In today’s technology, there seems to be a designated abbreviation for everything. When it comes to marketing your company online, I recommend remembering two of them: SEO and SEM. SEO is search engine optimization and SEM is search engine marketing. SEM includes SEO, pay-per-click (PPC), link building, directory registrations, banner purchasing, video marketing and more — basically, any action you take online to get a better index value with search engines.
Do not confuse “online marketing” with SEM — you can do online marketing without it. For example, if a company places an ad online, it may be more interested in ad placement than the SEO value of the placement. For the purposes of this article, I will concentrate on building a strong SEO base to improve total SEM.
Imagine you are a prospective customer seeking a water conditioning company, but you are not searching by a specific company name. In fact, because you do not know who you are looking for yet, you may use a keyword or keyword combination like “water testing, Your Town, USA.” Search engines want to make sure they provide you, the searcher, with a result as close to what you are looking for, or as “relevant,” as possible.
After you type your keywords, the “spiders” start crawling around the Internet looking for websites and company listings related to water testing. They do this by examining a string of matching information within their indexing services on websites, social networks and Web-based content that includes these keywords or conversations around these keywords, such as blogs or videos. Then, as you narrow your search terms with your town name, the spider narrows down the listings to the geography you specified.
The purpose of strong SEO is to be recognized by the search engine’s index — in other words, to be on its radar as a relevant source of information for water testing. This combination is technical and changes frequently, but, as a business, you only need to be concerned about the term “relevancy.”
Relevancy means being connected with the matter at hand. When using the example above, your social media, press releases, online advertising, etc., must match the content on your website — both the front (visible pages) and back end of the website (content, keywords, meta tags, etc.). Prospective customers read the front of a website, but spiders also read the back to be sure it is all one piece of relevant content. This content-to-relevancy, in combination with other online conversations, creates a powerful result that helps a company’s online presence come up higher in search results.
Relevant content is not the only thing needed to optimize a website to be included in a search engine’s index. First, be sure you and/or your programmer incorporate the Google “tracking code snippet” into the website header. (You can find it with detailed instructions at www.google.com/analytics.) This gives Google permission to find and track your site and gives you access to Google Analytics, a free tracking and planning tool. Your site’s traffic and statistics are collected, along with other information. With a click, you will know how many people visited your site, what time they visited, which keywords they used to find it, which browser they used and which search engines viewed it. You also can tell how long they stayed on the site, which pages were viewed and much more. All of this information can be used to refine search terms, website content and even your marketing plan.
Second, keep the main message for your audience within the first two pages of the site. Do not make the searchers, and the spiders, view too many pages before they find what they are looking for. Typically, spiders will only read two pages deep in a site. If they do not find what they are seeking, they move on.
Third, claim your company’s online listings. This is important, as so much of the search depends on matching geography with listing. Google, Bing and Yahoo Local are the top three to keep in mind. Find your company in each of these search engines, claim your listing and update your profile, including keywords, photos, contact information, Web address, social sites and service area.
How do you find these listings? When you search for your company online, using Google for instance, you will see several types of results. Paid advertisements are on the right side of the screen, and generally the first three to four listings at the top of the page, usually in a light orange box, are PPC results — in other words, companies have paid money to appear in these positions based on keywords and will be charged if someone clicks on these ads.
If you are not running a PPC program, look for your company in the listing results beneath the paid ads, which are the organic, or free, results. Often, depending on the specificity of your search, a listing with mailing addresses to the right of a company’s listing with a lettered teardrop or balloon is the Google Places listing. Find your company’s Google Places listing and claim it so that you can be found organically. Bing and Yahoo operate in a similar fashion.
This also is a good place to send customers to write reviews about your company. If customers write positive reviews for your company, they will use keywords to describe their experience in layman’s terms, which are probably what other prospective customers would use when seeking a product or service similar to your company.
Finally, add your company or claim your listing with local sites, such as Merchant Circle, Yelp, Patch and community blogs. If you have a Facebook page, link your website in your posts, pointing people to the site for more information on the topic you posted about. Facebook and other social networks are great for building relationships, but those listings should always direct back to your website as the point of origin for all information. The more traffic your site receives, the stronger your SEO and the higher your company will climb in the organic listings — all for free.
Now that you have established a strong SEO foundation, your SEM campaign will be more effective over time. I add “over time” because it will not happen overnight and includes an investment of marketing dollars to be effective.
PPC campaigns are an example of pure capitalism. PPC is simply a bidding process that requires the right combination of quality scores and relevancy to get the best position within your budget. Put simply, how badly do you want that position compared with your competitors? When it comes to budgeting for a PPC campaign, keep in mind you will have to pay for clicks that are not qualified leads, too.
In time, determining which keyword combinations versus competitive bids result in the most qualified leads not only will help your online rankings, but also will get the phone ringing with a better return on investment. But again: An investment of time and money must be considered.
Here is a formula we recommend as a starting point: If you start with $1,000 per month, and there are 30 days in a month, that means $33.33 per day. If an average keyword costs $3 per click, $33 divided by $3 is 11 clicks per day. Remember, those are not calls — they are clicks. About 50% of those clicks will bounce out of your website because the customers did not find what they were seeking. That brings us to about 5.5 clicks per day. Expect that a percentage of those clickers may like what they see, but may not be ready to call. The remainder may call, but may not be ready to buy or schedule an appointment. We recommend you figure out how much each prospective customer is worth to you and work a budget around that number. If one call can cover your PPC budget and a second call is profit, then a PPC campaign is a profitable advertising source for you.
In summary, SEM should be a critical part of your advertising and marketing campaign. However, you must build a strong SEO base to improve your total SEM. But remember: Just as you are an expert in your industry, there are companies and consultants that are experts in online advertising and marketing. Allow them to keep up with the ever-changing algorithms and relevant combinations while you concentrate on the rest of your business. However, any consultant or company you hire should be willing to consult with you on a monthly, or at least quarterly, basis. Seasonality, promotions, industry changes, updates to your website, etc., all affect your SEM. Be sure they are willing to communicate and provide feedback on what is working and what is not. Also, learn how to check and read the basic information in your Google Analytics reports. You can even have the reports e-mailed to you.
You have invested a lot of money in your website and online presence — don’t let it be just a brochure. Make sure it is marketing your company in the virtual world because, let’s face it, everyone else is there!