OK, so you’ve probably heard a lot about Search Engine Optomisation (SEO). Now SEO gets a lot of press – however there is another complimentary and very important part of online marketing strategy – and that is Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
Now they sound similar, and many people get them confused (it’s easy to do), so before we get properly into the article lets define what we mean by the terms SEO and SEM.
SEO - Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a web site or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. (Wikipedia).
SEM - Search engine marketing, or SEM, is a form of Internet marketing that seeks to promote websites by increasing their visibility in search engine result pages (SERPs) through the use of search engine optimization, paid placement, contextual advertising, and paid inclusion. (Wikipedia).
So as you can see, SEO isn’t the be all and end all of your online marketing strategy – or if it is, it shouldn’t be! SEO comprises a part of SEM – it isn’t the whole of SEM.
So, to get back to basic terms, SEO is the tweaking you do to your pages to hopefully increase your performance in SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages). SEM is more your commercial and paid advertising that you can get using services such as Google Adwords.
So, we need to carry on doing our SEO, and if you’re running a personal site, that might be enough to hit the goals and targets you’ve set yourself with regards to visitor numbers and exposure. But if you’re a business, you really need to consider the paid advertising SEM side of things.
So of course, we have to consider one of the giants in the game – Adwords. It’s run by Google and you can create adverts which appear as sponsored links in their search engine results pages – this is good for exposure and doesn’t have to cost the Earth. In fact, Google prioritises quality of an advert and its keywords over the size of your budget. So what does that mean? Well it means as a new startup, you could fairly easily manage to get yourself in competition with the big established corporations if you create clear, effective and quality ad campaigns. Now Adwords isn’t the cheapest and if you’re going after popular keywords, you could be in for a bit of competition (and a bit of a price war).
However, remember, we said money isn’t everything – putting £10 cost per click (CPC) doesn’t just necessarily put you at the top of the ads on the first page. Remember – quality!! For new advertisers we’d (and Google themselves) recommend setting the ‘auto’ option for your CPC. Google will change your CPC to try and get you an optimum position – and don’t worry, they won’t just hike the price so you spend more money! Every time someone searches for any of the keywords you have specified you go into a ‘virtual auction’ with other people bidding on the same keywords (imagine, a bit like eBay). The ‘winner’ of this auction is on top, and so on. You can set maximum budgets so that Adwords doesn’t spend money you don’t want it to!
Then, we’ve got Yahoo and Bing adverts. These are very similar in many ways to Adwords – however the interface is a little less advanced but remarkably comparable to the Adwords interface. So if you’ve already used Adwords, you’ll likely find it quite painless to set up advertising campaigns for Yahoo and Bing. Now with these, compared to Adwords, you are going to get less exposure (due to more Internet users using Google). That having been said, the value for money side of things softens the blow and definitely makes it worth considering. Yahoo and Bing recommend you start your CPC (remember, that’s cost per click) at around £0.30 and then you can raise or lower it as you see fit (to get yourself to the position you want). The key thing is, don’t get put off by the fact that Yahoo and Bing deal with less searches than Google. A lot of Internet users stick to one search engine. Therefore most of the time, someone seeing your ad on Yahoo or Bing isn’t likely to see it on Google and vice versa. So it’s best to spread your net as far as possible, especially if you are a new business.
The importance of social media (and its advertising) can’t be overlooked these days either. We’re sure that you’ll all know someone who is absolutely addicted to their social media pages such as Facebook and Twitter. And on Facebook, undoubtedly the leader in social media advertising, every time a user changes a page, new ads are shown. If you’ve got someone who spends an hour a day on Facebook, just that one person alone is going to see a lot of ads. Now times that by the 800 million users Facebook has – see the potential benefits? As with other ad programs, you can manage budgets, set CPC values. If you’re going down the social advertising route (which you should!) then you should also make sure you have a Facebook page set up for your business / what you are advertising.
Then there’s directories. In the early days of the Internet, directories were your search engine. Although directories have declined in importance since the advent of the ‘modern’ search engine, they still can play an important role. DMOZ (also know as ‘The Open Directory) has been considered the gold standard of directories for a long time – and getting a place in there has been quite an achievement and prestigious event for businesses. Although Google used to be heavily influenced by a website being listed in DMOZ (especially where PageRank was concerned) it does appear now that Google is taking less notice of it now than it previously did. In fact, Google has got something of a downer on directories over recent years – mainly due to the fact that many ‘directories’ have been set up from high PageRank sites to purely ‘pass on’ the PageRank.
Some directories Google consider more ‘link farm’ than directory. For example, if a ‘directory’ is just a big long list of links, with no particular order or sorting, Google tends to consider this more of a ‘link farm’ than a directory – and thus, being listed there doesn’t really help at all. There’s been an explosion in directories in the past which means there are literally thousands available to choose from now. There are some fairly popular directories – which seem to have at least some benefit for websites – such as DMOZ (free), Yahoo! Web Directory (paid, approximately £200 / year) and Scoot (both free and paid listings available). With regards to directories, it’s important to choose wisely. Don’t waste your time by submitting to any and all directories – some, in fact quite a lot, won’t warrant the investment of your time. Choose your directories wisely, like the ones we previously mentioned and other popular and well respected directories. Also, if there are any directories catering for your particular ‘niche’ or business area, then these can definitely be useful to be listed in.
Over the past couple of years, Google has got a bit fed up with some directories who it believes ‘doesn’t make the grade’. Although this seems to be a manual process, Google from time to time do seem to penalise certain directories in its SERP’s and in some cases, purge them completely from their index. This of course, means being linked to from them doesn’t provide as much or any benefit – apart from possible passing trade through that particular directory – which is likely to be a lot lower if they’re deranked or penalised by Google.
So, there you have it, a few tips to get your Search Engine Marketing off to a good start. There’s many interesting articles to read on the Internet regarding this topic – and if you’re serious about business, you’ll definitely want to do some reading.
Image: Dernard Vincente.