You've probably read about how important it is to make your business visible to search engines. (And maybe you read it here: "Why an Online Presence Can Make or Break Your Small Business.") But creating your website, maintaining social media accounts, and starting a blog are just the first steps.
To make sure your customers can find your business, you need to know a few things about SEM and SEO. Granted, these are advanced concepts, but it's good to have a basic understanding of how they work. Let's learn more.
What Is SEM? What Is SEO?
SEM is an acronym for search engine marketing. According to Min Lee, senior vice president of CertaPet (@CertaPet), the term originally referred to all efforts to promote a business online, including…
- Paid ads.
- Affiliate marketing.
- URL optimization.
- Keyword management.
- Search engine optimization (SEO).
However, many people use the term SEM to only describe pay-per-click (PPC) advertising campaigns.
SEO is an acronym for search engine optimization. It can be a component of SEM, according to Lee, but what you really need to know is SEO helps get your website to rank well on a search engine results page without paying for it. You might hear this described as "driving organic traffic" or "organic search."
Lee offers these examples of SEO strategies:
- Using keywords your customers might search for in your site's content.
- Building backlinks.
- Increasing your click-through-rate.
- Generating buzz on social media.
The takeaway: Lee says great marketing requires a well-rounded approach that includes SEM.
"Without knowing about SEM, a small-business owner would find it next to impossible to turn their small business into a medium business and ultimately a large business," he says.
Is SEM Marketing Right for Your Small Business?
- Your business goals influence your strategy. "SEO is a long-term proposition, taking a year or more to yield results," says Shorr. "But a PPC campaign can yield results immediately because you are paying Google and other search engines for top position."
- Your budget can be an influence, too. Shorr says the complexities of SEO and PPC are usually much more expensive than business owners assume. They often need an in-house specialist or outside agency to run the campaigns properly.
- SEM strategies can't run on autopilot. "Because Google continually changes its ranking procedures, page formats, and other variables, companies must review and adjust campaigns every few months at a minimum," says Shorr.
- Your website needs to be optimized. Finally, Shorr says you're not ready for SEM unless your website is properly optimized and you have content that supports the campaign. This usually includes making your site mobile-friendly. (Related reading: "Why Mobile Matters for Small Businesses.")
David Hernandez, founder and managing partner of lotus823 (@lotus823), says, "I typically find that for many small businesses, focusing on content development always wins." He encourages small-business owners to put their resources toward content and social media advertising until they are ready for a major SEM campaign.
The takeaway: SEM and SEO aren't easy, but as Shorr says, they "can work wonders for a company's revenue growth." The key is to start small and get help when you need it.
For some tips on SEO basics, read "3 Key Elements Every Small Business Website Should Have."
About the Contributors
David Hernandez is the founder and managing partner of the New Jersey-based integrated marketing communications agency lotus823.
Min S. Lee is currently the SVP of business development for www.CertaPet.com and www.companionanimals.org. He is passionate about animals and loves playing golf in his spare time. Min is a native of San Diego, California, and has a background in finance and investments.
Brad Shorr is director of content strategy at Straight North, an Internet marketing company specializing in search engine optimization and pay per click.