In online marketing circles, you often hear people talk about dominating the search engine results for certain keywords. What they’re talking about is search engine marketing (SEM). This is a broad term that includes everything you do to increase your site’s visibility within the search engines, such as Google and Bing.

Many people mistakenly mix up this term with SEO (search engine optimization), but these are two different concepts. SEO is part of SEM, but there’s much more to it. SEM also includes using the search engines’ ad networks and other forms of advertising to target search engine users.

Keyword Research

Your SEM campaign starts with choosing the right search terms. These are keywords and key phrases your target market is using to search for sites like yours. It’s important to choose keywords that are relevant and have a high number of searches per month. You can use an online keyword tool to do this.

Once you’ve chosen your keywords, you optimize your site for them (SEO) and take out ads that target these keywords. Search engine ad networks let you bid on keywords and decide on your budget. They place ads on people’s searches depending on these factors.

Why Place Ads?

SEO offers a way to draw traffic to your site for free or very close to free. Why use SEM and pay for ads? The reason is that ads get you highly targeted traffic quickly. The results are immediate, whereas SEO takes time. It’s a good choice for limited time offers or new sites that either don’t have traffic yet or don’t employ SEO techniques.

SEM also helps you when you want to dominate the search engine results pages (SERPs) for your chosen keywords. By basing your SEM campaign around those keywords, you can make sure that the search engines place you at the top.

Diving Into SEO

SEM is an essential part of any online marketing strategy. If you build a high-quality site and employ no SEM whatsoever, it’s possible to build a strong fan base over the course of several years through other types of promotion, but SEM gets you there much faster.

The main drawback of SEM is that it takes constant attention, maintenance, and talent. Everything changes quickly online. The search engines (and especially Google) update their algorithms constantly, and you have to stay on top of these changes. If you rely too much on search engines for your traffic, one of these changes can seriously impact your business.

Action Steps

  • Keyword Research: Do you know which keywords are the most important to your practice? Are you sure? It’s incredible how many professionals settle on primary keywords that offer little to no traffic or are simply out of reach. Take a break sometime soon to use Google’s Keyword Planner and explore what generic and local keyword variations offer the best value. Unless you’ve done this in depth before, the results should surprise you.
  • SEO Site Audit: Run your practice’s website through at least a couple of SEO site audits and see if you have any low hanging fruit that you can easily fix. If you aren’t sure where to start, the most important on-site SEO element to make sure that you have right is the page title tag for your primary pages. Two decent free audits to try out include Hubspot’s Website Grader and Neil Patel’s Site Analyzer.

Ready for a deeper dive? Explore the resources below!

When you are ready to really dig into this stuff, remember that there’s a real mix of marketing advice out there. Some of it’s awesome, some of it’s half-baked, lots of it is outdated, and a whole lot of it is designed to help sell products, not professionals services.

We’ve filtered through the best of what is available to provide you with actionable advice in our Deep Dive recommendations that are from the most trusted resources and are designed specifically to promote professional services like yours.

Beginner’s Guide to SEO

When it comes to finding the right SEO strategies for your business, it’s important to understand that there is something of an echo chamber out there where a lot of questionable and dated marketing advice gets shared without much knowledge or testing behind it.

If you are new to SEO or have struggled to get good results, do yourself a favor and spend some time with Moz’s super thorough Beginner’s Guide to SEO. It offers an excellent explanation of every aspect of what you need to be successful in this area.

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