Search Engine Marketing and Optimization

As part two of my five-part series on on-line marketing, I want to get into the next level of detail on the heart and soul the matter: search engines. For most businesses, the goal of on-line marketing is to get customers to come to your web-site. There are other ways to do this (email blasts, banner ads, etc…), but in reality, most new customer traffic to your website is likely to be driven by search engines.

Definitions: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) vs. Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Optimization
SEO is the act of optimizing your site so that it appears appropriately in search results.
Search Engine Marketing
There are two competing definitions for SEM. One is, broadly, anything that serves to promote your site through search engines (including SEO). The other is specifically buying advertising on the search engines.

In general, I use the term SEM to mean the former, as I think it’s a better definition that properly grasps the concept of marketing. However, for purposes of this article, I’ll be using the second definition, and really focusing on the differences and synergies of SEO vs. pay-per-click advertising. To highlight what I mean by that, let’s take a look at a typical SERP from Google.

Google Response Page: Areas of focus for SEM vs. SEO.

The area highlighted in green is what’s known as organic search results — search results that appear because the algorithm of the particular search engine in question has chosen them to be most relevant to the search query entered by the user. SEO is focused on these results. The area highlighted in blue is paid advertisement, and is the focus of SEM.

Keywords and Pages

One common thing that you’ll hear when talking about either SEO or SEM is something like, “I want my site to come up first”. This fairly naturally raises the question, “come up first … when what?”. And the equally natural, but often overlooked, answer to that is, “when the user searches for certain keywords”.

Once you start to think of search in those terms — in terms of the specific keywords in the query — it fairly quickly becomes apparent that the notion of one’s site coming up first doesn’t really make any sense. Instead, you should think in terms of pages coming up first. Let me provide an example.

Consider a local paddle-sports business. The bread and butter of the business is selling kayaks and canoes, and this is the main focus of its web site (including its home page and a number of other pages). Seasonally, the business also offers boat rentals and kayak lessons. Each of these offerings has a separate page on the site. In an ideal world, if a user searched for “kayak lesson”, the page on boat rentals would not show up above the page on kayak lessons. In other words, each page of your site needs to be optimized differently, depending on the keywords that are relevant to that particular page. You should think not in terms of your site coming up early in search results, but in terms of each page coming up early for specific keywords.

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