The world of online business is fraught with misinformation regarding search engine marketing. Sometimes it feels like everyone you meet on the Internet has a thousand little tricks that are guaranteed to increase traffic, improve conversion ratios and send a blog post viral across the Web for a low, low fee. There’s no shortage of self-proclaimed experts when it comes to working from home, but the ratio of true professionals to overconfident amateurs is astonishingly low. One of the fastest ways to pick out the knowledgeable from the chaff is to ask an individual about his or her search engine marketing strategy.
A good portion of the community will rattle off standard search engine optimization practices and leave it at that, but in reality the two similar-sounding terms have very different meanings. Unlike the millions of secret techniques that have no real impact on a website’s success, expanding from SEO into SEM will help you diversify your marketing and reach new customers through time-tested but often overlooked methods. SEM has long been neglected in favor of SEO, particularly among new marketers. Understanding the relationship between the two, and how to use them together, may prove to be the turning point in your online career.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization is a subset of search engine marketing and typically the first step taken when building a new website. It was once a simple process that called for high keyword densities to remain competitive. This race for the top of Google’s results page tended to promote poor-quality content and spam rather than original, valuable information. Recognizing this, Google retaliated with several algorithm updates that have transformed SEO into more of an art form than a checklist.
SEO is far from irrelevant, of course. It remains the basis for nearly all forms of Internet marketing, and every webmaster should be mindful of how his or her site appears to Google and readers. The two most important aspects of SEO today are keywords and page design. Both changed dramatically following the Google Panda update of 2011, but they survived as much more sophisticated methods that leveled the playing field for honest marketers.
Keywords are words and phrases commonly used when searching for a subject. They should be sprinkled naturally and unobtrusively throughout a page to help Google’s indexing bots determine what the content is about. Overusing them can cause your site to be penalized, but a page that lacks focus will confuse Google and never rank highly for a query. Finding the right keyword balance may be all that’s needed to double your website’s traffic.
Page design is less strict in its parameters but important both for Google’s spiders and your human visitors. Google pays attention to usability and the amount of advertising above the fold, which are two of the most deciding factors in user experience. The work done to make a website appealing to both Google’s indexing algorithm and to potential customers is the the very definition of SEO.
What is SEM?
Search engine marketing is the term many webmasters really mean when they say SEO. It encompasses all efforts to increase page rankings, not just the on-site methods of search engine optimization. SEM improves your reputation with Google while also bringing in readers from other websites. In this sense, SEO is just one part of the wider world of marketing on the Web. There are many more ways to drive traffic to a site from outside sources than SEO alone can provide.
The one SEM technique nearly every blogger or business owner follows is building back-links. Links pointing back to your website from high-ranking domains tell Google that your information is trusted and relevant within a niche’s community. Following the Google Penguin update, links from respected sources have become critical to the overall effectiveness of an SEM campaign. Popular sources for such links include guest posts, wherein a blogger contributes content to another blog in exchange for exposure and a reference to their own website.
Other SEM methods revolve around advertising. Marketers can opt into any number of ad programs that seek to match advertising spaces with the clients most likely to generate clicks and revenue. Some websites operate on private sales, while others use a large network such as Google AdWords. Similarly, running an affiliate program on any products you sell gives other entrepreneurs a vested interest in your sales numbers. Both of these require an initial investment, but they can be profitable if implemented correctly.
The final major component of search engine marketing is monitoring statistics and ROI. This is where marketers learn which strategies are working and which are not. Statistics can cover anything from an entire publicity campaign to the effects of moving an Adsense block a few pixels to the right. This step is often what distinguishes a hobby from a true business. No matter how inscrutable a chart full of data may seem, it’s well worth scrutinizing to achieve optimum performance from your site.
Using SEO and SEM to Improve Your Business
Search engine marketing is the framework used to build almost every business on the Internet. Learning to think beyond SEO alone can open doors that you never even knew existed and take your website to the next level of income-generation. Whether you are selling a book, a product or advertising space, you must be able to draw viewers in before you can make a sale.
The reason SEO is more widely known than the rest of SEM is because it is the logical starting point for a website. Without content that can convert and keep readers coming back for more, it doesn’t matter how many people click your URL. The key is to avoid becoming complacent, and remember to expand into the wider arena of marketing once you have a strong site to work with. An experienced search engine marketing company can guide you through these transitions at the right time to capitalize on expanding interest and recognition.
As with any legitimate endeavor, building an online business takes time, effort and dedication. The rewards of being your own boss and taking control of your future, however, are well worth the risk. By understanding the relationship between SEO and SEM, and the opportunities it presents, you’ll have a leg up against your competition and a much higher chance of becoming the next Internet success story.