SEO Vs SEM — What’s the Difference?

SEO Vs SEM — What’s the Difference?

If you’re a small business owner with little digital marketing experience trying to figure out the ins and outs of search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), you’re not alone. It can be very confusing, especially given that the two terms are often used interchangeably. Although the two terms are related, they are in fact different, and here’s how.

Search Engine Optimization

First and foremost, SEO is one of many components that make up the larger category of SEM. SEO’s primary function is to improve a website’s exposure within search engine results. This subsequently helps bring organic and free traffic to your website. The focus of SEO is creating valuable, high-quality content relating to your business which can then be considered relevant to searchers by the search engine itself.

SEO is comprised of two distinct pillars, on-site and off-site. On-site is everything within your own website including:

  • Keywords, title tags, meta descriptions, images, headings, etc.
  • Blog posts and page copy with high-quality content
  • Well formatted URLs
  • Fast page load speed
  • Social media links for sharing content

Off-site SEO refers to actions that happen externally from your site that influence your ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). This encompasses:

  • Building backlinks (links created when another reputable website links to yours)
  • Guest blogging
  • Social media sharing and marketing

Google’s search algorithm is constantly changing, so if you’re serious about an SEO strategy, it’s crucial to understand and monitor these changes. It’s also important to understand that SEO tactics do not yield immediate results, but when utilized correctly over time, they can provide loads of free traffic and result in numerous additional benefits.

Search Engine Marketing

By definition, SEM is, “a form of Internet marketing that involved the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in SERPs through optimization and advertising.” SEM utilizes paid search listings and advertisements. SEM, unlike SEO, provides fast results by giving quick, relevant exposure to your chosen website or individual web page.

Here are some popular practices for optimizing your money within a paid search campaign.

  • Keyword Research
    Keywords are the main component of SEM, as they are what users put into search engines to find something. Before you spend any money, it’s wise to conduct keyword research to find out what your customers are looking for to find your product or service. There are several free keyword tools available if you’re unsure of where to start.
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Campaigns
    These campaigns are highly targeted, so you’ll want to complete extensive keyword research prior to purchasing. Once you’ve chosen the keywords that are most relevant to your business, you can then purchase ads on the SERPs where those keywords would fall. With PPC campaigns, advertisers pay a fee each time an ad is clicked. Popular platforms for this practice include, Google AdsWords, Bing Ads and Yahoo Search Ads.
  • Geo-Targeting
    This practice involves delivering specific content or ads to a website user based on their geographic location. Geo-targeting is meant to target local consumers, so it’s a great strategy for small businesses to utilize.
Free Report: Understanding the Local Path-to-Purchase

Free Report: Understanding the Local Path-to-Purchase

Consumer behaviors vary based on the type of purchase they are making. For this reason, it is critical for small businesses to understand how consumers typically search for and find businesses in that industry. For instance, many may rely on ratings and reviews for selecting a place to eat but rely on referrals for selecting a roofer. The journey for any given purchase is unique and small businesses need to understand their customers.

Overall, digital media has transformed how consumers find these businesses. The path-to-purchase has shifted drastically in the last few years. Things like online reviews, mobile websites and apps are now regularly consulted prior to making purchases, both large and small.

Marketing dollars are generally hard to come by for small businesses, so making the most of investments is always a top priority. The better you understand your consumer base, the further those dollars can be stretched on the tactics that will actually work within your particular industry.

A recent Local Search Association (LSA) survey of over 8,000 US consumers, explored which marketing channels consumers are using to help make buying decisions. The report looks specifically at the variation between eight business categories. The study also highlights purchase details and buying profiles within the business category.

The categories featured include:

  • Attorneys/Lawyers
  • Dentists
  • Plumbing Contractors
  • Auto Dealer (New & Used)
  • Real Estate
  • Financial Services
  • Computer Service & Repair
  • Air Conditioning Service & Repair

Click here to download the report.

4 Reasons You May Not See Your Small Business Website When You Search Online

4 Reasons You May Not See Your Small Business Website When You Search Online

When you work with as many small businesses as Hibu, you hear a lot of the same reasons for needing a new website:

  • Your site looks old
  • Your site doesn’t have the functionality you need today
  • You can’t find your site online

Or maybe your friends and family say they can’t find it…and then you start thinking that your customers can’t find it either.

But if you’re not #1 on Google, don’t panic just yet. Here are four ways to see if your business is exactly where it should be online – even if you don’t recognize it right away.

1.) Search Smarter

Chances are, you’re just searching for your business name. Try searching for your business name and your city or zip code.

Even though search engines often return local results based on your location these days, it doesn’t hurt to get more specific — and there’s a good chance that’s what your customers will do too.

And if you’re just searching for what you do — like “landscaping” or “family dentist” — you probably have a lot more online competition than you think (more on that below).

2.) Look Deeper

You’re probably expecting to find your website,, when you search for your business name. But pay attention to everything else that shows up for your business:

  • Map / Local listings
  • Online directory listings
  • Online reviews sites
  • Social profiles (and sometimes even individual posts)
  • Paid ads (which can actually drive more traffic to your website by building brand awareness and consumer confidence)

Of course you want to find your website, but your customers might not be so picky. If they’re looking for basic info like your phone number or hours, or checking to see what other local customers are saying about you, these other results may deserve more of your attention (and get more of theirs).

