Imagine - just for a moment - the Internet without search engines. How would anyone find anything online? Now imagine your business not being prominently listed on search engine result pages. How would anyone find out about your business online?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of Internet Marketing that seeks to increase website traffic by improving website visibility in search engine result pages. This is often accomplished using a combination of paid search advertising and through higher ranking in un-paid search results.
Did you know that people type an average of three words when querying a search engine? These three words are key to people finding your website. These keywords are the way you connect with your customers.
A cornerstone of Search Engine Marketing is to select specific keywords or phrases associated with your website for which you wish to achieve higher ranking in search results. For a small business, good keywords may include the business name, type of business, products and services offered, and location. These keywords should permeate throughout your website to increase their relevance vis-à-vis your website and achieve higher ranking in search results.
All search engines incorporate some form of text, banner, or rich-media ads with their Search Engine Result Pages (SERP). These paid listings are often displayed at the top and along the sides of the search results, with the advertisers paying either for ad views (aka CPM) or pay-per-click (PPC). Paid listings can be very effective for small business owners that wish to quickly build visibility.
Google AdWords is a good example of a self-service online advertising service that sells sponsored listings above and to the right-hand side of its regular search results on Google.com. Using Google AdWords, small business owners can bid on keywords they wish to appear for, and pay a per-click fee each time someone clicks on their paid listing to visit their website.
Local Search is a powerful tool for small business owners that wish to benefit from geographically constrained searches. Typical local search queries include both “what” and “where” information, such as “Vietnamese Restaurant San Jose” and “Apple Store Palo Alto”. Small businesses should pay particular attention to this form of search engine marketing, as local search is considered by many the new phonebook.
All major search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo, support local search. Local search results are most often displayed in search engine result pages under the paid search advertising. Participating in local search requires small business owners to submit their business information for consideration through services such as Google Places, which is also used by Google Maps.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website in the un-paid section of search engine result pages. As a website increases in relevance for certain keywords and phrases, so does its prominence in search results.
Small business owners that recognize the value of search results will want to engage in optimizing their website for search engine crawling and indexing. This includes making sure that your website has great content, relevant page titles and page names, meaningful section headers, and clear meta tags. Additionally, you will want to encourage backlinks, which are incoming links to your website. When combined, these techniques should help improve your ranking in search results for your target keywords.
Over the years, hundreds of SEO tools have emerged. They all share a common purpose, which is to increase traffic to the targeted websites. But their approaches can greatly differ and complement one another:
But tools are not always the answer. As Niche Hunting suggests in his recent article entitled What's In Your SEO Toolbox?, tools are generally as good as the person using them: "You can buy as many guides, tools, and accessories as you like but in the end it is your skill that determines the success or failure of a project. Skills can be harnessed, but tools do not overcome a lack of skill."