Most have heard of search engine optimization (SEO). Few have heard of search engine marketing (SEM). Among those who recognize both terms, few understand what they fully mean, how to leverage them, or why they’re critical to near-term and sustained marketing success. Many believe that SEO and SEM are interchangeable, or affiliated with Google Adwords (a popular pay-per-click advertising vehicle). The reality is that they’re related only in that Google ads appear on search engine result pages. The bottom line? This isn’t magical, mystical stuff. This can be adopted as a practical, effective, cost-saving part of your marketing efforts in a reasonable amount of time.
SEARCH ENGINE BASICS
A search engine is a page on the internet that you visit for assistance in finding information. You type in “keywords” or “search terms” in the form of short phrases, submit them to the search engine and then receive pages of responses in the form of websites that discuss and deliver the items you seek. Recommendations made by each search engine are based upon “relevance” to the text you entered. Essentially, the better tailored a website’s content is to the search text, the higher it will rank in what’s suggested to you. It’s a simple yet elegant process. At the start of 2012, the top 5 search engines are Google, Bing, Yahoo, Ask, and AOL (in that order). While these boast unique visitors in the millions, most others service thousands.
BROAD VS. LOCAL SEARCHES
Google searches can be impulsive. Some resemble how a baby would describe what s/he wants. Most, however, are attached to thoughtful, organized consumers. Searches are done in one of two ways — broad vs. local. If you’re looking for something where geography is not a limiting factor (ie. locating information), then you would search with no reference to where you live or work. An example would be “how to fly a kite.” On the other hand, if what you’re searching for is only valuable to you based upon neighborhood or commute convenience, then you should note location. An example would be “italian restaurant fairfax virginia.” Local searches are not only more valuable to “one location” businesses, but they are also low hanging fruit for the talented marketing firm.
HOW BUSINESSES GET STARTED
One challenge will face any business looking to become a player in the search engine game. You MUST commit to a deep, accurate understanding of what consumers desire on Google. Often, they aren’t using the same terminology you would use to describe products and services. If you’re like the grandparent who knows everything, or you’re the “fake it ’til you make it” type, then please know that you cannot fudge this. Search engines like Google are built on unforgivable transparency and rigid standards for relevance.
Here’s how a marketing firm like ours begins working with you. We tap into Google’s database and produce spreadsheets of raw search data. Behind this, we layer in various formulas that help you to make sense of the findings. On the 10,000 feet side of things, what are the most common searches associated with your business? At 10 feet, we’re looking closely at consumers in your backyard who are searching for a niched item you provide and who can be projected as likely to buy (given a solid offering and pitch, of course). This is where things become very exciting for you, the business owner or director. As opposed to other forms of marketing, these consumers have identified that they’re interested. You’re not knocking on doors, cold calling or other forms of begging. All that needs to happen is that s/he finds you when looking for something that’s been identified as a want or need.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION (SEO)
Let’s assume you now know what consumers are using for their search terms. FINALLY, search engine optimization (SEO) comes into play. SEO is the process of embedding leading search keywords into specific areas of your website. It’s an investment that’s made once per page. The overall fee depends upon the depth of your website and the clarity of your marketplace. There’s a punchlist that Google follows in processing your website’s relevance. Your content needs to be a strong match against what the consumer submitted, and it needs to reside where Google expects it. We follow this meticulously.
There are a number of items that can trip up or stall the matchmaking — a slow-loading website, an over-concentration of keywords, hidden content designed to trick google, and a number of other factors. Once the initial SEO is completed, testing verifies how well the effort is performing. Revisions are provided to improve rank. Your website is then considered optimized. This stands until one of two things happens — Google adjust its alogorithms for what ranks websites highly, or your marketplace goes through the kind of changes where consumer preferences dramatically change.
SEARCH ENGINE MARKETING (SEM)
A newly-optimized website hits the market and begins to grab consumer interest. What happens next? Of course, competitors become uneasy that there’s a new kid on the block. They fight back. In order for your optimized website to keep pace with or outperform other optimized websites, you must engage in ongoing measures broadly known as search engine marketing (SEM). These are typically handled through an annual or multi-year retainer, with a monthly investment. The specific fee depends upon the sophistication of your business and how crowded the landscape is.
There are a wide variety of measures that help you to build the page rank of your website. The main place to invest is linkbuilding (a.k.a. backlinking). Essentially, you place a banner ad, a post, a profile, or simply a link on another’s website. The link leads back to your website. The more valuable the website from which you link, the more of a bump you will receive from Google for it. While the game may seem to focus on the quantity of links, there is also an algorithm that evaluates quality — your average backlink value. Additional measures that factor into SEM are blogging, forum participation, customer reviews, articles, press releases, business directories, industry memberships, and social media networking. An ongoing commitment to keeping your content fresh and connecting in new circles is what’s needed. This is extremely time-consuming work. The most difficult aspect of this work is that the content must achieve two objectives — to meet the technical requirements of google and to earn the emotional favor of consumers.
BUILDING YOUR WEBSITES
You didn’t read this incorrectly. Gone are the days of relying on a single corporate website. These days, many businesses are stretching out to provide multiple, niched websites to address the targeted nature of the most desirable searches. These are generally referred to as microsites. The thinking is that no one website can be the perfect fit for all consumer searches. The more you look into consumer search data, and you run a few test searches of your own on Google, the sooner you’ll see the wisdom in this practice. We help you to decide which domain names are the best to register, which search terms fit each new website, how many pages each of these microsites needs to be, how many microsites are appropriate, and how to brand and link each with your main site.
THE ROLE PLAYED BY CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CMS)
While form and function are both very important in the conversion of prospects to customers, of equal importance is having each website built on a robust, clean content management system. You’ll produce ongoing content. You’ll embed search-friendly information into each and every page in an effort to get your information to rank higher with Google. You need a platform that not only facilitates these functions on your end, but also loads quickly and accurately with Google’s bots which crawl your website to query content. This is the SEO and SEM value of a proper content management system.
We build all of our websites on WordPress, which is the reigning grand prize winner at the Open Source CMS Awards (2009 and running). You’ve probably heard of Joomla, Drupla and others. Maybe you thought that they were the industry-leading products. Not true. WordPress began as a blogging platform but has grown quickly into the world’s top content management system for all sorts of websites. Over 25 million people have chosen WordPress to power the place on the web they call home. In fact, some of the best-known brands in the world are powered by WordPress.
MOVING FORWARD WITH A PROJECT
Ready to discuss your business’ SEO and SEM needs? Please request a proposal.