Search made Simple: Understanding SEO and SEM in 2016


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Using "Search" as part of Digital Marketing efforts is now a given. Every single person in your marketing team, or your agency – regardless of whether they are in media, in advertising, in social media needs to understand the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) – and it has really evolved over the years to where it stands today in 2016.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

SEO is the process of optimizing your web site – and any other owned media) for the purpose of getting better traffic from search engines. An optimized web site is more easily understood by Search engine crawlers, so there are more chances of ranking higher in SERPS (Search Engine Result Pages).

Search engine optimization is a natural and less expensive means of achieving search engine traffic and visitors. It consists of ensuring that 'keywords' have the proper frequency on a page (called keyword density);  that the page title and page Meta tags are also optimized for each page so they reflect not only the site's content but also the desired keywords. SEO is also reliant on incoming links. Ensuring quality inbound links increases page popularity and helps gain traffic to the site.

The idea behind good SEO practise is to ensure that a visitor and the search engines will find a quality site with relevant material when they arrive on a website or a page as a result of a search query. SEO is a long-term commitment with the results being quality traffic from the search engines that honestly, cost nothing. SEO is called Organic Search.

Two kinds of SEO: On Page and Off Page

There are two kinds of of SEO – on-site SEO or on-page SEO, and off-page or off-site SEO. On-Page SEO are guidelines and mechanisms you can apply to your web site, your micro-site or blog so that it’s more search engine friendly. These include the proper use of titles, good descriptions, properly formatted URLs, correct use of H1, H2 (types of headlines and sub-headers) and images (tagging, naming properly, alt-tagging)  and more. 


Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search Engine Marketing is SEM. Today, it is the go-to choice in Search for most marketers, and often practised more commonly than using the power of SEO. SEM is really an advertising campaign, which one pays for. Search engine marketing is about paid ads that are displayed in search results and which guide visitors to a website or microsite, or to specific pages within those websites. With SEM you buy "advertising space" on the search engine results pages. So instead of using SEO to rank higher and get 'organic' traffic you pay to appear in front of the searches.

SEM generated traffic is considered an important source of visits to owned media (traffic) – because it is targeted. People today use search engines to find a solution to a problem, an answer to their question or to learn how to do something. This is called intent – and today, with mobile playing such a huge role in search, intent has become far more important to target audiences. So when someone in the target audience clicks through to a web site from the search results or clicks on an ad, they are more likely to convert. The relevancy of the displayed web sites and ads makes SEM traffic more valuable than any of the other sources. Today, in 2016, programmatic has taken over the world of SEM, where the process is automated (click to see what Programmatic is all about).

SEM is something that brands usually get specialized media agencies to work on. SEM is not as easy as developing an ad and paying for each visitor who clicks on that ad; instead, you pay per person to click through depending on the spot your ad is displayed. SEM specialzed services advise on which ad spot to bid on, what ads work best and how to maximize your marketing dollar. Both SEO and SEM efforts starts with gathering data.

While most brands and agencies today rely heavily on Paid Search or SEM, they tend to forget that in a broader context, Search Engine Marketing per se should assume and inckude SEO efforts – because that is the whole 'marketing' context. But jargon makes the difference and confuses marketing people.

A quick word on Mobile Search

For 2016, this is a hot topic, and today, search is massively mobile. With mobile optimzed search engines, mobile directory searches, mobile discovery, navigation, location and mobile optimized websites and apps, search is increasingly focusing on mobile. Here again, intent is key. Mobile search is all about in-the-moment marketing where a audience need is addressed right away on the handset screen. Being there and being useful requires an understanding of consumer intent and context. The intent signal that search gives and the context signals that mobile can provide (such as location) can help you tailor your answers and experiences precisely for that consumer's micro-moment– according to Google.

Whether its SEO or SEM, whether its mobile or desktop, or an app based referral, the practice of Search in marketing starts with insights. Consumer or customer insights is your first step in digital marketing. And that's the basics. That's Digital Marketing Strategies 101.

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