What are SEO and SEM?

SEO- Search Engine Optimization is the organic growth of website visibility inside of search engine results.

SEM- Search Engine Marketing is the inorganic growth of website visibility inside of search engine results.

What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

The major difference is the cost.  SEO is free while SEM costs money, typically in a pay per click model (PPC).

What are the Most Important Aspects of SEO?

SEO starts with website design.  Understanding how Google sees your website is key to designing and improving any SEO campaign.  You can use Google Webmaster Tools to see exactly how your site appears to Google.  The most important factor to Search Engine Optimization is content.  Google and other search engines reward original content, and more importantly look for updated and changing content.  Blogs are a great way to maintain updated content.

Social Media is the best tool for improving Search Engine Optimization because you can become involved in social media and promote your site for free.  Your customers are using some form of social media, so the task of any SEO campaign is to determine where they are and connect with them.  Social media is also a great way to stay in touch with customers and promote products as your company grows.

Email lists are another great tool for any SEO campaign.  Generating email lists and maintaining client contact information will allow you to connect with your clients and continue to cultivate a relationship.  Emails are a more personal touch, but should be done properly.  Emails should either be a personalized or completely impersonal communication as anything in the middle will be seen as disingenuous.  For example a completely personalized email would include the customer's name and a few details about their last interaction with your company to let them know you remember and you care.  A completely impersonal communication would be a newsletter which the person receiving it knows is not addressed directly to them.  One of the most common mistakes is landing in the middle by addressing a stock email directly to a person.  Everyone receiving emails knows in the first five seconds the email is not actually written to them, and this is not a good reaction to create with a customer.

What are the Most Important Aspects of SEM

SEM also starts with website design.  Pay per click advertising is a marketing art form in and of itself.  The most common form of SEM is Google Ad Words.  Everyone has seen the advertisements at the top and right hand side of Google search results.  Google places the top 3 ads on the top of the results and the next 8 ads on the right hand side.  Ads are ranked every time a search takes place and the results are calculated by multiplying your bid price by your quality score.

Your bid price is the amount of money you are willing to pay Google if a person clicks on the ad and is directed to your website.  Pay per click advertising is exactly what it sounds like; you pay every time your advertisement is clicked, so the most important aspect in the beginning of an SEM campaign is limiting your exposure before you know what works.  The two numbers you set are your CPC (Cost Per Click) which is the most you are willing to pay for one click, and your daily budget which is the most money you will pay on any given day.  These two controls allow you to work on your ads and find what works without having to spend a lot of money.

Your quality score is a much more complex formula which Google does not release.  However, Google says the best way to understand Quality Score is to look at 1) your ads' Click Through Rate (how many times your ad is clicked by searchers divided by the number of times it is presented to searchers), 2) your relevancy which is content driven, and 3) your landing page and whether the landing page takes searchers to what they were seeking or do they click right back to Google. 

Understanding the way the search engines rank your ads is just the beginning, the next piece of the SEM campaign is writing and testing your ads.  Writing ads inside of search engine is very difficult because you have to take all of the discipline associated with real world marketing and try to achieve the same results using approximately 100 characters spread over 3 lines.  This is no easy task which is why any quality campaign will take approximately 6 to 12 months to develop because you are having to test ads and keywords to find the spot where you gain the most paying clients.

After the ads are written and implemented the difficult part of an SEM campaign is to monitor results, and improve the campaigns.  Most of the SEM campaigns we see ask the wrong question which is how much money do I need to spend to be at the top?  The question we look at is how many people who click on the ad actually become customers (your conversion rate), and based upon the conversion rate and your company's sales model can you sustain the cost of the ads.  Essentially these ads are a sales commission and you need to look at whether the commission is too high, too low, or precise for your business model.  Achieving these results is time consuming and difficult, but in the end building a successful campaign is far more rewarding.

How Do I Beat Competitors Who Can Out Spend Me?

Search engines are actually on the side of the little guys in this fight.  Search engines understand their customers.  The search engine customer is a person who knows what they are looking for and wants to find it.  If the search engine customer does not find the results they desire then they are likely to not use the search engine again.  This is where the advantage goes to the person who generates the best content, and provides searchers for the exact result they desire.  Google and other search engines know when someone clicks on your ad, reads your page, and immediately clicks back to the search engine results.  This is called bounce rate.  If your bounce rate is high then your quality score decreases and over time and your ads decline in position.  Also if you have a high click through rate Google will reward you by lowering your cost per click.  Most people do not realize the person at the top is not necessarily the person spending the most money.  While spending money is important, there is more than one way to reach customers, and the search engines will reward those who put in the time and effort.

How Do I Get Started with SEO and SEM?

The starting point for both campaigns is a website.  Your website needs to be dynamic in that it integrates with social media and can be quickly updated and adapted to a changing market place.  Remember content is the key and will always be to any campaign.  If your site does not offer people a reason to visit and come back then they will not.  Your website needs to be able to change with your SEO and SEM campaigns which mean you need to be able to change content, keywords, and other details which factor into your campaigns.

Both campaigns start with setting expectations and taking on the right amount of work that fits your company and life.  You only get one shot at social media so you must consider how to roll out the campaign and what level of commitment is manageable.  Taking on too much is just as detrimental as not doing anything.  SEM is more forgiving as you control the ads, the amount of money, and the campaign details.  People do not expect to see your ads, but they do expect fresh content if you take on social media.  

Finally control your expectations.  Google considers a good click through rate to be 1-2%.  That means for every 100 times your ad is presented to searchers, it will actually be clicked 1 or 2 times.  Your job is to convert as many of those single visitors into customers.  Understanding your customer takes time and effort.  Search engines and online consumers are very different from real world consumers.  Online consumers are more likely to take their time, research products and services, and weigh their options before purchasing.  You as the business owner have to take the time to find exactly what it is they are looking for when they purchase from you.