If you've wondered how certain web sites get prime position on search engines like Google and Yahoo !, your research has produced two investigative paths: paid placement and organic search results.

In paid placement, advertisers and merchants pay the search engine company to give their links prime placement. "Sponsored search results" can be found in popular search engines at the very top and often along the side of search result pages. Paid placement is one (expensive!) Way to drive traffic to your Web site. If your budget will not tolerate sponsoring search results, then "organic" search results are for you.

Organic search results are those sites that the search engine finds and the order in which the search engine prefers similar or related sites. Web site owners sometimes spend a great deal of time and effort tweaking the search results to improve their site's placement in search results.

To improve organic search placement, some sites have turned to social media as a way to drive desirable traffic to their site and valuable information to their consumers. Social media is a general term for a variety of Web- or Internet-oriented services that encourage Web site users to form communities, pass product information to interested consumers, and generate new interest in products and services from previously unknown prospects.

Social media can include blogging, Facebook groups, MySpace pages, Twitter, Digg, Stumbleupon, Squidoo lenses and other types of media that invite user participation in a community of interested users.

Social media is valuable in terms of its ability to improve search engine placement because many social media services include RSS feeds that inform users (and search engines) of newly published content. Additionally, sites like Facebook and MySpace enjoy high rankings in the search engines in the first place. It's very easy to "piggyback" onto their already high search engine ranking with a page or group that publicizes a niche product, service or site.

Social media also builds customer and brand loyalty. The low-cost self-publishing tools mean that even small businesses that cater to niche audiences can compete effectively with the "big guys" in a shared market space. By focusing on niche terms, keywords, and tags that are likely to be used by their most thoughtful-after customers, sites can improve their organic search results.

One major advantage of social media is that interested prospects and consumers "self-identify." With traditional advertising, businesses create an ad campaign and run it where they believe their users are most likely to congregate. With social media, businesses create a place for interested users to congregate and then tailor extremely specific marketing information to an already receptive audience. Social media tools can help users find the exact products and services that they're interested in at the moment they're ready to search.

Further, social media offers a "test bed" for merchants, site owners and service providers by allowing them to offer unadvertised specials, coupons, and discount offers that are tailored to particular customers. Informational services and notifications are also easy to provide and are welcomed by existing customers.
Finally, social media puts merchants, service providers and vendors in the same space their customers are already in. Many younger consumers do not watch television or listen to the radio. These customers will miss even the best, most thoughtful and engaging advertising campaigns. Social media provides a mechanism for businesses to reach out to potentially interested customers who simply do not engage with traditional media.

Social media's major advantages are that they can place timely, specific information in search engines and help customers, potential customers and site visitors to find the precise information they're looking for in a sea of ​​search engine results.

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