And if these other listings for your business aren’t ones you created, make sure you have a plan to take control of them and correct any wrong information. The wrong phone number on Google or the wrong address on Apple Maps can mean the wrong results for your business.

3.) Check Out Your Competition

Search results are a mix of organic vs. paid results and local vs. regional (or national) results. You may know that there are only five other landscapers in town, but search for “landscaper & your area” and see for yourself how many results Google serves up:

That’s a lot more than five.

With this much competition, you need to make sure ALL the search results for your business (like the map and directory listings above) are up to date — and you need a plan to reach your customers elsewhere too (like on social media).

4.) Upgrade Your Website

Search engines look at thousands of factors when it comes to indexing (or recognizing) your website, determining its relevance, and deciding when to serve it up, but if your site isn’t built to be “search engine friendly,” you and your customers are going to have a hard time finding it. Period.

So do a quick check to make sure your site is playing by “Google’s rules” today:

  • Is your site mobile friendly?
  • Is your site secure (using HTTPS)?
    • This is especially important in Chrome (the most popular browser — and the default browser on most Android phones and tablets)
  • Have you optimized your On-Page and Off-Page SEO?
    • Is your metadata complete (especially your page titles)?
    • Do you have pages about each service, product or topic you’d like to be found for?
    • Are your pages filled with recent, useful, unique content?

Make sure you have a business website that gets seen drives visits builds your business.

At the end of the day, you need a site that makes your phone ring, fills your inbox with interested inquiries or brings customers through the door.

Finding your site when you Google yourself feels great — but what works great for your business is a site that turns your visitors into customers — no matter how they find you.

Webinar Recap: 5 Fundamental SEO Tactics for Small Businesses

Webinar Recap: 5 Fundamental SEO Tactics for Small Businesses

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become a crucial element in a small business’s digital marketing plan. A solid SEO strategy can provide numerous benefits, including higher rankings in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), increased website traffic, building brand awareness and outshining your competitors within your industry.

In a recent MarketingBitz webinar, Lance Bachmann, President and CEO of 1SEO, discussed five SEO best practices for small businesses and the benefits that each will provide. Here are the tactics mentioned:

1. Google My Business (GMB)

GMB pages are where small businesses get seen by potential customers following a Google search. They are an extension of your website and should be fully optimized with accurate business information, including quality images, contact information and product and service offerings.

2. Link Building

Link building, or ‘earning,’ means gaining links to your website content from reputable outside sources. To do this, small businesses must produce quality, shareable content with keyword-centric anchor text. This practice helps improve your reputation as a reputable source within your industry, as it is one of the number one ranking factors.

3. On-Page Optimization

This tactic involves optimizing web pages to perform for targeted keywords by creating relevant title tags and meta descriptions. Optimizing is crucial for Google’s algorithms and ensuring visibility of your small business, as it alerts search engines to what keywords and phrases your businesses should be found for.

4. Claiming and Verifying Listings

It’s important for small businesses to find and verify all online listings (Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.). This will ensure that all of your contact information is accurate, which can subsequently help improve your search engine rankings. Remember, if you don’t verify a listing, you don’t own it.

5. Online Reviews and Ratings

Online reviews impact over 67% of purchasing decisions, so obtaining positive online reviews can only help your business. Simply asking for reviews or sending out a survey following a purchase can go along way with customers.

5 Ways Video Marketing can Improve Your Small Business

5 Ways Video Marketing can Improve Your Small Business

There are so many different marketing strategies out there, it can be difficult for small businesses to determine which ones make the most sense for them and which are going to provide the best ROI. It’s important to pay close attention to developing trends so that you’re educated on the most current methods and strategies.

A somewhat new, but fast-growing tactic, video marketing provides an avenue for small businesses looking to increase sales, online presence and customer engagement. According to Syndacast, 52% of marketing professionals worldwide name video as the type of content with the best ROI. Additionally, almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before visiting a store. As the data shows, there are many benefits to incorporating video marketing into your budget. Here are just a few of them.

1.) Educate customers on both your product and service offerings and tell your story.
Visual content, like video, provides a much more compelling experience than written content. Instead of writing about your products and services, show customers how they work in action through product demos. If you’re introducing a new product, use video to show customers how it works and what benefits it will provide. According to an infographic published by MultiVisionDigital, 64% of users are more likely to buy a product online after watching a video.

Video can also help you ‘humanize’ your business if you provide consumers with a relatable story. Creating a video that tells how your business came to be and shares the details of what you do is a great way to introduce people to your company and provides them with a more intimate experience. This is a great opportunity to build your brand by showing your company’s culture and what sets you apart from other businesses like yours.

