SEM: Working with a Passive Medium

By Greg Hudson on 2005/05/04

The first word in Search Engine Marketing or SEM is the word "Search". This means that the Internet, as an advertising tool, is a passive medium. The customer approaches you; you do not approach the customer.

The Chinese philosophy of Yin\Yang is based around the concept that Yang represents positive outward action and Yin is negative and receptive of action. Yin is basically the position of every single speck of information on the Internet - it must be searched for to be found.

Basically, Yin is your passive website and the customer is Yang, an active searcher.

When using a passive medium, what are the best ways to get a user to Yang your Site?
Know your target market

Anticipation is the key to working with a passive medium. Your website should be geared towards your target audience in the same way a red flag attracts a raging bull. The site must include elements that attract the right customer to your products or services.

One of the best ways to do this is by using specifically selected keywords. The words you include in the content of your website in effect lie dormant, waiting for a user to type them into a search engine. Carefully researched keywords included in your web site's copy, can effectively link the customer using a search engine to the content on your website. Anticipate your customers search terms.

Another way to encourage action is to think about the benefits your product will offer your target market and then to include those benefits in the page title. Obviously, when a searcher sees a strong benefit in the SERP they will be more likely to click, if enticed by a strong benefit. Anticipating which benefit your audience will respond to is half the battle won.

Off-page factors

Creating off-page factors that generate traffic, is akin to a spider (real life) expanding the size of its web. Remember, spiders are non-active hunters; they tend to passively anticipate their preferred customers.

The off-site components of SEM are like adding concentric circles to the outer layer of this metaphorical spider's web. A well-written article related to a product or service lies dormant on the Net waiting to be read. Once found, well crafted, informative copy leads the reader through the article to the conclusion providing a link to your website.

An important part of an SEM strategy is to create an ever expanding amount of off-page factors that generate links to your website. The more links you have, the higher the site's rankings will be. Higher rankings mean your site will be presented to the searcher earlier in the SERP. When using a passive medium, the earlier you present your site to the user, the more likely it is to be accessed.

The look and feel of a site and the quality of the content all go a long way to building a site with equity. A site with quality information, is a site people would like to link to. Create a site for the user and they will come.

Always leave the door open for Search Engines

Over 85% of all new visitors to a website originate from major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, MSN and others. It is therefore important that businesses implement search engine marketing campaigns that allow customers to find them.

A website passively waits for a search engine to read and index its content. When a search engine Yangs your site, it needs to have access to the site's content in the same way the right key fits the right lock. Ensuring that a site is effectively read is the domain of SEO. Each obstacle preventing the search engine's ability to penetrate the site must be removed. These include:

  • Ridding the site of Splash or Doorway pages, which have no content (copy) for the search spider to read.
  • Freeing the site of Dirty URL's - long URL's containing symbols like "?" that spiders find hard to read.
  • Using a source code that search engines can read. Flash animation, Javascript and sites built in frames block the readability of a site. SEO removes the blocks preventing search engine's from reading your site.
Understand the medium you are using

If you are trying to intercept a customer, you need to be familiar with the customer's online habits. These include the destinations they are likely to visit, when they're likely to use a search engine or when they may go directly to a site. These factors play an important role in determining where on the Net you'll implement an off-page strategy.

The fastest way to locate the best intercept points is to examine traffic patterns and to decide where you can create a presence at major intersections on the web.

But often, through misunderstanding of the medium, off-site information is nowhere near the places your customers are visiting. By understanding the medium and your customer, a campaign focused in the right area creates the most returns.


From the point of view that the Internet is a passive medium, an SEM campaign needs to take into account the fact that users "Search" for information relevant to what they require (Yang). Anticipating what the target market requires (Yin), the medium being used and the ever changing criteria search engines use to evaluate a site, are all important Yin factors.

The Internet is a passive medium. Anticipation is the best way to create an SEM campaign conducive to "receiving" customers and search engines.