Martin Murray of leading Irish Digital Marketing agency Interactive Return kindly answered a few questions on Search Marketing to assist in my education. I found it very useful, and thought you might like to share in his search insight:

Q. How long have you been involved in search?

Since 1999.

Q. What general advice would you give to someone just getting started with SEO / SEM – people trying to optimise their own sites, or launch their own online business?

First, recognize the importance of search for any business using the online channel. Second, resource your search marketing efforts appropriately. If you’re a small business the most importance resource is you. Give some time to understanding search yourself. It will pay dividends to your business for many years to come.

Q. What are your top tips for generating a good SERP ranking for a new site, and improving the ranking of an established site?

Make sure you don’t build a website that is inherently search unfriendly, for example, a website that consists of a single Flash movie. Content is king. Work on this. Use the medium – blogs, social networks, email etc etc

Q. What’s the best way to find relevant keywords / key phrases to use for both site optimisation and Pay Per Click advertising?

Ask your customers what they search on,. Analyse the web logs for your site. Examine the content of your competitors websites, especially the high-ranking ones. Use the search engine query tools.

Q. What should people look for when hiring an SEO / SEM professional?

Proven expertise, experience, a reporting methodology that delivers accountability, transparency.

Q. Tell me a bit about Black Hat SEO… can you give me a general overview?

For example, in the Summer of 2007 the BMW.de website employed a black-hat search marketing technique called “cloaking”. Their homepage was quite search unfriendly so they produced a second homepage which they displayed to search engines while regular users saw the original homepage. Search engines don’t like this as it means they are unable to measure the search relevance of the page seen by the user. The bmw.de site was banned from the Google index. Don’t do it. The search engines are smarter than you are. As in all other media and channels, use marketing techniques that deliver long-term value for your customer and your enterprise.

Q. Can Black Hat SEO / Negative SEO tactics be used to adversely affect the ranking of competitors sites? Tell me a bit more about this… are there any clear examples / case studies out there that we could use?

In theory you could point thousands of links from a link farm at a competitor site. This could look like the competitor is attempting to spam the search index. Therefore the competitor’s ranking could be adversely affected. Your time would be better employed writing some great content for your site and producing quality link-bait (content that will encourage other relevant sites to link to you).

Q. Is there anything web masters can do to protect their sites / search rankings from unscrupulous tactics?

Don’t employ unprofessional search marketers

Q. What is meant by the term “long tail” in SEO/SEM?

In any keyword domain there are a small number of highly trafficked keywords or phrases and a large number of low-trafficked keywords or phrases. Often, the keyword domain approximates to the right-half of a normal curve with the tail of the curve extending to infinity. Low trafficked keywords are therefore also known as “long-tail keywords”. The highly trafficked keywords have the following characteristics: highly competitive, consist of one or two words, have a high Cost per Click and may have low conversion rates as they tend to be quite general. Examples from the accommodation sector might include “hotel”, “London hotel” or “cheap hotel”. Low-trafficked keywords are not so competitive, often consist of 4, 5 or more words, have a lower Cost per Click and can have a higher conversion rate as they are quite specific indicating that the searcher is further along the online purchasing cycle. Examples might include “cheap city centre hotel Dublin”, “stags weekend hotel temple bar Dublin” or “business hotel with gym and spa Wexford”. Effective search marketing campaigns tend to put a lot of effort into discovering effective long-tail terms, particularly for use in sponsored listings campaigns.

Q. How do you see the search market developing over the next few years? Will Google continue to dominate between now and, say, 2012? What’s the next big thing in search?

2012 is an awful long way off in search. You may as well ask the postman. Google is quite dominant now. There is no significant competitor in sight. The big things currently happening in search include image ads, video ads, mobile search, social networking, local search and vertical (sectoral) search.