SEO, SEM: put your business on the map

Whether you’re new to marketing your business online or your company is already creating buzz on its own, it’s worth knowing what practices can pump up the results.

In this article we will cover the basics of SEO; it pays to have an elementary knowledge of SEO, SEM and content marketing, to be sure that your website copy, content and advertising are all lined up and ready to build a reputation that will drive sales the future.

The Evolution of Search

In the early days of the internet, search engines were one feature of a user’s internet service provider or a broader website. Excite@Home, AOL Search, and Yahoo! were among the most popular. The results produced were often skewed content. Today, the major search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! strive to deliver independence and impartiality in their results.

Contrary to popular belief, search engines’ primary interest isn’t boosting advertising revenues. Rather, they aim to deliver the best user experience. They rank websites according to authority, credibility, and popularity—but they also offer advertising options.

The basics of SEO and SEM

SEM helps to drive targeted visitors to your website through paid advertising, or pay-per-click, strategies. On the other hand, SEO drives visitors to your site through properly defined and search-engine compliant content. The easiest way to differentiate between SEM and SEO is to look at SEM as ‘paid’ and SEO as ‘free’.

Proper content marketing through search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) is more relevant today than ever before. Search engines—like Google—penalize websites with poor quality content. Websites that use questionable traffic generation and aggressive SEO strategies are equally penalized.

More About SEM

With SEM, you use a service like Google’s Adwords. You start by picking a keyword; when a searcher types that keyword, you want your ad to show up in the ‘ad space’ of the results page (two or three up top, a handful along the right margin, etc.). Once you know what keyword you want to target, you will specify a ‘maximum’ price you are willing to pay to have your ad displayed to those searchers; the higher your ad, the more desirable its position will be.

SEM at Work

Let’s assume you are a dentist in Beaverton, Oregon and specialize in orthodontics. A ‘keyword’ for your business might be ‘orthodontist’. To have your ad seen when a potential patient searches for ‘orthodontist’, you would pay roughly $10 when someone clicks on your ad. With ‘orthodontist’ being such a broad term, however, you’d see plenty of traffic. You’d also pay a lot of money and not necessarily see ‘quality’ results. Why? ‘Orthodontist’ by itself is not specific enough; even people searching from New York City could be clicking on your ad. This would be a waste of money.

A better ‘keyword’ might be ‘Beaverton orthodontist’, which costs less at roughly $6.50 per click. The cost is lower because the keyword targets people specifically looking for that term (versus the higher-cost ‘orthodontist’-term more people are likely to search). When prospective patients click on an ad with the keyword ‘Beaverton orthodontist’, they will find your orthodontist website.

They may book an appointment, which is obviously what you’d want. According to Wordstream, roughly 1 out of 10 searchers will do exactly that. But that’s assuming your website does an excellent job of converting these searchers or ‘browsers’ into patients. If that’s the case, then each customer would cost $65.00 to acquire (if ten people click ($6.50 X 10 = $65) and 9 of 10 leave that means 1 in 10 books an appointment). More likely, according to Mad Lemming, 1 in 50 people who click your ad will book, which doubles the cost of acquisition.

Now, Let’s Look at Content Marketing Through SEO

As SEO opportunists have evolved, so too have search engines’ standards for high-quality content. With well-publicized algorithm updates like Google Penguin, search engines have taken aim at low/poor quality (aka spammy) content. This means it’s important that businesses publish only the highest-quality, highest-value content they can produce for their blogs or websites.

Goodbye to the Old Days of SEO – An Example

Gone are the days when the orthodontist in the above example could mention ‘Beaverton orthodontist’ twenty times in a 200-word blog post to have the website listed first in Google’s search results for that keyword. (Note: while keyword density remains crucial, search engines consider too high a density as spam.)

