Smart marketing can make or break a business.
But most entrepreneurs don’t have a formal background in marketing before starting up — especially when it comes to the technical know-how.
SEO and SEM are critical to running a successful business today.
It takes practice — and time — to get them right.
SOAR Innovation — powered by Kentucky Innovation — is here to support your interests as an entrepreneur. We can help you formulate the big picture goals and access the resources you need to translate ideas into action. Marketing included.
The following step-by-step guide will help you get started with SEO and SEM.
If this is your first time encountering these concepts, don’t worry. This guide is for first-timers. We’ll walk you through the essentials so you can get up and running in no time.
What is SEO? And why is it important?
Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the activities that attract more customers to your website by improving how and where you appear in search engine results.
SEO also helps bring in the types of customers who are most likely to buy something from you.
Whether you’re selling locally, nationally, or globally, eCommerce or brick and mortar, your customers are online. And they need to be able to find you.
It’s your job to make that as easy as possible.
Even if you run a brick-and-mortar store and don’t use eCommerce right now, SEO is still essential. 88% of consumers who search for a business online will visit or call the store within a day.
Before coming to your store, people need to know what you sell, when you’re open, and where you’re located. Answering these questions on your website will bring foot traffic into your storefront.
Plus, it will make it easier for future customers to learn about your business.
Google is the number one search engine used worldwide. Its objective is to provide internet users with the most relevant search results — otherwise known as organic search.
Google delivers search results by evaluating keywords, intent, location, and many other factors. A back-end process establishes the order websites show up in search results. And it’s constantly evolving.
If you leverage Google’s rules to your advantage, you’ll make it easy for your ideal customers to find you online. Set up your website using SEO best practices, and you’ll be more likely to turn up on the first page of Google’s search results.
SEO best practices to improve your site rank
#1: Identify the most important search keywords for your business
Search keywords are what your customers type into Google to find products, services, and other information.
For example, if you run a bakery, leading keywords for your business might include:
- [Town name] bakery
- [County name] bakery
If you have a specific product you’re famous for, it might be another leading keyword for you. Let’s use cinnamon rolls as an example:
- [company name] cinnamon rolls
- [Town name] cinnamon rolls
- [County name] cinnamon rolls
A local marketing expert can help you identify the most important keywords that will drive traffic to your business.
Once you have your keywords, use them consistently throughout your website.
This doesn’t mean you need to repeat your keywords in each sentence. Don’t force it — make sure your website content reads well.
Local marketing experts can also help you write and publish website content to improve your site rank.
#2: Launch a blog and update it regularly
Owning a successful blog is a marketing and SEO tactic that can drive great results. But it takes time and effort to launch and maintain a useful blog.
The easiest way to get started is by developing “how-to” and “top 5” blog posts that align with your customer’s needs and how your business can fulfill them.
For example, your bakery might provide blog posts that help people connect their passion for baking and great food with your business:
- “How to bake cinnamon rolls at home”
- “Top 5 tools every home baker should have”
Each of these examples provides an opportunity for you to sell an at-home baking kit.
Or, you could bring in customers who realize they’d rather buy one of your cinnamon rolls instead of attempting to make them at home.
Check out the SOAR blog as an example of how to build a blog to improve your search rankings for target keywords.
#3: Optimize page load and image load times
Google wants to serve content that gives a great user experience.
Lightning-fast page load and image load times are a big part of that.
Consult your content management system (CMS) or call up your website developer to shorten load times to improve your SEO ranking. If you DIY-ed your website, search your CMS knowledge base for articles on how you can tweak a few settings on your own.
#4: Install an SEO plugin
Yoast SEO is a common, affordable WordPress tool that enables you to fine-tune SEO results over time based on the latest best practices. If you run your website on WordPress, you should plan to install it.
Yoast SEO will teach you how to implement meta tags, optimize page headers, and other tricks to help search engines serve your content to customers.
If you run on Wix or Squarespace, they have built-in SEO tools that are similar.
What is SEM? And why is it important?
Search engine marketing (SEM, or paid search) is a paid advertising channel.
Its purpose is to drive relevant traffic to your website by placing your ad next to targeted search engine results.
SEM is an excellent option if organic page 1 results are unattainable in your industry. You’ll want that coveted page 1 spot: it receives 95% of all search traffic over later pages.
If you’re in a highly competitive industry, you may be up against well-established, optimized websites already using your keywords. It’ll be an uphill battle to earn that page 1 spot through SEO alone.
SEM can help you reach the top of page 1, but it’ll depend on how much you bid for impressions or clicks. It’s also worth noting that Google will mark your search result as an advertisement.
Good SEM results come down to the competitiveness of your keywords and whether you’re able to pay top dollar.
SEM is best-suited for:
- Acquiring website traffic. You should use SEM to connect customers with a specific offer, such as a promotion, package, or highly relevant deal.
- Increasing awareness. You can also use SEM to make more customers aware of your brand, what makes you different from competitors, and why they should choose you.
SEM isn’t a channel for getting email subscribers and social media followers. It’s also not a good fit for other campaigns that won’t support revenue generation or new customer acquisition.
Ultimately, you want to gain a positive return on investment (ROI) from SEM. Those goals are too far removed from generating cash for your business.
We highly recommend investing in SEO before you invest in SEM.
You can quickly go through your budget with SEM and not see any monetary returns. Hire an expert contractor or agency when it’s time to experiment with SEM.
It’s a specialized craft, and it can often be overwhelming for a first-timer.
SEM best practices to maximize your ad budget
#1: Perform keyword research
SEM, like SEO, is all about keywords. The SEM campaign process requires you bid on the most relevant keywords to your business.
First, understand search volume and research cost-per-click (CPC) before investing. You can use a tool such as SEMRush to do this.
If you can’t afford the leading keywords for your business, explore secondary keywords that are more cost-effective, but still relevant to your offerings.
#2: Write memorable, actionable ad copy
Create ads that speak to the benefits you offer to your top customer persona.
There’s a very limited character count for your SEM ad. Your copy will have to be short yet eye-catching. Keep it focused on the action you want the customer to take.
And always have another person review your copy before you finalize it.
#3: Run campaigns in 2-4 week increments
As you launch your first SEM ads, plan to keep your campaign live for 2-4 weeks at a time. This gives each campaign the opportunity to accumulate performance data you can compare over time.
This practice will help you continue optimizing your ads with each new campaign you run.
#4: Track results over time and experiment with different approaches
Keep an eye on your ad spend and maintain a continuous improvement mindset.
Approach your results with curiosity. Look at the ads that performed best — and seek to understand why.
If your click rates are coming in below industry averages, swap in new copy, adjust your audience targeting, or consider other keywords.
Conclusion: Grow your business like a pro
SEO and SEM are labor-intensive activities. You get out what you put into them.
Fortunately, there are a few tips and tricks to improve the process and save time.
If you complete the steps in this guide and still feel you need additional help, it may be time to hire an expert. SOAR Innovation can help you with these services. They can also connect you with local marketing agencies and freelancers who will plan, implement, and optimize your SEO/SEM efforts.
For more advice on launching and growing your business like a pro, download the Complete Guide to Entrepreneurship in Eastern Kentucky.