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Search Engine Marketing 101 for Musicians


10 Cents on Search

Search Marketing is one of the most exciting new forms consumer advertisers are using to reach potential customers – mainly because it’s cost efficient, highly measurable, and it reaches nearly the entire population of Internet users. Do you Yahoo?

So, there are two main companies that currently drive the majority of search listings on the Internet – Google and Yahoo! Search (formerly Overture). AOL is also an important provider, mainly because of its installed base of users through their ISP and IM services. Google syndicates its search results to AOL, so it means if you’re on Google then you’re on AOL, too. Yahoo used to syndicate to MSN, but MSN is expected to come out with a Paid Search offering in September 2005, which may make them a major player you should consider as well. There are many other smaller companies — often referred to as “Second Tier Search Engines.” Results can often be fed to these second tiers through the search networks managed by Google and Yahoo, or through network aggregators like the Search Advertising Network.

The list of players goes on and on. See, search is still a very new and budding technology. It is still being figured out. But if you’re just getting started in this stuff, the two main players you have to worry about are Google and Yahoo…

What does this mean to you?

It means that there are prospective fans out there searching on terms like “new independent musician” every day, and you could put your name and album in front of them. For example on Google, “music” gets 21,000 clicks/day, “new music” gets 240 clicks/day, “buy CDs” gets 86 clicks/day, “buy music online” gets 80 clicks/day, “folk music” gets 67 clicks/day, and “independent music” gets 14 clicks/day. Now that doesn’t mean you should necessarily go buy those terms, but it does give you an idea of how many people are searching on music-related terms.

It also means that you have an additional way to measure your market reach – so you can not only tell those Record Label A&R folks how many units you sold last year, but you can also tell him the % increase of searches online on your Brand Name. You can also learn a lot more about your fans by the terms they search to find you.

Okay, now that this all appears to be a little more relevant, I’m gonna get a little more technical…

Google and Yahoo! Search both have Paid and Natural components to their search results pages. That means some of the listings you see when you do a search are Sponsored (paid for), and some of the listings you see are Natural (found by engine spiders/webcrawlers, without payola). Understanding where the search listings come from, and how you can impact them is the first step toward determining what role Search Marketing will play in your overall business strategy.

Forms of Search Marketing & Industry Lingo

Currently, there are three types of Search Marketing recognized by folks who do it most. (People like me, I guess.) There’s Site-Side Optimization (also called SEO), Paid Inclusion, and Paid Placement (also called PPC or Paid Search). There are some other advanced forms of search-related marketing beginning to appear – like contextual, behavioral, and psychographic profiling. But let’s get started with the basic scales first — then we can more onto barre chords…

SEO is when you look at the structure of your web site on its “back end” and how you have named your site, it’s directories (folders), and pages (those files that usually end with .htm, .html, .asp, or .php depending on what type of server you are using and the functionality of your site). You go through your page header tags and create things called Meta-tag Keywords and Descriptions, as well as indexing commands, so search engines know what to do when they get to your site. Generally, SEO works to help you with your Natural Search performance – that’s the stuff where the search engines send out spiders or crawlers to find contents relevant to certain keywords and/or subject matter. There’s a lot you can do to help your performance – particularly if you have a lot of content or run a Blog through your site. If you’re the bloggy type, Blogspot is actually owned by Google, and as a result they are able to crawl the blogs quickly, with ease, and frequently.

PAID INCLUSION is kind of a way of cheating on Natural Search. Basically, through certain sites you can submit feeds of your site contents with tailored page descriptions so the engines are guaranteed to index you. Mind you, they do not guarantee high ranking. But basically, you pay them so you can send them whatever creative descriptions you want to – and in return they don’t have to send their spider to crawl your site. Kinda fishy, eh? Yeah, they have to do less work, and you pay them. What’s up with that? But, for some folks who have sites that pose problems for the search engines – like if the site’s in frames or it has a significant number of dynamically generated pages (where page contents comes from a database and not a hard-coded HTML page), or if it is primarily in Flash – this is a good solution.

PAID PLACEMENT is not natural at all. You pay money to Google and Overture (Yahoo! and other syndicated search sites), and they put you up under the Sponsored Listings section of their engines. On Google, the price you pay per click is based on a combination of your Bid on a term and your Click Rate (CTR%). On Overture, it is based just on your Bid (what you are willing to pay for one click). Generally for you, I would recommend that you participate in PPC if you have eCommerce on your site and are directly selling something, but just to drive traffic it can become somewhat costly.

