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The difference between search engine optimization & search engine marketing

A lot of people are familiar with the term SEO, and to most, those three letters mean “get my website the best spot on the internet.” Ranking highly in search engine results will afford your business greater website traffic and higher conversion rates. In practice, many factors influence the ranking of search engine results. SEO (search engine optimization) is a factor, but it should be a piece of a larger strategy of SEM (search engine marketing).

Search engine marketing is the broader effort of gaining higher visibility for a website, and is typically broken out into two components. Predictably, the two are paid and unpaid methods. SEO is most often unpaid strategies, and is therefore often the label given to the unpaid component. Many will use the term SEM to refer to Paid Search Advertising (PSA), so when conversing on the topic, it can be prudent to establish your acronyms. Do keep in mind that Search Engine Marketing is an accumulation of methods that coalesce into a greater strategy to reach your market.

SEO – Search Engine Optimization

Whether we like it or not, Google is the undisputed leader of search (we won’t get into anything else here), and for that reason, the industry standards of SEO practices follow the criterion created by Google’s search algorithm. Therefore, it is advantageous to keep track of Google’s algorithm update releases once you put an SEO strategy in place. 

SEO can be thought of in two parts: onsite SEO and offsite SEO. Onsite SEO should be your first priority. The reason why SEM & SEO are so often confused is, early on, search engines (Google) used a single factor for results ranking. That was keyword mapping on your website. Before diving in, you will need to determine what are called the “pillar pages” of your website. These are the pages that generate the most traffic, have the lowest bounce rate, the longest engagement time, the highest clickthrough rate, and are the hub of a group of related content pages. Even if it is only your homepage for now, that is fine, it’s better to increase meaningful engagement on one page than to spread your strategy thin, and for that reason it’s advisable to start with no more than six.

Onsite SEO

Your pillar pages are pivotal to the success of your SEO, and your wider search engine marketing efforts. Once you know where the keywords will live, you can generate a list of useful words. Particularly, those that your customers, market, and competitors commonly use to describe the work you do. Initially, you should integrate them into three areas of each page: the title, the section headers, and the meta description. Apart from the obvious placement on the page itself, the title will be the main blue text in the search engine when your website is returned. The meta description, while not given much weight by the search engine itself, is the subtext in the search result under the blue title, and a concise yet robust description of the page contents will increase the likelihood of a click and site visit. The headers on your site are integral in the way a search engine understands the purpose of the page as it indexes your site and the phantasmagoria of the larger internet. 

Just throwing keywords around your site isn’t going to be enough. One of the most important things you can do to improve your site’s search engine ranking is to create and house useful and engaging content. Almost equally significant is the user experience (UX). UX is influenced by quite a few factors, but the result is that the pillar pages will be strengthened. Bounce rate, engagement time, and clickthrough rate are all given weight by Google’s search algorithm.

Offsite SEO

With landing pages set and polished, you can turn your eyes to the greater web. Offsite SEO can be viewed as the management and cultivation of inbound links to your website, commonly referred to as “backlinks.” This process touches on many strategies that you may be implementing in your marketing, but there are a few easy things you can do to start building a collection of backlinks. 

You can begin by cleaning up your business listings across the web. Searching your business name, address, or phone number will bring up a number of directory and listing sites. You could also search for directory sites directly, but once you find your listings, you can begin the process to confirm the accuracy or correct those listings. These links already exist, and due to the nature of the sites, Google will reference them each time your business is searched for. If the information doesn’t match between sites, and especially doesn’t match the same information you list on your site, the reference will negatively impact the output of the search algorithm.

Another way to increase links to your site is simply asking for them. Think about people you know with a website. You can ask friends, family, local business organizations, associates, or clients. If you have influence on the placement, it is much better to have the link anchored to text and in content that is related to the page being linked to. 

Giving testimonials is a great way to ensure links from high quality sources. Contact one of your vendors or a manufacturer/distributor of a product you utilize, and ask them if they would like a testimonial from a satisfied customer. If they say no, tell them to call First Flight Agency. Oftentimes, they will already be asking for testimonials and there will be a mechanism on their website to contact them.

As with Onsite SEO, content is king. A link from one site of a trusted source, one with engaging useful information, or even one that just gets high traffic, can be worth a hundred links from low ranking sources. You may not have control over every link to your site, but if you find one and open a line of communication, you may be surprised what that can accomplish.

PSA – Paid Search Advertising

The most common way to advertise with search engines is through pay per click (PPC) ads. As the name implies, these are ads that you pay for based on the number of clicks on each ad. If you are going to only use one service, it should definitely be Google Ads (previously Google Adwords). Search engine ads need to be given the same consideration that you would to any advertisement you run, which is to say they should be a part of your brand strategy and adhere to your brand identity.

Google has detailed instructions on how to best use their system, but there are some basic aspects of the tool. This, again, is a place where your keywords list will come in handy. The basic mechanism for placement of your ads begins with choosing keywords that will trigger the retrieval of your ads. When a keyword is searched, Google Ads initiates what is essentially an auction for the ad space. When you create your ad, you will choose a maximum amount to bid for each space, as well as a maximum you are willing to pay each day. Finally you choose what metric will determine the catalyst for the cost: cost per click (CPC), cost per 1,000 impressions (CPM), or cost per engagement (CPE, which is determined by a specific engagement, as opposed to just clicking).

First Flight Agency offers in-depth digital marketing options to accompany our wider agency services. If you need some extra help or want us to develop a plan that works for you, head to our contact us page and let us know! We also have an SEM Checklist to help you work through your own strategy.