and $5,000 from search. And based on the differences in cost of customer acquisition, let’s say $100 from shopping and $200 from search, it was easier for us to maximize our revenues, profitability and return on ad spend by focusing on search and not struggle to break even on our shopping spend. Figure out what balance is best for your business. 

B2C vs. B2B

Related to the search vs. shopping topic are the implications for B2C vs. B2B businesses. Continuing with my business’ example, let’s say we were advertising for chairs. Yes, chairs are needed for restaurants, but they’re also needed by consumers in their homes. When we were simply advertising chairs, we were up against a lot of big consumer brands selling chairs (e.g., Pier 1, Pottery Barn, Wayfair) trying to tap into the same keywords. And those big brands have a lot more marketing muscle and repeat buying potential (as those consumers will most likely buy other products for their homes over time.) All this meant the big brands were willing to pay a lot more for those leads than we were. It wasn’t until we shut off our shopping feed and changed all our generic chairs keywords to more specific ones such as restaurant chairs, commercial chairs and foodservice chairs that we started optimizing for our B2B needs.

Desktop vs. mobile

When I first started digital marketing in 2000, there was no such thing as a smart phone, so all the traffic was coming from desktop PCs. But over the last 20 years — thanks to the innovations of Apple, Android, Samsung and others — searches from mobile phones have surpassed searches from desktop PCs for many companies. The problem is that most businesses have optimized their user experience for desktop, not mobile, and search engine algorithms produce results differently depending on the perceived user experience and site speed of those different desktop and mobile channels.

For example, check out this Google tool that lets you check your site speed on desktop and mobile. If Google thinks your mobile site is too slow compared to your desktop site, it will not publish your mobile advertising with the same frequency as your desktop advertising. It will also publish it less frequently than advertising for competitors whose sites are better optimized for mobile. Companies need to live in a mobile-first way of thinking even if it goes against what they’ve been taught. 

Text (prospecting) vs. display (retargeting)

When you buy text ads on search engines, you can also buy display ads that retarget users who are visiting other websites within their advertising networks. There are a few ways display ads differ from text ads: What you can say and show in a few lines of text is very different from what you can say and show in an image. Not to mention that image is now being displayed to a user who has already seen your brand once, so they will be much more likely to engage with a brand they recognize. If you’re going to run a search campaign, you’re leaving a lot of potential success off the table if you’re not concurrently running display retargeting ads.

With reviews vs. without

Over the years, Google has emphasized social media data in determining how it publishes ads and ranks sites for organic traffic. One of the biggest drivers of that is customer review data. The reviews must come from their list of trusted review vendors to give the review credibility and ensure businesses don’t make them up. 

The benefit of working with one of these trusted third-party review vendors is that if you have over 100 reviews, Google will add your summary five-star score next to each of your paid search ads and your organic search result links. This does two things: It gives you higher credibility than other links on the page (increasing the odds the customer clicks on your links), and it can decrease your cost of customer acquisition by as much as 15 percent, on average, with a higher likelihood of converting into sales. 

General vs. custom audiences

Until now, you mostly had to rely on search engines to identify the target audience and hope they got it right. In the newest iterations of search marketing, the searches engines are giving you more input on who they’re targeting. For example, if you’re a “whitelisted” email marketer, you can give them your list of email targets and they’ll match it to their users and target advertising only to them. This is great if you’re targeting old customer email accounts or have a list of prospects’ emails. Another tactic is to give them a list of competitor or industry websites where your customers are likely looking, and they’ll target advertising to any users that visit those sites. This is the first thing I’ve seen — other than customizing keywords from chairs to restaurant chairs — that will help B2B marketers go after such targeted traffic. Be sure to take advantage of custom audiences in your campaigns. 

As you can  see, a lot has changed in the world of search marketing in the past decade, and I’m guessing that change will continue. Please don’t set up your campaigns once and forget about them. You need to keep up with new best practices and reset your campaigns to have a maximum return on your search engine marketing investment.