Concerning SEO quality, if a post by the ‘Beaverton orthodontist’ is mentioned by another high-authority site like the American Orthodontists Association, the orthodontist’s website would also achieve a higher authority level. In the past, any site, regardless of its relevance or quality, could link to the orthodontist’s site, and that would have had a positive impact on its visibility in the search engine results (now, it’s all about quality).

Building True Value Online

With the focus on quality to ensure high ‘natural’ rankings in search engines, a lot of businesses might opt exclusively for SEM to produces quick and immediate traffic—but let’s take a look at the costs.

Costs of Content (SEO) versus Ads (SEM)

In addition to the long-term benefits of producing high quality, valuable content for your site, the SEO-through-content route is considerably cheaper—and last longer.

SEO Provides Forever; SEM Costs Forever

Consider the Beaverton orthodontist’s example again. Here, customer acquisition through SEM costs between $65 in a best-case estimate (WordStream) and $325 in a worst-case estimate (Mad Lemming). By comparison, content for an SEO-optimized post might cost $100-150 through a writing service like WritingBunny.

A SEM campaign can end (or cost in perpetuity), while the cost of a blog post is a one-time expense. By building authority, your website can generate no-cost traffic through search engine results that rank your posts high. The corresponding traffic can produce an unlimited amount of patients for our orthodontist at the cost of $100-150 for someone else to produce it. The SEM alternative would cost $65-325 per patient.

Whether paying for content (or generating it yourself) as part of a longer-term SEO strategy or opting for a SEM strategy, keywords are instrumental in steering ideal prospects to your website.

Importance of Keywords

Since keywords determine traffic levels, understanding keywords is extremely important when planning copy for ads or content for SEO.

Suppose the orthodontist in our example is targeting ‘Invisalign’ as a keyword. According to Google Adwords, the cost to advertise ‘Invisalign’ is $8.25, a highly competitive keyword. However, most potential clients searching online will likely be more interested in things like ‘cost of Invisalign’ ($6.89 with Medium competition) or ‘invisible braces for kids’ ($6.10 with Medium competition).

Specific keywords like those shown above are important; they ensure relevancy when someone clicks on the ad.

When creating content for SEO, you have a little more leeway: you can use longer keywords. In the examples above, ‘Beaverton orthodontics’ has low competition but would cost $8.38 to advertise. Combining this keyword with ‘invisible braces for kids’ offers the greatest value. It not only allows a focus on ‘Beaverton orthodontics’ but on ‘invisible braces for kids’ as well.

In a SEM strategy, you would have to pay for each keyword; using them both in your SEO content means you may rank for both.

Long Tail Keywords

A term like ‘Where to find invisible braces for kids in Beaverton’ is what is known a long tail keyword. By definition, a long tail keyword consists of three or more keywords and is very specific to what a person might search for online. To put that into perspective, consider that someone searching for ‘Invisalign’ is likely looking for general information about the product. Comparatively, someone searching for a ‘Beaverton orthodontist who installs invisible braces for kids’ is probably ready to make a purchase.

Remember: Google and other search engines rank relevant and quality content higher than spammy, or black-hat content (more on this below). So, it’s important to use your keywords where they are relevant to the person initiating the search.

Summary on Keywords

In order of importance, include your keywords:

1) In the title (e.g. Beaverton Orthodontist Installs Invisible Braces on Kids)
2) In the metadata (e.g. Joe Smith, DDS, talks about Invisalign… learn more in his latest post: Beaverton Orthodontist Installs Invisible Braces on Kids)
3) In content (heading and general paragraphs—e.g. allow the keywords to flow naturally within the content body)
4) In tags

Most content management systems (CMS) like WordPress make this task simple, especially when using the premium version of an SEO plugin like Yoast SEO.  Typically, your targeted keyword should appear roughly three times in the content of your relevant post. Anything more than that, and your site could be seen as spammy or employing black hat tactics.

What is Black Hat SEO

Black Hat SEO tactics use aggressive strategies. These strategies take advantage of vulnerabilities in the search engine’s algorithm. They allow lower quality (and lower authority) websites rank higher in search results.

