Introduction to search engine marketing for SMEs
The internet has introduced a much more level playing field for small businesses and new start-ups to get noticed, but that doesn’t mean you will find your audience with zero effort.
While some people expect a website to be a silver bullet, bringing in new work via the Google search results almost automatically, others invest in search engine marketing and reap the benefits of a better rank in the result pages.
Search engine marketing – or search engine optimisation, as it is also known – not only helps you to appear higher in the results, it can also make your website appear in the results for certain words and phrases, as a way to take at least some control of who finds you online.
SEO or SEM?
The two terms are not quite the same thing:
- SEO: Search Engine Optimisation is about optimising where your website appears in the search results, including the words and phrases it appears for, and how highly it is ranked.
- SEM: Search Engine Marketing includes other aspects of your search presence, for example bidding on ‘Pay Per Click’ advertisements, which are the sponsored results at the top of each page.
Generally speaking, SEO is something you can do to your own site and will have a permanent beneficial effect – at least until someone comes along with even better SEO than you – so you continue to reap those benefits.
SEM often involves paying for a single appearance of your advert, or for every time someone clicks on it, and because of this you will need to invest some budget every month if you want to keep appearing in the ads.
Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing is a little different, and arguably not part of search engine marketing in its strictest definition, but it all helps to increase your online presence.
The most basic definition of social media marketing is posting on social networks and engaging with your fans, followers and brand advocates to help build awareness of your brand.
Some do this by offering direct customer service on social networks, some do it by posting their latest company news, case studies and trivia, and others do it just by posting jokes and joining in with conversations.
Google in particular has a preference for websites that are regularly updated, so publishing content like blog posts on a weekly or even a monthly basis all helps your site to look relevant.
Again, you can write about news in your industry, what your company has been working on, or even social news like charity fundraising – every post counts.
Remember to use the kinds of words and phrases that you want your website to be found for, but try to include them naturally so it doesn’t sound forced.
Google is not just one search engine anymore – there’s Google Images and Google Video to keep in mind too, especially if you operate in an industry where your products are particularly photogenic, or where you could produce useful videos such as how-to instructionals.
If you publish any such content, give it an informative caption – you can even put key words and phrases in the file name of images – and you increase your chance of it being found in relevant search results.
Finally, if you have a physical location for your business, make sure you are listed on Google Maps – and make sure it pinpoints the right building, as it can sometimes be a few hundred yards off.
You can submit corrections directly to Google for consideration, so it’s not a big deal to get your business location right on Google Maps, which is the first place many people will look when they want directions.
Doing it all
The best online marketing campaign combines all the different aspects of SEO, SEM and social media marketing into one overall promotional push – helping to make sure you are found in all of the different places where people might look for you online.
But even a modest budget can go a long way online, where some of the most effective content can be plain text, which is cheap or even free to produce if you’re a confident writer.
You might even find you enjoy logging on to social networks when you get a spare few minutes and replying to the latest customer feedback – even if you sometimes have negative feedback and complaints to deal with too, as these can often be turned around to prevent losing a customer who would otherwise go elsewhere.