Search engines and winery marketing

by Brad Asmus

I don’t think you can overstate how important the search engines are. The Yellow Pages used to be the small businesses one absolutely-necessary advertising venue and were a wildly profitable business for their publishers. Search engines have killed them. Killed them dead. Search engines are far more useful than the Yellow Pages ever were and people use them in ways that the yellow page publishers never dreamed of.

Google gets over 68% of all search traffic

Google gets over 68% of all search traffic

Even though social media like Facebook and Twitter are getting all the buzz, search engines are more important. If a Facebook friend recommends a winery, or someone sends a Tweet about one, it’s likely that you’re going to a search engine to find out more about it. And if a millennial is out tooling around in a BMW using their iPhone to find a place to taste, or a boomer is sitting at home planning a day of wine tasting, a search engine is going to play a role

I believe that one of the best investments any wine marketer can make is in search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine advertising (SEA). SEO is what you do to get the search engines to notice you and show you in their search results. SEA is a form of advertising that gets you onto the results page of relevant searches

Organic listings vs. paid advertising

Search engines display two kinds of results when they respond to a search. Unpaid “organic” or “native” listings are shown on the left side of the page. Because they are unpaid they are thought to be more trusted by searchers and therefore more valuable than the SEA listings that are shown on the right side of the results page and, often, across the top. Whether we’re talking about organic or paid ads, the goal is to be on the first page of listings because most searchers don’t look any farther.

The reason to consider search engine advertising is that it’s almost impossible to get onto the first page of the organic listings no matter how much search engine optimization you do. I’ll prove it. Right now, open up a new window and do a search on Paso Robles Tasting Rooms.

Google, which by itself gets 68% of all search engine traffic*, shows a map that takes up a big chunk of real estate on the first results page. In the space that’s left there are just ten listings, only two of which are wineries. Instead, the listings are wine associations, and “about” sites. These “aggregators”, as they’re called, are sites that for one reason or another, list many other sites. This  legitimate cross-linking gives them an advantage with Google and they show up early in just about any search you do.

Because of the map and the aggregators, you probably can’t get onto the first organic results page. You can, however, get there with an ad.

Can you buy your way to the top?

Advertisers bid for positioning in the ad results by telling Google how much they’re willing to pay when someone clicks on their ad. The more you’re willing to pay per click, the more likely your ad is to get shown. If you’re willing to pay enough, you can get to the first results page and even to the top of the page. But there is a wrinkle.

Google only makes money when searchers click on an ad. So if two advertisers are bidding the same amount for placement, it’s in Google’s interests to show the ad from a site that is more relevant to the search and more likely to be clicked on. Positioning on the map works the same way.

So the message is clear, if you want to be on the first page of Google results, you’re going to have to do three things:

1) optimize your site for the search engines
2) be sure you’ve registered with Google Maps
3) advertise

What do search engines want?

Microsoft's Bing gets barely 8% of search traffic

Microsoft's Bing gets barely 8% of search traffic

Search engines send out “bots” or “crawlers” around the Internet that look at web pages to determine what the content is about and to note links between pages. When a search query comes in, they use complicated algorithms to score each website and serve up the ones with the best score. Scores are based on:

  • Page titles, keywords, and meta descriptions in each page’s html
  • Page text content relevancy
  • Number of incoming links from other pages with relevant content
  • Number of visits by others who make similar searches
  • How popular a site is
  • A bunch of other factors that the search engine companies keep secret

There are many, many outfits offering SEO services. I don’t think it’s a good investment. Most of what they do, you can do. Where they have an advantage is with cross-linking. The search engines like to see links between your site and other sites with content relevant to a search. Think links from other wineries, wine associations, and wine review sites. But any inbound link gets the search engines attention, and that is something the SEO services count on.

Many of the SEO services operate technology sweatshops in India, the Philippines, and in Eastern Europe where boffins sit around managing a bunch of websites. When they get a new customer, they create web pages on the different sites loaded with keywords relevant to the customer’s business. Then they link those out to the customer’s web page. The bad news for SEO service customers is that Google employs hundreds of well-paid engineers whose job is to sniff out the SEO company’s cross-linking (and other tricks) and to neutralize their efforts. When you sign up with an SEO firm you’re betting that they’ll be able to beat Google. I don’t think that’s a good bet. It may work for a while, but that’s all.

Here is what you can do:

Action items:

  • Be sure that every html page and graphic on your site has titles and meta descriptions relevant to that page’s content. Content management systems like Joomla, Jadu, Wordpress and Movable Type make this easy. (If you’re not running a CMS, plan to include one in your next web upgrade).
  • Review your text to be sure that you talk about your tasting room and your Paso Robles location on multiple pages on your site. (Make sure that this is in text and not as part of a graphic. Google looks at titles associated with graphics, but not the graphic itself).
  • Update text frequently. Google pays attention to how often pages change and give more points for newer content.
  • Trade links with other wineries and make sure that any wine associations or groups you’re involved with link to your site.

Next time:
In my next post I’m going to talk more about search engine advertising and describe the different strategies for getting your money’s worth.

*Note: This article focuses on Google, but Yahoo, Bing and other search engines work the same way. In 2009, Google got 68% of all search engine traffic and it’s lead is widening. In October of 2009 it got 80% of all search engine traffic.

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