Avoid Black Hat SEO Tactics

Fifteen years ago, a search for high-paying keywords would have yielded plenty of terrible as well as irrelevant content. As the online searcher, you had to click through to the fifth page or so for valuable, authoritative, and quality content. Alternatively, you might have clicked one or more of the ads on the highest-ranking site to reach your ultimate destination.

Today, search engines are getting ahead of black hat tactics. As noted, Google’s Penguin employs real-time updating and penalizes sites that use questionable strategies.

Anti-Black Hat Suggestions When Creating Your Content

To ensure your website and its contents stays in the white, you should avoid things like:

  • keyword stuffing (adding your keyword to irrelevant parts of your content)
  • over-usage of keywords (limit the density to 2-2.5%)
  • questionable backlink schemes (a backlink is where another, often unrelated website will link to yours and try to help you rank for a keyword)

As search engines discover these strategies, they penalize offending sites with poor rankings.

Sometimes, they delist sites from their results altogether… and that is extremely hard to bounce back from.

SEO in Real Life

Publishing a single SEO-optimized piece of content on your website will yield negligible results. Why? Like real-life authority, online authority takes time. A Ph.D. dissertation isn’t written in one night, or even a month. The content that goes into a dissertation (or an orthodontist’s knowledge and experience base) requires plenty of time.

Search engines are no different. As you deploy your content strategy, you will build your website’s content ‘library’. The Beaverton orthodontist will publish all types of content about ‘braces for kids’ – Invisalign, Invisible Braces, Oral Care for Braces, Cost of Braces, etc. There could be hundreds of articles/posts about braces.

But the orthodontist knows more than just about braces. He or she will know about prevention, structural problems in teeth, common expenses paid by (and declined by) insurance companies, jaw misalignment, general dentistry and so forth. All of that knowledge, when structured with SEO in mind and published to a website or blog, doesn’t only build a high-quality site— it establishes the orthodontist’s ongoing authority within the search engines.

Consistency with SEO

Publishing all possible content at once is an aggressive strategy that borders on black hat. Let’s say you have one hundred posts of 300 to 700 words. Rather than publishing them all at once, a consistent drip-feed strategy would see the content introduced to the web regularly over the course of three to nine months.

What’s equally important is generating content to be regularly published after that. One hundred posts over twenty weeks equal five posts per week. Reducing to one post after that might be insufficient; three posts might work best for the next three to nine months, and then reducing to once-per-week after that.

Tip: Use an Editorial Calendar

Using an editorial calendar to strategically deploy content is helpful. It ensures the right content gets delivered when it should. It also allows for strategic adjustments should the content strategy change (e.g. publishing a timely post about a new orthodontic product should take precedence over one about proper flossing for kids with braces as it can establish the orthodontist as an expert within the search engine results).

Remember: Search Engines Serve Real Humans

An appropriate content marketing strategy might encompass both SEM and SEO, but at the end of each search is a human being. Natural-language communication through advertisements or posts not only ensures better traffic to your site but better placement for ads and better rankings for your content and website. Avoid black hat strategies that discount this truth.

In Summary

Remember that building an online presence through a website involves proper content marketing, even if SEM is part of your strategy. As a business owner, like our orthodontist in the example, you provide value, demonstrate authority/expertise, and generate sales every day in the face-to-face world. Through your website’s content, you can and will achieve the same thing online.

Even though content costs (either time or money), it builds your business’s reputation and authority. It provides quality information to prospects and brand ambassadors. It also helps you deliver support to existing customers, something a SEM strategy is unlikely to do.

Lastly, content delivery isn’t an ‘information dump’. It needs to be delivered methodically to achieve the best results. Just as expert writers can help create content, tools exist to ensure that content’s compliance with SEO rules, as well as scheduling it for delivery in a timely and regular manner.