Alternative Media: Targeting Audiences on the Web

Nov 01, 2005

The most important web page to communicate with doctors and patients may not be one that you can control directly. Instead, it's the page of results that your potential customers see when they use search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. The importance of the search engine has been well documented:

Peter H. Nalen
A 2004 study by the Center for the Digital Future (a project by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School of Communication) found that search engines are the number-one resource for those seeking health information—used by 86 percent of those with health queries. Almost two-thirds of people seeking health information online use a search engine rather than directly inputting a URL, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the Boston Consulting Group.

Because a search engine plays a huge role in directing customers to sites, marketers are paying increased attention to how information-seekers carry out searches, and to how search engines process queries and rank results. The techniques they have developed, known as search marketing, are becoming increasingly important for both marketers and patients.

Basic Strategies: A Primer

With SEO, you can raise your Web site´s ranking on various search engines, like Google, Yahoo!, or MSN. This will enable users to see your link at the top of their search-results page, thereby increasing the likelihood that they´ll click on your site first. The caveat: It can take three-to-six months to improve a site´s ranking. With SEM, you can buy sponsored links that appear at the top or the side of the search-results page. This way, you can link users immediately to your Web site. The caveat: Not all users will click on the ads.
There are two parts to Internet search marketing. The first—search engine optimization (SEO)—looks at ways to raise a particular page's ranking on the search engine, with the hope of getting a site onto the all-important first page of results. The other—search engine marketing (SEM)—takes advantage of opportunities for paid placement of ads or links on search engines.

SEO A typical search on Google or Yahoo! may return thousands or tens of thousands of results. To make the information more useful to searchers, the engines use computer algorithms to rank the relevance of pages, with the most relevant appearing first in the result list. Each engine uses its own techniques, but most of them rely on factors like frequency of key words, placement of key words on the page, the number and quality of sites linking to the page, and so forth. SEO uses design, coding, editing and creation of content, and other methods to improve the performance of a site.

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