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Small Business Academy: Getting sharp with SEO and SEM

Small Business Academy: Getting sharp with SEO and SEM

When was the last time you used a search engine? Chances are good it was within the last hour. We do very little without using that fantastic and useful tool. The same is true of your customers, which is what makes the search engine so critical to your business success. Let’s look at some of the basics of using search engines to market your business.

What is the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

At the core, SEM costs money in order for your website to appear in the search results whereas SEO doesn’t.

SEO is also known as organic search and it is the art and science of making your website as discoverable as possible in organic search results through the use of HTML tags in the code of your website and unique written content on each page. The search engines crawl your website looking at both the written content and the code to determine what terms and phrases (keywords) are relevant for each page of your website and then determine where you will appear in the search results as compared to other pages about the same content. With SEO the control of which keywords and where you rank for those keywords is in the hands of the search engine.

As a business, the costs for optimizing your website through SEO may or may not include paying an SEO expert to audit your site to provide you with recommendations and adjustments to help the search engines improve your site discoverability and indexability. You might also study up on the subject yourself and become your own SEO expert. There is a lot of material available on the topic and it’s not rocket science; with some focused attention, you can learn all you need to know about SEO.

SEM is known by several names including paid search and pay-per-click (PPC); but no matter what you call it, the concept is the same, your business chooses which keywords you want your website to appear for and can create the listing that appears in the paid section of the search results. With SEM you are always in control. You choose which keywords you want your ads to appear for in the search results, how much you are willing to pay per click for each individual keyword, which page on your website you want the traffic to go to, and what your ad copy says all the way down to the exact amount of budget you want to spend on a daily to monthly basis.

As a business, you choose exactly how much money you want to spend for SEM, and the good news is that you can participate in SEM with a budget as small as $50 per month.

Should I participate in both SEO and SEO?

Many businesses will both SEO and SEM together to show up in the top search results. If your business isn’t appearing for the most important keywords for your business then I’d recommend using SEM so that your customers can find your website. Remember, you don’t have to break the bank and spend hundreds to thousands of dollars per month for your business to appear in the paid search results.

What are the top three things I need to know for SEO?

    1. First off, make sure you have unique content on each page of your website. Write the content on your site for your customers, not the search engines. Think of SEO as the infrastructure and the backbone that allows the search engines to understand your business, but the search engines alone isn’t your target audience, your customers are! By providing clear, deep and easy to understand content on your website, a search engine is more likely to index and show your site in search results. Your content should be easy to navigate, rich and engaging to the visitor, and provide them the information they seek. Also, don’t forget to make sure that your website is mobile friendly.


If you are a local business make sure that you include content about your city and neighborhood so that your pages rank for local searches, there will be fewer pages competing to appear for local searches. Here’s an example of how many web pages are competing for generic versus local search terms and why you might want to show for local searches:

  • 94.6M web pages are competing to rank for “dentists”
  • 16.3M web pages are competing to rank for “Texas dentists”
  • 1.2M web pages are competing to rank for “dentists in Allen TX”
  • 200K web pages are competing to rank for “Allen TX dentists”
    1. Make sure your website is SEO friendly: Good website design is friendly to the user meaning that it is intuitive and easy to navigate and uses the HTML code on the back-end to let the search engines crawl and understand your website. At a bare minimum each page needs to have uniquely written HTML tags for Meta Title and Meta Description. The Meta title tag is what appears as the blue hyperlink on each search results page and is like a headline that entices a searcher to click through to your website. It should be between 35 and 65 characters long. The description is the text that appears in the search results below the title to let the user know what content the page is about and it should be between 65 and 160 characters long.Also make sure that you have a page specifically about your business and include what’s called local citation information. In laymans terms you want to have an “About Us” page that includes your N.A.P:
    • Business Name (This is the name that consumers know you by, or your DBA “Doing Business As” name if you use a separate name for tax purposes
    • Physical Address
    • Local Phone Number

  While it’s not required, it’s also a best practice to include your Business Hours and either a map or directions to help customers find your business!