2.) Engage with the mobile audience.
Creating video that’s mobile-optimized is crucial in a time where over 90% of consumers watch videos on their mobile. In doing this, you’ll not only be showcasing to potential customers certain aspects of your business, but you’re also showing them that you pay attention to trends and care about their experience when they visit your site. According to Google, 53% of smartphone users feel more favorable towards companies whose mobile sites or apps provide instructional video content. Having mobile-optimized videos can ultimately lead to an increase in consumer’s trust of your business and, subsequently, sales.

3.) Increase your Google search ranking.
One of the best parts about adding video to your marketing plan is the benefits it can provide in other areas of your web presence. Video increases the time spent by users on your website. This increase alerts Google that your site has quality content, which can lead to higher ranking in searches. Given that Google owns YouTube, You’re 53 times more likely to show up on page 1 of Google if you have a video embedded on your website. However, it’s not enough to simply have video. Make sure that your titles, descriptions and tags are creative and highlight the content within the video. It also helps to add backlinks so that interested customers can easily find their way to your website.

4.) Improve your click-through rate in emails.
Featuring videos in your emails can improve them in numerous ways. By embedding a video in your email, it increases the open rates by 5.6% and click-through rates by 96%. Video tracking can also help determine what kinds of content should be present in your emails, as it allows you to see how users interacted with the video (opens, replays, etc.). These videos need not be long or super informative, they can feature a simple message highlighting an upcoming sale or promotion, or even thanking your customers for their business.

5.) Reach a wide variety of customers.
Most everyone enjoys videos, in fact, one-third of online activity is spent watching them. Unlike social channels which are generally used most often by a certain age group, video allows you to reach all of your target audience regardless of demographics. Videos provide small businesses with a means to deliver information in a quick, personalized manner. And the more creative you get with your messaging, the more likely it is that your videos will be shared by users from all different demographics.

For small businesses looking to change up their marketing plan, utilize creativity and improve their online visibility, video marketing is a great route to pursue.

Small Business Marketing Dos & Don’ts:  Email Marketing

Small Business Marketing Dos & Don’ts: Email Marketing

Working at the Local Search Association has allowed me the privilege of meeting and working with some of the best and brightest minds in the marketing and advertising industries. From Fortune 500 companies to startups, this monthly column, “3 Dos and 3 Don’ts,” offers some practical tips for small businesses to improve their marketing efforts.

This week’s topic is Email Marketing.

Dave Charest, Constant Contact

DO: Collect Email Addresses.

Make sure you’re collecting email addresses in all the places potential customers interact with your business. That’s face-to-face interactions, on print materials, and online. Here’s a simple list growth checklist to make sure you’re set up to gather email addresses in every situation.

DON’T: Ask people if they want to join your email list.

Wait, what? I know, I know. But think about it. No one ever wakes up saying, “I can’t wait to get more email today!” So never ask, “Would you like to join our email list?” Instead, emphasize the value someone should expect to receive in exchange for giving you their email address. If you’re unsure what to say, here’s where you can find a simple script on how to ask for email addresses.

Mike Wilson, Zenreach

DO: Leverage Automation.

For the same reasons that small businesses leverage automation and outsourcing for other marketing and advertising services, automation in email marketing is essential for local business owners because doing it effectively is in-and-of-itself a full-time and very specialized activity. Automation is an often over-used and loosely defined term, but the basics for email marketing automation include the automatic scheduling, triggering, tracking and conversion/performance reporting, etc. of messages to your customers. These are the ‘must-haves’ and typically included in most leading, high-quality email marketing platforms and services.

DON’T: Don’t be homogenous.

Research consistently shows that non-personal messages (one size fits all), sent over time, will erode users interest (Business2Community). A user continually presented with generic messages or untargeted offers will increase unsubscribe-rates and lower conversion. Moreover, broad, poorly planned (or impulsively sent) messages frequently annoy users causing them to, at-best, ignore your messages or at-worst send them to spam. In the end, this results in a disservice to their customers and, of potentially greater consequence, wastes time, money and produces poor local advertising ROI for your small business.

Jack Jostes, Ramblin Jackson

DO: Send from a professional email account.

When you’re sending out marketing emails to your clients and/or prospective customers, you’re likely one of dozens of marketing “blasts” they’re getting. Send your emails from an email ending in to make sure people take you seriously and recognize you instantly so you don’t end up in their spam folder. Sending from a professional account will contribute to better open rates, click-thru rates and overall response to your email campaigns.

DON’T: Send from free email accounts.

Don’t send your email marketing content from an email address ending in,,, etc. Sending email from a free email account like makes you look unprofessional. You can’t even afford to pay for email hosting? You must not be serious about your business.

Bonus: Alex Rafter, Square

Do: Send actionable content.

With each email you send, think about the action you want your customers to take when they open it. Include one actionable link (this is commonly referred to as the call to action, or CTA) as the centerpiece of your email. Some examples include “Shop the sale,” or “RSVP here.” Square Customer Engagement has beautiful, ready-to-go templates for promotions, announcements, or event invitations that make it easy to plug in your CTA.

Don’t: flood people’s inboxes.

Think of all the email you get in your personal account — and how quickly it adds up. You want to show your customers’ inboxes the same respect you expect other businesses to show yours. A general rule of thumb is to only send an email when the content is truly engaging and actionable to avoid losing subscribers.