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.
How to Optimize Your Google My Business Page

How to Optimize Your Google My Business Page

If you’re a small business owner looking to improve your local SEO strategy, the first step on your list should be claiming and verifying your Google My Business (GMB) listing. In claiming this listing, you’ll increase your chances of being found in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), Google’s Local Pack and Google Maps. The listing is completely free to claim and holds all of your relevant business information like hours of operation, address, phone number and more.

So, after you’ve verified your listing, what should you do to make the most of this free listing? Here are a few tactics.

1.) Fill in your business information completely.

First and foremost, it’s crucial to fill out all of your business information. If you don’t, someone else can, as Google provides a “Suggest an edit” option where anyone can edit or change your listing. Monitoring and updating this information regularly is wise, as users are not notified when changes are made to their listing.

Be sure to add photos, as consumers find visuals appealing and they can subsequently lead to greater engagement. Adding relevant keywords and search phrases to your listing can prove useful as well, as Google utilizes different signals to provide user’s search results.

2.) Utilize all of the available tools.

Google has added a wealth of useful tools to the GMB platform that help small businesses succeed and highlight their best, most unique facets. Some of the available tools include:

Website Developer: The website developer creates a website for your business within minutes using the information pulled from your GMB listing. After choosing a custom domain, users can edit text, photos and other design features from any device. As information on your GMB listing is updated, the information on your site will update as well.

PostsPosts give small businesses the ability to share unique updates and offers in real time. Whether you’re having a big sale, announcing a new product or hosting a special event, use Posts to spread the word and get people excited and engaging. Be sure to use images in your Posts to make them more visually appealing.

Questions & AnswersWith this feature, businesses can post frequently asked and important questions and answers within their GMB listing.

MessagingThis tool allows businesses to communicate directly with customers from their GMB listing. Users can answer questions, provide feedback and connect with customers in real time.

InsightsInsights provide analytical data from your listing. This data can then be used to understand your customers, where they are coming from and what they are looking to find. The data displays customer interactions, including: how customers found your listing, where customers find you on Google, customer actions, direction requests, phone calls and photos.

3.) Manage and respond to customer reviews.

Online reviews can significantly benefit your business in a number of ways. According to a 2017 Consumer Review Survey from BrightLocal, 97% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2017, with 12% looking for a local business online every day.

First, they can help improve your ranking in SERPs, as well as click-through rates. Secondly, they help you stand out against your competitors and build trust with consumers. Responding to reviews, positive or negative, demonstrates your commitment to your customers and that you value their opinion.

The more positive, helpful reviews your GMB listing has, the better. Google encourages asking customers for reviews following a positive experience. They even provide step by step instructions on how businesses can create a direct link for customers to write reviews on your GMB listing. They also provide tips for responding to reviews.

4.) Add a variety of photos and video.

Visuals have become an essential component to digital marketing. Visuals help humanize your brand, educate consumers and gives customers a look into what goes on within your business. According to Google, almost 50% of internet users look for videos related to a product or service prior to visiting a store.

Contrary to popular belief, photos and videos don’t have to be professionally done, they can be taken in the moment with a smartphone. Google allows users to post a 30-second video about their company right on their GMB listing, here are the guidelines:

  • Duration: Up to 30 seconds long
  • File Size: Up to 100 MB
  • Resolution: 720p or higher

5.) Add a business description.

A new component to the GMB dashboard now allows users to provide a brief description of their business directly within their listing. This description is meant to educate consumers on what sets you apart, things like product and service offerings, company history and other unique facets of your business.

This particular description should be exempt of things like promotions, pricing and sales. The character limit is 750, however, only 250 of those show up in the knowledge panel, so be sure to make the most of those first few sentences. Business descriptions should not include any URLs or HTML coding. For more information on how to edit your business description, Google offers easy to follow instructions.

Google also now allows users to turn on alert notifications for when a consumer opts to receive updates when you post new information or media on your listing.

Claiming and optimizing your business’s GMB listing can provide endless opportunities for your small business. And the fact that it’s free is incentive enough to claim it. As new features are added, it’s important to stay updated and utilize them, as they will only help your rankings in SERPs and the local three-pack. It’s important for small businesses to take advantage of this free listing by creating a fully optimized page packed with high-quality content.

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, mylocalbusiness.com, 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.

What to do When Your GMB Listing Contains Photographs That You’d like to Eliminate

What to do When Your GMB Listing Contains Photographs That You’d like to Eliminate

Because Google allows just about anyone to post photographs of businesses on Google My Business (GMB) listings, businesses often run into the common problem of finding unflattering, irrelevant, or inflammatory photos when Googling their own establishment.

Unfortunately, this is a common headache among business owners, as Google’s policy favors consumers to post basically whatever picture they like so long as it doesn’t violate one of Google’s acutely defined parameters.

In this fashion, there are a few approaches you as a business owner or representative can take to ensure that the featured photographs are flattering and help drive consumers to engage with your business.

