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Resolve to understand search engine marketing in 2016

The new year always marks an opportunity to reflect and resolve, even in business. It’s a great time to improve on something that’s worked in the past or change something that isn’t working as well as originally hoped.

As we head in the first quarter, businesses who actively market their online presence should take the time to look at search engine marketing (SEM). If you’re already doing it, I have a few tips to help you evaluate the results. If you’re just starting, the information below can help you be well-versed when you start the process.

Understand who you are.

What are your company’s defining traits, who is your target audience and how and why would they want to find you? Hopefully you already know this, and if not there are lots of outside providers who can take you through a brand exercise. Barring that, there’s no need to wait. You and your key staff likely know most or all of this if you sit down and put it on paper.

Choose your search engine marketing mix.

There are three primary components for improving your search ranking – search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM) and social media marketing (SMM). The tools and proportions you choose will be based on your goals, and need to be constantly tweaked until you find your sweet spot.

  1. Organic SEO determines how search engines index your website, based on the content of the site itself.  It is an iterative process, often taking days or weeks for changes to show up in search results, and returns on investments aren’t always apparent. In the old days, websites could shoot to the top of searches by being loaded with keywords, but the major search engines have gotten wise and could actually blacklist your site if they think you’re trying to game the system. Putting keywords into titles, URLs and the first paragraph is still helpful, but the best rule of thumb is to provide clear, concise and valuable content. Organic SEO is also affected by how your website is coded – a website that isn’t mobile-friendly or responsive, doesn’t have natural language URLs or is missing appropriate tags in the design may not fare as well, so consider updating your site if necessary.
  2. Pay-per-click, or keyword advertising is what we think of most often when we think of SEM. It’s the easiest channel to evaluate when you know what you want from it. When budgeting for a pay-per-click campaign, you will want to investigate whether the words that you are bidding on are consistent with your target customer.  You should also understand that the more common a search term is, the costlier it will be to rise to the top of the pile. If you’re not planning to spend a million dollars on PPC this year, consider secondary words specific to your industry or geography that have less demand. Monitor results, make adjustments as needed.
  3. Another component of SEM is social media marketing (SMM).  Your approach to SMM will vary, depending on your products or services. For B2B, LinkedIn, video and sometimes Twitter are the most recommended channels. Don’t over-extend yourself – to be successful, each social media outlet is a commitment – that you will regularly post items of interest to your audience, from new products to career opportunities and industry news not directly related to your company. Nothing looks worse than a “stub” social identity. Social media can create a “buzz” around an organization, that may have a broader footprint than other online advertising methods. YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn, especially, also have high search rankings themselves, increasing the odds that content posted there will show up in search.

Your best strategy may be a combination of pay-per-click, organic SEO and SMM. Experiment, but monitor results. Find your best mix and stick with it. It’s one of the best things you can do for your marketing this year.

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Matt McCoy is the co-founder and president of Lanex, an award-winning Milwaukee-based website design, development and hosting company, serving a wide range of industries.

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