SEO… search engine optimisation. You've probably heard the phrase a lot over the past few years and may have even paid for it. If you're a small business owner, you've probably received at least one phone call or email in the last week by someone selling you SEO, PPC, SEM, SMO, SMM and some other acronyms. You'll be told by an SEO expert you need to pay them to get you on the first page of Google - some may even guarantee it. So…
What is search marketing?
Getting right back to basics it's important to remember what a search engine is and how it can be important to your business. A search engine is simply a tool for people to find what they're looking for online. It's that simple.
The term search marketing covers the two primary methods of increasing the chances of people finding your website through online searches
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
SEO is the process of getting more traffic from search engines without paying for search listings. This is often referred to as "organic SEO". These are the search results the search engine considers the most relevant match to what the user has searched for. The exact algorithm search engines use is a closely guarded secret but the principle is to deliver relevant quality content to the user.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
SEM is about getting more traffic from search engines by paying for search listings and ads. On Google, these are the results listed at the top and down the right hand side - with the small yellow ‘Ad’ label. This is often referred to as "paid search". Google AdWords is the most popular paid search platform and in simplistic terms works on an auction-based model. Even when people try to explain it in simple terms wth pictures it can be very confusing!
Google is the dominant search engine in both Australia and New Zealand - with well over 90% market share in both countries. With that kind of dominance, it's worth paying attention to their guidelines but the good news is other search engines like Bing and Yahoo follow the same basic principles.
A lot of people get caught up in SEO tricks and forget Google's own advice in their SEO starter guide:
"We'd like to say that you should base your optimization decisions first and foremost on what's best for the visitors of your site. They're the main consumers of your content and are using search engines to find your work."
Another important thing to mention is that by following web accessibility standards, you provide a better experience for people who use screen readers and other assistive technologies. As a bonus, this works on a lot of the same elements search engines use to understand and rank your website - which will result in better SEO.
Does search marketing matter?
Ultimately the importance of search marketing depends on your business, your customers and the role your website plays in that interaction. Of course there's often a gap between how it works now and how you'd like it to work! You're likely to have a website to achieve a particular goal, to convert the visits you receive into a specific action. That action may be to buy something, to make an enquiry or to learn something about your business.
If you're keen to achieve those goals and be found by all of those people using their mobiles, tablets and desktops to search for what you have to offer, many of who haven't heard of you yet - search marketing is something you need to be doing.
I'm keen on my website helping me get more customers, now what?
The way I normally talk to people about search marketing is to outline five areas. In most cases it's worth focusing on these in the order I've listed them.
Your content is the whole reason people are coming to your site. Good content (text, images, video etc) is what people want to read, see and share. When people do this a lot, it results in great “organic SEO”. Remember the basic principle behind search engine algorithms is to work out what is relevant quality content to display when people search.
Good design is as much about how it works as how it looks - it's the experience people have when using your site. If your messaging and calls to action are clear, people can find their way around and complete the tasks they want - you have a higher chance of conversion. No point getting more traffic to your site if it’s not designed to convert that traffic.
Mobile optimisation (or being mobile-friendly as Google calls it) is more important than ever before. Mobile shouldn't even be its own category here, it needs to be a core part of building a website and that's been the case for a long time… but unfortunately this is a key area where most businesses are still a long way behind.
Internet traffic on mobile passed desktop over a year ago, in early 2014. Google has been making regular changes to the way search results display on mobile. Last November, Google emphasised the importance of optimising for mobile experiences even more by labelling search results as “mobile-friendly”. The goal being to make it easier for people to find what that they’re looking for when searching on mobile.
The impact of not being mobile-friendly is about to become more obvious next week. Google recently announced, "Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results." This is widely being referred to as “Mobilegeddon”. We'll see how apocalyptic this turns out to be. I'll make this the topic of a future article.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search engine optimisation is focused on helping search engines understand and index your site, so you will display in relevant search results. There are some standards that need to be followed as a basic starting point. This is a combination of your content, mobile-friendliness, metadata and structural / technical aspects of your website.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Search engine marketing is basically paying for traffic to your website. This is where you can spend a huge amount of money because as you already know, a lot of these systems work on an auction-based system. If you don’t have good content that is designed to convert the traffic you get for users on any device - and the organic SEO structures in place - all or most of this traffic stops the moment you stop or reduce what you’re spending on paid search.
There are many free tools out there (like www.feedthebot.com/tools) that will do a basic scan of your site and highlight some of the key issues. A lot of these issues you'll be able to easily improve yourself as long as you have a simple admin panel to manage your content and metadata.
This article is a basic overview of search marketing. While the principles are simple, the techniques are complex and constantly changing.
We can help!
Dynamic4 will work with you to do an audit or your site and put together a search marketing plan to help you reach those millions of new customers out there on their mobiles, tablets and desktops that haven't heard of you… yet! Make contact now and say hello.