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Search Engine Marketing (SEM) encompasses all strategies that involve promoting a Web site in the search engine rankings. The higher your website is in the rankings, the more visitors you will receive, and the more sales you’ll make. Because the majority of shopping is now done online, you can’t afford not to have an online sales channel for your business. SEM includes Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which involves optimizing the code and layout of your website to cater to search engines. In other words, if search engines understand your website, they will be more likely to index its pages. Your pages must be “indexed” by search engines before they can appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). When you do a search in Google, for example, the results page listing the links corresponding to your search is called a SERP (see the image to the right for an example).
What Is the Goal of SEM?
The goal of SEM is two-fold. One, to find out what people are searching for in your industry, and two, to optimize your website so that your pages are ranked as highly as possible for these searches. For example, if 3,600 people per month search for “seo tips” (plural), but only 30 people search for “seo tip” (singular), you want to optimize your page for the plural version.
Note: some search engines don’t distinguish between singular and plural. But since the top three (Google, Yahoo, and MSN), which make up more than 95% of the market, do, we’ll focus our examples on distinguishing between the two.
Never Neglect Your Visitors!
One thing that I’d like to point out now and that I’ll point out again and again is that while you get more involved in search marketing and various search optimizations, you should keep one rule in mind at all times. That is, to never neglect your visitors in favor of search engines. In other words, when making changes to your website, do so with your visitor in mind. Don’t make changes simply because you think the search engines will like them. The search engines change their algorithms so often that changes made purely to appease the search engines tend only have short-term benefits.
What does this mean exactly? Some SEO enthusiasts will get so caught up in search engine optimizing and marketing their site that they end up catering more to the search engines (machines), instead of the human beings they’re doing this all for to begin with. Bottom line is – when you’re deciding on whether or not to use or engage in a particular search optimization, always ask yourself first how this will affect your visitors experience on your website. After all, the search engines were built to help users find things, and ultimately they will be catering to the user as well. So it’s in your best long-term interest, not only for your users, but for your search campaign as well, to cater first to your users, and second to search engines.
You’ll run into plenty of SEO’ers that will advise you otherwise, and there’s a whole branch of SEO called black hat that do nothing but try and reverse engineer and manipulate the search engines into giving them higher rankings. While this works in certain industries, it’s a short-term strategy that in my opinion should only be used to hedge against a drop in traffic to your white hat (natural, user-centric content marketing) strategies.
Next up: How Do Search Engines Find my Website?
The next article in our SEO 101 series addresses the question – How do search engines find my website? You’ll get a basic understanding of how your site is represented on the Internet and how search engines crawl the Web and index (find and store the pages for others to find) your site. After that we’ll delve deeper into SEO and how you can optimize your own website.