Search Basics: SEO 101
Search. What is it? Why is it so important? Search has become integrated into the fabric of our society. In fact, over 200 billion searches are performed a month. Google, the internet search giant, has become a household name. Information that we would once have had to spend hours searching for at a library can now be accessed in under a second on our desktops or mobile devices. We all use search in our daily lives, and we all know how integrated it’s become… but, how do we capitalize on it for our businesses? Many companies, especially small businesses, live and die by their positions in search. How do we harness the power of search? A good starting point is with SEO, aka “Search Engine Optimization.”
Let’s talk for a minute about what SEO is and then we can talk about what it’s not. There are two different kinds of SEO. They are On-site SEO and Off-site SEO. On a very basic level, On-site SEO is just ensuring that your website is optimized properly for speed, structure and content. This can be rather involved, but always boils down to those three things. Generally, this consists of:
- Auditing a Website – Ensures that the website is using titles, headings and metadata correctly/effectively. Also, ensures that the code is valid (or as close as it can be) and that images are properly scaled and compressed. Other improvements to site speed may also be noted in this process.
- Identifying Fixes – Identify issues from the audit and what it will take to correct them. This may involve others, or it may be a one-person job.
- Working with a Team (or individual depending) to Correct Issues – All the fixes noted in the previous step should be discussed and then a plan should be made to ensure they’re implemented. This may need to involve a team (such as developers, copywriters, another SEO, creatives, etc.) depending on what they are.
- Verifying Results – Ensure that all the fixes that were implemented are corrected and track results in your data post-implementation.
This process is typically ongoing to ensure the website continues to function as it should, making it more viable for offsite SEO efforts and search engines.
Off-site SEO is essentially link building and increasing social signals. Generally, this requires content creation and marketing to the proper areas to best target your audience. In its most basic sense, this can be done with citation building and blog post creation (shared to social media networks). But, this can be far more involved as well.
One tactic that is widely used and worth mentioning again is citation building. A citation is essentially a mention of a business on the web that contains its Name, Address, and Phone Number. Generally, you’ll see this referred to as the ‘NAP.’ These are important because most crawlers use them to essentially prove that a business is located (and in the industry) where it says it is. Having uniformed citations across many different (quality) websites, helps search engines to rank a website in their SERPs (Search Engine Ranking Pages).
SEM stands for “Search Engine Marketing” and it’s one of the reasons that we do SEO in the first place. If you don’t have pages that are optimized for search, generally your SEM efforts will fall short. SEM essentially covers everything to do with a digital ad. That includes creating relevant ad copy, setting budgets/bidding on keywords, creating/splitting ad groups as needed and measuring metrics to ensure the effectiveness of all digital campaigns.
Working Together: SEO and SEM
You’ll typically hear people talk about SEO and SEM as two separate things. Which, they absolutely are. But, just because they’re different, doesn’t mean we should take one over the other. These two things work together. In fact, I would go as far to say that you shouldn’t have one without the other. But, that’s not to say that you can’t.
What are the advantages of running with one over the other? Let’s say that your budget only allows you to run a few (well optimized) PPC ads. So, you can do that, and still be effective. However, there’s a catch. Without proper SEO in place, your ads will not be as effective as they could be. You may even end up with a higher CPC (Cost-Per-Click) if your landing pages aren’t optimized for the ads you’re running. Not to mention, you’re sacrificing placement on search engine ranking pages outside of your ads.
What about abandoning SEM for SEO? That works, but you miss out on a potentially huge stream of revenue and the impressions that you would be getting if you were running ads. Arguably, you can get more value out of SEO since you’re generally only paying for someone’s time, and/or software that assists in the optimization/tracking process.
On the other hand, SEM may be costlier, but it has a much faster return. Optimization can take a fair amount of time to do properly, and then it may take months to see results. Something like a PPC campaign, if you know your audience, can be implemented in a day and yield results almost instantaneously. So, as where you can certainly do one without the other, being smart with your SEM efforts in conjunction with your SEO efforts is key to your digital marketing success.
Data and Why It’s Important
Aside from good placement on search engine results pages and nearly instant returns on your ad dollars, what else can you gain from effective SEO and SEM? The short answer is data. Understanding searcher intent shows us as marketers and business owners what our customers are really looking for. When we understand that, we can do a far better job of marketing our products and services to them. This is in conjunction with driving more customers to our websites is where we can really see the ROI in solid SEO/SEM strategies. Without them, we run the risk of no one hearing our message digitally. And let’s face it, in today’s day and age, that’s dangerous.
Dispelling Common Mistruths
Now that we’ve learned a little bit about the basics of SEO and SEM, and what they are, let’s speak for a minute about what they are not. They’re not magic. They cannot guarantee that you will be organically ranked on the first page of Google for every keyword that you can think of. And, they do not offer an overnight return (generally, although you can see this with SEM from time to time). Search marketing has many facets, is highly methodical and can be a very long and tedious venture.
Be Careful Out There
The fact that search marketing is so tedious and involved attracts those that would deceive us. There are many people out there that spread the false narrative that they can get your website ranked in the first position across the SERPs. They claim that if you pay them X, they will give you Y. It’s very commoditized and it’s very much a scam. SEO and/or SEM is not a commodity. Let me repeat that, because it’s important. SEO and/or SEM is not a commodity! Algorithms, budgets, best practices, products and services are ever changing. Being good at SEO/SEM requires you to stay on top of these changes (or to pay someone else who does).
There is no one-and-done solution. There is nothing that you can buy on a shelf, take out of a box and install that will handle it for you. No software, no quick fix, no easy trick, etc. You get the idea. To implement a solid SEO and/or SEM strategy takes a lot of time and focus. It is an ongoing effort that should build on itself as you go. There are many factors involved from keyword research to analyzing your competitors to find opportunities and a ton in-between. If someone is promising you that if you make a one-time payment of $XX.99 and they’ll rank you #1 on all “major search engines” or even Google, run away. It just doesn’t work like that. Not even close.
Hopefully, this helped in some small part to shed a little light on the mystery that surrounds the SEO and SEM world. It may seem boring and a bit esoteric, but rest assured to be effective digitally, it’s a necessity, especially for a small business. The ability to truly understand your customers’ needs, to see your competitors’ efforts and to be able to track your own digital efforts is invaluable. SEO and SEM, gives you that ability. Without it, you’re missing out on reaching a large segment of your customers and potential customers. And, if you’re missing them, rest assured your competitors are not.
DIY or Outsource?
You can take on the task of handling your own on-site optimization and digital ad campaigns. Or, you may want to consider hiring an individual or even an agency to help you with your SEO/SEM efforts. Whichever way you go, be sure to do your homework so that you can have a fundamental understanding of either what you’re doing or what someone is offering to do for you. When it comes to SEO (and SEM), a properly implemented strategy can do great things for your business. However, a poor one can knock you down the SERPs or possibly even get your listing removed altogether.
Be sure that whichever direction you choose to go, you understand what your goals are and how you’re going to get there. Alternatively, if you do need assistance with this or any other marketing needs, we’d love to talk to you. Feel free to like us on Facebook and send us a message. Or, send us an email. Or, if you’re like me and a little more old-fashioned, you can give us a call at (615) 796-6584. We would love to hear from you!