Five years ago, we thought of the Web as a new medium, not a new economy.
Nearly 10 years later, we still can't truly grasp the full potential of the Internet on business today, but we do know that the trend of online advertising has changed forever the way businesses and consumers interact -- we also know that the Web is here to stay.
Clutter on the Internet is growing at a phenomenal rate, with 3.9 million more Web sites appearing in the month of June alone. Today, there are over 178 million Web sites and 48.7 billion individual Web pages, that number having increased by 50 percent in the past 12 months.1
This is why search engines have become so ubiquitous, and now are synonymous with Web surfing, so much so that over 80 percent of all customers use search engines to find new Web sites.1
So, the big question is: With all these Web sites, how are you to be found?
Search engine marketing is the answer.
Search engine marketing is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote Web sites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages. And the two methods of search engine marketing are organic search, or search engine optimization, and sponsored links, or pay per click.
Organic search refers to the main body of search results that a search engine will display when queried. Usually, and in the case of Google.com, there are 10 results listed per page, and they are lined up on the left side of the results page.
When a search engine "spider" or "crawler" visits a Web site, it gathers information about that site and ranks it against all other sites for that particular topic. The search engine assigns certain values to specific properties of the Web page -- the resulting score or algorithm determines the sites ranking for that topic and displays the link in the organic listings.
Fortunately for Web site owners and those who practice the art of search engine optimzation, these rankings can be manipulated by applying some search engine optimization techniques.
The basic method is to provide meta content, or the text contained within a Web page's meta tags, which form part of the document head used to describe aspects of the document like title, description and keywords.
Further optimizing can be done with each Web site's architecture and structure, which can either help or hinder how easily it's indexed by search engines, as well as the use of content management systems and other content feeds on the Web site.
Pay-per-click results refer to the listings on the search engines that are usually on the top, bottom or right-hand side of the results page. These listings are ranked by bidding on the keywords with the highest bidder taking first place, and so on.
However, the online gambling industry's access to this lead generation channel was eliminated as a result of ongoing pressure applied from the United States Department of Justice on the big three search engines, Google, Yahoo and MSN.
All forms of government ultimately are not going to succeed in trying to control or censor the Internet.
Since the spring of 2004, generating leads through pay per click has not been an option for online gambling. The United States government's mandate of restricting this industry through various means, including access to United States-based mainstream media, led to the elimination of buying paid listing for anything associated with online gambling.
Google, MSN and Yahoo were all forced to not only stop receiving any future revenues from the online gambling industry, but pay retroactive monies earned in the years going back to 1999.
The trio agreed to pay a total of $31.5 million to settle claims that they accepted online ads promoting gambling. None of the three firms ever accepted any wrongdoing as part of the civil settlement, which concluded an investigation dating back to 2000.
PayPal, Neteller and The Sporting News -- to name just a few -- have also announced similar settlement agreements.
Pressure from United States authorities on mainstream American advertising has now put a huge onus on search engine optimization for today's online gambling marketers.
This focus and expectation for achieving top search results has created an ever-escalating battle among the top poker rooms, casinos and sports books, each spending more every year to attain top results for a myriad of search terms, all in the name of fresh traffic and increased revenues.
Some online gambling operators have spent upwards of $1 million and more annually, employing as many as two dozen full-time staff just to ensure they are "above the fold" on the first page for the top 200 to 300 keywords relevant to their specific vertical.
And with more Web sites going up each month, and the increased importance of search engines to drive new customers to various online gambling sites, the monies being spent on search engine optimization will only increase year over year.
But for the various online gambling operators who have focused resources and budget on this dynamic medium, search marketing has proved to be very profitable and will continue to be so for at least the foreseeable future.
Long live the Web and search engine optimization.
1 Netcraft Web Server Survey.