How to Impact Search Performance

Okay, so now to my thoughts on how search can be implemented to help a musician attain specific goals…

A Few Good Goals:
Find More Listeners
Drive Frequent Visits
Get Listed On Engines
Get PR Through Content

Find More Listeners:
When it comes to the Internet, the more you write, the more readers will be likely to find you. Really. Believe it or not, this is a space in which “If you build it, they will come,” is actually true. However, it’s not just because of karma. The more you write, the more contents you will have that is indexed by the natural search engines spiders. Just remember — relevency is king. You can write until you’re blue in the face, but if it isn’t relevant then you’ll come up on the wrong types of searches.

Once you think you’ve got the structure, meta tags and descriptions in pretty good shape, you can actively submit your pages to the engines for indexing – some engines allow you to do this for free, others have Paid Inclusion programs.

Then, the next step is to go and seek out sites and blogs with similar or kindred content – and then invite them to link to your site or blog. Part of natural search Page Rank performance is based on how many other sites link to yours, and to how many well-searched pages you link to. It’s part of Google’s philosophy that relevant content should always rise to the top in their search engine results.

Drive Frequent Visits:
Newsletter newsletter newsletter. Capture reader’s email addresses and send them the newest story – or a teaser message about it – whenever you put up a new posting. To do this, I use a tool from Topica – and can tell you more about why Topica is a good idea. Or if you want to read my POV and best practices about email newsletters, you can check out my recent blog on avoiding email SPAM filters – tips on email newsletter marketing for budding musicians.

Get Listed:
If you publish a web site, add meta-tags and descriptions in your web page header tags. If you publish a blog, add a description to the top of the page on your Blog in your Blogspot settings – be sure to include important and frequently searched keywords in that description. Take a look at other blogs you’ve found on search engines, and see how they use descriptions to match your searches. Second, ALWAYS name your domain names, page names, and/or blogs with headlines that include keywords people will use to search for your content. This is the fun part for a creative person such as yourself – to find something that is pithy and creative but also practical for a headline. So, you might want to review your previous posting headlines with your search hat on and determine where you might be able to include search terms.

Currently, your meta-tag keywords and descriptions are probably blank, or maybe you or your webmaster have thrown a few generic terms in there — using the same ones on every page of your site. To take your natural search to the next level, you should start by creating a spreadsheet that has a line for every page of your site. In this spreadsheet you should make columns for Page Name, Page URL, Page Header Title, Page Meta Description, Page Meta Keywords, Page Index Type. Then, go to the next step of coming up with compelling titles, keywords and descriptions for each page. This way, your meta-tags differ by content, and people who search will actually be sent to relevant information.

A couple pages you should check out for more info:
– www.searchenginewatch.com
– www.google.com/adsense

Get PR Through Content:
Online PR has started to buzz. At search marketing conferences, booths about Search PR firms have started to pop up all over – and you can now purchase service through the PR Newswire and other similar tools to enhance your PR through search. I haven’t researched this stuff nearly as much as I ought, but can dig up some best practices for you if this is something you’d like to work on for your site. Likely, this is the subject for a whole other blog — so stay tuned.

Likely Online Search PR optimizations would include adding Press Releases about your blog to your blog or web site, given that many PR engines still prefer the standard Press Release format. So, when you are writing your press releases for shows, be sure to incorporate keyword terms and phrases people would search for in both consumer-oriented search engines, and also in press-oriented online PR database search engines.

Just The Beginning
Okay, the most important thing to remember in online marketing is that there is no expert. Online marketing is always changing. A form of online marketing like search enging marketing has been present since the engines launched, and has increased in its importance as engines have become more important to the way people navigate the web. People have tried to “beat the engines” time and time again — but the engines change their algorithms, and in fact even their business models, all the time.

So, what that means is anyone can be an expert. No one and anyone. Because search marketing is primarily about relevance, you’re doing okay if you just stay relevant. Simple enough. So above all other advice, don’t try to trick or beat the engines. They are in place to help people find you. Just understand their rules, and work to achieve the highest results possible.

That’s the general 101 on search marketing. In a separate installment, we will cover how copywriting and keyword selection alter search, newsletter, and other online marketing response rate — specifically for music.

Happy Googling!

MM