Try to Report the Undesirable Photos

This can be done from within your GMB dashboard. Don’t have one? You can set up an account here.

You will have to report each photograph one by one, by opening the Photos section of the GMB dashboard, then select the picture by clicking on it. For each photo, click to open it in full screen and click the small white flag icon at the top right corner to start the process (it may alternatively be a three dot icon). Mark them as unrelated to the business or any other available option that you think will be most relevant to the concern. From what we have seen, Google takes a while to review them, and unfortunately is not often sympathetic to businesses when the photos are related to the business, but rather just a poor representation (or even inflammatory).

Post Better Pictures

If reporting the pictures does not work, another strategy is to upload pictures that are higher in quality, so as to leap-frog the undesired photographs, and effectuate your pictures to be prominent. Google values 360° photographs the highest, so hiring an individual or business with a 360° camera (not the same as panorama) to take pictures of your storefront or office is an investment that will help improve your search engine marketing and instill a good, all-valuable, first impression. If you work with an agency, ask them if they have those capabilities or if they work with a trusted partner to produce them. 360° photography businesses are popping up rapidly as businesses are learning about the value that this process can add, so if you don’t have an agency, a quick search for “360 degree photographer near me” will likely produce a convenient vendor.

We recommend this practice even if businesses don’t have undesirable photos to usurp, since the 21st century consumer likes to know what their shopping experience will be like before visiting the physical location. And it’s always best to have better photos than your competition.

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.

Why You Need SEO Help for Your Unique Small Business

Why You Need SEO Help for Your Unique Small Business

You know your craft and understand your customers better than anybody. So why should you trust your future to a SEO company to promote it for you? Aren’t you better off handling all your marketing yourself?

No, you aren’t. Now, let’s look at the reasons why.

You Need Increased Visibility

The demand for handmade, unique, well-crafted items has risen steadily over the last few years. Artisanal and niche businesses are rewriting the rules when it comes to what makes a business viable for the future.

So, why isn’t it easier to find new customers and grow your business? It sounds like people should be clamoring at your doors just to get a sample of your product.

The trouble is that you may be largely invisible to any market outside of your current customer base. Traditional advertising, which is the easiest thing for someone who isn’t familiar with ins-and-outs of SEO to manage, won’t cut through all the visual noise these days — especially if your customers are mostly Millennials. Only 1% of Millennials are influenced by ads. The other 99% of that potential future market simply tunes them out.

The latest research indicates that 97% of people now shop online, even if they buy in the store.

In fact, more than 40% of Americans now do their shopping while lying in bed. To reach the online market, you have to be able to get your message out through multiple platforms:

  • A blog that provides free content related to your product
  • Videos that entertain and educate
  • Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media to help you make connections

Growth is about visibility. Today, visibility means having a strong online presence in all the right places.

You Have Limited Time

Unless you already have some mad SEO skills, it’s not something you can just pick up on the fly. The rules change constantly — which means even the best guides you can find online or in a bookstore can be outdated overnight.

For example, Google dominates the world of search engines. It also continuously updates its methods of ranking pages in order to provide users with a more streamlined experience. Since 2015, there have been four major changes to the algorithms Google uses to rank websites. In 2017, websites streamlined for mobile users suddenly found themselves higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs) than sites that aren’t mobile-friendly.

You can’t dedicate the amount of time it takes to master all of the intricacies of the SEO field and still maintain the same level of dedication to your own business. Nor do you have the time to generate all of the content and maintain all of the social media platforms on your own.

As an owner, you’re probably used to handling things yourself. You may even prefer it that way. However, that’s a disservice to your business and yourself if your efforts aren’t getting the word of your existence out where it needs to go.

Given the amount of work that has to be done, it’s time to delegate a little.

You Can Build Your Brand Identity

If you’re worried about trusting your baby to strangers, don’t be. Part of successful marketing is making sure that you stay in close contact with your marketers. You still retain the ultimate control over your company’s future:

  1. You set the goals. Do you want to see an increase in website traffic? Do you just need to convert more prospects into buyers after they come to your site? You identify the problem that you want the SEO company to address.
  2. You define your brand. Your brand has its own personality, and you have to convey that personality to the marketing company. It’s the marketer’s job to help you make that personality evident to the world, in order to attract your customers. A lot of artisan products have a sophisticated personality that attracts customers with refined tastes. However, if your product is earth-centric and aims to reduce the consumer’s carbon footprint, you may want to convey sincerity instead.
  3. You decide your target market. You already know the type of person who buys your product. Your marketer isn’t going to try to change that unless you want to change that. Your marketer’s goal is just to reach more of those particular people.

Frankly, your marketing company can’t really do an effective job without you. Together, you can build your brand identity and establish credibility with your potential customers. In order to do that, however, an SEO company will need you to provide a lot of guiding information.

The Takeaway

Your work with an SEO company is a collaborative effort. It has to be. You both want to succeed. In this case, the SEO company won’t succeed unless you also succeed because its goals are tied to yours.