    1. Last, make sure that you’ve claimed your local listings and that your local citations are up-to-date and correct. When you claim your listing it provides the search engine with correct local citation data, which helps your website appear for local searches with the correct information and it also puts your business on the maps of the search engines. Even if you have a brand new business you’ll want to claim your listings to make sure that you have access to the information and can keep it up to date in case anything changes. These services are free At a bare minimum make sure you’ve claimed your business on:

Industry-specific business listings sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Yext and Yellowpages

Moz Local is a free tool you can use to find any existing local citations for your business on the web to make sure that your information is correct. If your business information is incorrect, you now have a list of which sites you need to update so that customers can find you.

If you already have the basics for local covered, i.e. you’ve claimed your listings and all information is correct, you can take your local SEO to the next level and implement SCHEMA mark-up in the HTML on your site. Schema is an additional layer of code that identifies more specific information about your business to provide additional context to the search engines.

What are the top three things I need to know about SEM?

SEM can seem complex and a bit daunting because there are many options that you’ll encounter while setting up and creating your account to advertise on the search engines, but don’t worry, both Bing and Google have in-depth help and how-to-guides designed to get businesses like yours up and running paid search ads quickly. What do you need to know? First off,  advertising on the top two search engines, Bing and Google will get your business reach to over 90% of the U.S. search audience. While you will have to set-up two unique advertising accounts, they are structured very similarly and there are features that will allow you to essentially copy and paste your paid search campaigns from Google into Bing to make it easier to advertise on both. To get started the basics will take you a long way:

  1. Choose relevant keywords! When you hear a search marketer talk about keywords what they mean are the words that that people will use to find your business. You don’t need to advertise on hundreds to thousands of keywords, just make sure you have the basics covered such as:

a. Your business name: For example, ACUO crossfit

b. Your line of business or business type: For example, cross fit, crossfit, high intensity interval training, hiit

c. Your business type + location (city/neighborhood): For example, crossfit Redmond, hiit Redmond, Redmond Willows crossfit gyms

A few things to know about keywords. First, keywords aren’t case sensitive, which means that they’ll match the same regardless of being written in upper or lowercase letters. Second, is that keywords have different match types that control how search terms are matched to the words you’ve selected. The broader your keyword matching, the more traffic that the keyword will be eligible to receive. In most cases you’ll want to select keywords that are either Broad Match Modified (BMM) or Exact Match. Using the broad match type for a keyword makes your ad eligible to be displayed when a search query or other input includes either the individual words in your keyword in any order, or words related to your keyword. Broad match modified keywords have a plus symbol in front of the term and that requires that that term must appear in the search query. Broad match modified provides a little bit more control. Then after you’ve selected your keywords, you’ll want to group like terms and phrases together in what’s called an Ad Group. Each ad group can have its own unique ad copy that will appear in the search results.

  1. Make sure your ad copy is relevant and that you include ad extensions to stand out in the search results.

Each “ad group” or group of keywords can have its own unique ad copy. You want the ad copy be relevant to the keywords within your ad groups, so in the example of words related to crossfit and high intensity interval training (HIIT) you’ll want to break them into two separate ad groups with unique ads for each. You’ll want to have at least 1-2 ads per ad group and you can test new ad copy as often as you’d like. If you have a promotion or a sale you can update your ad copy to reflect the promotion.
In addition, I’d recommend you use ad extensions to provide more information to your customers. Here are the top three ad extensions you should be using for your business:

I. Location extension (Shows your physical address so people can find your business location.)

II. Call extension (Allows users to call you directly via your ad. Make sure you set them to appear only during open hours of your business!)

III. Sitelink extension (provides links to additional pages on your website and you should use it to highlight your key features/products)



  1. Use the location targeting and ad scheduling tools to reach the right searchers.

a. Set your geographic location targeting to your campaign. Don’t accidently waste money by reaching customers who are thousands of miles away. For instance, while “Crossfit Redmond” seems specific to my location my ads could appear for people searching for Redmond Oregon as well as Redmond Washington. By using the location targeting settings I can select to only have my ads appear in Washington state or as a radius from one or many zip codes.

b. Set your ads to appear only during business hours: If you have a small business with set hours, you can schedule your ads to run shortly before your business hours start to the end of your business day. If you use a call extension on your paid search ad, make sure you aren’t paying for customers calling you outside of your business hours by setting “Day Parting Setting.” 


If you get truly bit by the SEM bug, consider taking the Bing Ads Training and Accreditation course. It’s simple and convenient and will help you take your business marketing to a new level.