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Why SEM and SEO are Valuable for Small Businesses

This is the first in a series of articles I’ll be publishing to help small businesses better understand search engine marketing (also called paid search or PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) and how each can help your small business grow and succeed in the digital space.

What Is SEM?

Search engine marketing, known as SEM, is an important foundation of an online business presence. SEM includes paid search (often called PPC) ads that appear on search engine pages and retargeting ads that appear on specific websites. PPC, which stands for pay-per-click, refers to the cost structure of paid search. You pay each time someone clicks on your ad, rather than a set price to run the ad for a specific length of time. This is one way paid search is different from offline advertising. Bing Ads is the service you use to set up and run PPC ads.

What Is SEO?

SEO is another important practice for small businesses. SEO refers to all activities performed to improve your site’s rank in organic search results. This may include onsite changes to content and metadata and offsite work on link building, among other actions. You cannot pay to improve your organic rankings (other than the money you may pay a someone to do SEO work). Bing provides webmaster guidelines for SEO

Can I afford SEM or SEO?

There are many levels to both these practices--there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Whatever your budget, there are ways to improve your chances of ranking well organically and to use paid search. You set your own budget for paid search and spend only as much money as you choose. For SEO, you get out of it what you put in. Even improving one area of your site, such as better on-page content or faster page load time, will boost your chances of ranking well and being found by your audience.

How Will SEM Help Me?

SEM supports both early and late stages of the customer journey--the first and last interactions a shopper has with your brand before becoming a customer. Imagine you run a specialty hat shop. Someone shopping for a trilby fedora might start by entering the word “trilby” in a search engine and looking through the results. If you have an ad for this keyword that shows up, they may click on it to see your product offerings even without knowing about your brand. Now consider that the same shopper has heard of your company from social media, a friend, or research into hat brands conducted on non-branded websites. They are ready to purchase a trilby, they see an ad for your site, and they end up on your product page.

How Will SEO Help Me?

In doing SEO, you’ll improve technical aspects of your website as well as on-site content, which will help search engines find and understand the information you want to share. Let’s use the same example. Your hat shop has two locations in two West coast cities and sells online. Useful on-site content, the mainstay of SEO, can help build awareness of your brand and send people to your online shop when they search for keywords and phrases related to your products. Strong metadata and internal linking, two other primary SEO elements, help make your site more understandable to Bing and therefore to shoppers.

But what about those physical locations? You’ll want to use Bing Places for Business to claim your local listing. There are also a number of on-page optimizations you can do to make sure your location shows up when people search for hat shops in a specific city.

What Do I Need for SEM or SEO?

The requirements for each are the same: You need a website. That’s it. Many SEO techniques involve improving pages on your website by offering robust and useful content, improving internal linking, reducing page load time, and other actions. Spending money in PPC requires that you have somewhere to send people who click on your ads. Ideally, you’d send them to landing pages created for specific ads, but you can also send them to the home page, product pages, or category pages on your site. And, the more you know about the words people use to search for your product or service, the more precise you can be with both SEM and SEO.


Both SEM/PPC and SEO will help you get your site in front of potential customers at various stages of the customer journey. You can do each one with budgets of any size, but you need to have a complete website in order to make the most of these practices.

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