When it comes to having a successful online presence, the quality of your website is just as important as how you market it. In most cases, there’s no point having flawless website design if no-one can actually find your website in the first place.
To help users find you online, there are a number of techniques you can use. Two of the most popular are Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
To the uninitiated, these terms can sound a little intimidating – so here’s a quick explanation of each, and the difference between the two:
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
To understand SEO, it’s important to first understand how search engines work.
When users search the web, they do so via a search engine such as Google, Yahoo! or Bing. These engines automatically and regularly “scale” the web – looking for content and websites which offer the most value to users according to terms (or keywords) that users are actually searching for. These engines then index this content, and match it to relevant keywords. For instance, when you enter the words “Central Coast SEO” into Google, you receive the results that are based on the websites which Google perceives to be the closest matches to these keywords.
Search Engine Optimisation is then, quite simply, a smart way of writing, designing and building your website so that it is favourably indexed by these search engines – or shows up in their top search results.
All search engines have different “algorithms” with which they index online content – and they change these formulas quite frequently. As such, SEO can be quite a complex process. In general, however, there are a few key factors that ensure your website gets positively indexed by the major search engines:
- Create high value content. Typically, search engines give high rankings to websites that provide a high level of value to users. You can aim for a high ranking by inserting keywords which match those that your users might be searching for. Keywords used in headings and page titles are typically given the highest rankings – however it can also be beneficial to insert keywords into your page copy. Importantly, don’t assume that the most popular keywords are necessarily the best. It might also be worth optimising for terms that are less searched for (as they will often be the most competitive), but which still relate to your brand.
- Have a good linking strategy. The more websites that link to your website, the higher your website’s perceived value – and the better the ranking you will be given. As such, it’s worth registering your website with business directories as you can – to encourage the number of clicks your site receives. Similarly, it’s important to have a strong and well thought-out linking strategy within your own site – i.e. you need to show how the content on one page links through to another, to encourage users to click through. The deeper they explore your site, the more value your content is perceived to have– and the higher your potential ranking may be.
- Insert metadata. At any stage of your website development, you can insert keywords and a description of your website into the code of your site – and many development agencies will encourage you to write a meta description and meta keywords so as to boost your rankings. However, while metadata used to be a very important aspect of SEO, it’s definitely becoming less so. Nevertheless, it’s beneficial to understand what these terms mean:
- Meta description is a short, keyword-rich “summary of your website”.
- Meta keywords are the key terms which you believe your users might be searching for. For example, if your business is in website design, your keywords may be: “design, web, graphic design, website, web design, advertising, marketing…” etc.
Importantly, this form of organic Search Engine Optimisation needn’t cost you a thing. It’s completely free to optimise your site. However, for the best results, it’s worth engaging an expert agency such to help – as the right web designers and web copywriters can ensure your content and website design is optimised for maximum results.
It’s also important to note that as search engines change their algorithms on a regular basis, it’s important to regularly review your SEO strategy and refine it according to what’s working, and what’s not.
And lastly, when it comes to SEO, honesty is very important. There’s no point attracting a click to your website if the content there has no value to your user. You’re simply damaging your brand. You also need to pay close attention to how you optimise your site. Insert too many keywords and “optimise” too far, and you could end up getting black-listed by the major search engines, who will perceive your website as fraudulent or as spam. Speak to us about how you can avoid this.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Some people use the term “Search Engine Marketing”, or “SEM” as a very broad one that encompasses anything to do with marketing your website via search engines – and subsequently includes SEO. However, a vast majority of people in the digital sphere simply use “SEM” to refer to the process of paying for your website to occupy the top spots within certain search engines. The New York Times, for instance, defines SEM as “the practice of buying paid search listings”.
In essence, there are three key aspects to SEM:
- Search Engine Advertising. This is where you place traditional online ads onto search results pages – and you pay the search engine for the privilege of doing so. These ads will be indexed against certain keywords – and if a user searches for a particular keyword, your ad may appear. Usually, you pay according to the number of impressions (or views) the ad receives – regardless of the number of clicks it may receive.
- Paid Inclusion. Some search engines (not Google) also allow you to pay for your site to be added to their database – rather than waiting for it to be indexed in the normal way. This means your site will display sooner than it usually would if you simply relied on Search Engine Optimisation.
- Pay-Per-Click Advertising. This is where you pay a search engine to give your website prominence at the top of the search results page. You can purchase top listings through programs that are run by the major search engines – mostly Google Adwords, Yahoo! Search Marketing and Microsoft adCentre. Importantly, you typically have complete and ongoing control of your ads and can specify which keywords you want to link to your ad, what copy you want to feature, and how much you want to pay. Payment occurs on a “pay-per-click” basis – i.e. you only pay when a user clicks through and lands on your website.
So, which should I use?
The short answer to this question, is both.
SEM can deliver immediate clicks to your website, but it can be expensive if your website isn’t actually converting any new leads. As such, you need to consider how much a new lead is worth to your business, and evaluate SEM on that basis. You also need to ensure that your website is designed, written and built in a way that won’t disappoint users when they arrive – else the click-through (and the associated cost) will have been for nothing.
On the other hand, SEM can help you work out which keywords are getting click-throughs for your website – and these can help form the basis of an effective SEO strategy. For instance, if our Google Adwords statistics indicated that a vast number of people were clicking through to the Big Click Studios’ website after searching for the words: “central coast web design”, we would be wise to optimise our site around these words accordingly.
Overall, it could be argued that the benefits of SEO as a marketing strategy are perhaps more long term, and longer lasting. This is largely because SEO will grow organically over time. The more clicks your site receives, the higher the ranking it will receive – and if you are prepared to tweak your site over time based on what’s working and what isn’t, you can do more to boost your results on an ongoing basis.
Most importantly, before you set about doing any marketing, it’s important to make sure you’re 100% happy with the website that you’re driving people to. So if you’d like us to take a look at your website and provide some recommendations or steps on how your rankings could be improved, please give us a call.