When you have a question, you don’t pick up your Encyclopedia Britannica anymore. You use Google, Yahoo, or (God forbid) Bing. These are search engines. “Search engine marketing” is making it so you are more findable on these platforms.
You get to know the platforms. This could be Google’s AdWords, Search Console, or Analytics platforms or it could be Bing’s Webmaster Tools or Ads or it could even be Yahoo’s Gemini platform. Once you know them, you can “exploit” them to ensure you’re getting eye balls to your website. This can be done naturally or unnaturally.
Which method makes the most sense to use? Whichever one works. Usually the answer is “both.”
Imagine you open a restaurant along a main thoroughfare in a densely populated city. You open the building and are ready to provide great food, service, and experience to customers. Now imagine that you have no external signage on the building itself. There’s merely an “Open” sign hanging on the door.
How will people find you? By complete chance.
Now imagine you stay in business long enough to gather a following of customers, who continue having great food, service, and experience. This loyal group starts referring new friends to your restaurant location. These new friends go and enjoy your food.
How long will this method take? A long time.
Now imagine if you added external signage to the building. Advertising in a neighborhood newspaper? Billboards off a nearby highway? As you can imagine, these efforts would increase foot traffic. If you continue delivering great food, service, and experience to incoming customers, then your revenue will increase. If you fail to satisfy customers, the advertising will not be worth the trouble.
My metaphor’s a little rough around the edges. Fine! I think the idea still gets across. To get your website found “naturally” you need to rank well organically on search engines. The term you’ve heard before is “search engine optimization” (SEO). To get your website found “unnaturally” you’ll need to pay for that online advertising (PPC).
Between the two practices, this is the most artful of the two. It’s a methodological practice, but the rules of the game are occluded and ever-shifting. This is where knowing more technical stuff like HTML tags, .htaccess files, XML site maps, or 301/302 redirects come in handy. The technical stuff only helps you ensure your website is getting out of the way of the search engines from indexing your website while also ensuring no other website is negatively affecting your site.
The artful part of SEO comes with creating website content that is relevant and informative to your website’s purpose. This is where understanding a client’s business and priorities is important. You build out lists of keywords (& variations) for the site. You build on pages filled with content discussing those keywords. And you ensure that your content is revealed to a user as smoothly as possible.
Oh look! Pretty circles!
Content marketing is also lumped into this SEO category since you’re producing content of all types that is valuable to your potential customers. This content can either be on your own website (e.g. a blog post, product/service pages) or distributed onto other websites (e.g. YouTube, Facebook). It’s important to create a strategy and schedule for your content to keep any potential customer interested.
Here’s where AdWords or Bing Ads get a bad rap. These platforms make it easy to spend money with them, but there is a level of automation that occurs at each step in the set-up process. The more automation, the less attentive of an eye on the details of client acquisition. Whenever I have to look at a customer’s paid search (PPC) program it usually looks like below.
A pool of money budgeted with various topics defined and the various keywords as a subset being cast out in a nearly instantaneous online auction. If your keyword wins the lightning bidding war, your advert is shown to a user who (ideally) typed in that keyword.
Here’s where knowing the platform helps. If the Topic Level is where there’s a more granular node of control, then each separate keyword (i.e. the things that end up spending the $$ at the topic) should be evenly distributed into their own individual Topic group.
If I have “Chicken”, “Tuscan Chicken”, and “Tuscan Chicken Pasta” in the same Topic group then maybe there’s too much money being spent on users typing in only “Chicken” when I really want to sell my $20 “Tuscan Chicken.” The way the above PPC program is structured, you don’t have that much control (or granularity of data).
What the above allows is having the ability for a “Tuscan Chicken Pasta” ad to show to a user instead of a “Tuscan Chicken Pasta” ad. The Internet is happening really quick, so that split-second of hesitation matters.
Search engine marketing is only important because everyone uses these online platforms constantly to find what they need. Make sure your brand is visible and consistent on any website out there. Since your domain is your own little corner of the earth, start with that.