Running a small business can feel a lot like trying to juggle chainsaws. Between trying to handle customer service, accounting, product development and all the other responsibilities associated with company ownership, the risk of letting just one priority drop can seem disastrous.

Unfortunately, despite all this hustling, too many small business owners let another critical element for their current and future operations fall through the cracks: their digital marketing.

According to the 2018 Telstra Small Business Intelligence Report, which surveyed more than 1000 small and medium enterprises and more than 1000 consumers across Australia, “62% of customers will stop considering a small business if they can’t find information about it online.” Further, the survey found that “83% of customers believe using search engines is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ when finding a business.”

Yet, despite these trends, Telstra’s research data revealed that only half of the organisations surveyed have websites. Even fewer are investing in them. According to their final report:

  • Only 26% of small business owners say they are using SEO tactics to reach more customers on platforms such as Google and Bing.
  • More than half of the businesses surveyed said they do not intend to use SEO tactics.
  • 72% said search engine marketing (SEM) does not currently form part of their plans.

To some degree, this reticence is understandable. If you don’t know what you’re doing, the idea of implementing SEO or SEM can seem daunting. But if you don’t do it, you risk missing opportunities to connect with the customers who need your products and services – not to mention falling behind your web-savvy competitors.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide on creating an SEO and SEM game plan. Use the tips below to figure out how and when to invest in these digital marketing strategies in a way that’s appropriate for your business.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for “search engine optimisation,” and refers to activities undertaken to improve the position of a website in the organic search rankings. Typically, when people talk about SEO, they’re referring to optimising their Google search performance, though SEO can be carried out on any search engine.

If you’ve ever used Google to search, you already know that entering a search query returns a number of different results types – as seen in the sample results page below for the keyword “best house cleaning service Sydney.”

At the top, there’s a paid result, as indicated by the “Ad” tag. After that comes a 3-pack of local results, and then the organic results below that. Having your business appear in any one of these locations is critical. As Impact’s Ramona Sukhraj notes, “websites that are on top grab 36.4% of the traffic which is missed by lower order websites.”

Businesses use SEO to increase their odds of ranking in the local and organic results (results displayed in the top ads section are – you guessed it – paid for). Common SEO practices can be broken down into two categories: activities undertaken on your website and off it.

On-Site SEO

On-site SEO takes a number of different forms:

  • Making sure your site’s structure is accessible and easily understood by search engines
  • Incorporating target keyword phrases into key pages to help the search engines understand what you do and how your site should be ranked in the results
  • Optimising your site’s speed
  • Adding content to take advantage of new natural language processing features added by the search engines
  • Improving the content of your website so that visitors spend more time on your pages (and so that the search engines will view it as being higher quality)

Off-Site SEO

Conversely, off-site SEO involves taking actions outside of your site in order to improve your rankings. Typically, this means encouraging other websites to link to yours, as the number and quality of external links pointing at your pages is seen as a proxy quality measurement by most search engines (though it’s only one of several hundred total ranking factors).

What is SEM?

SEM stands for “search engine marketing.” While it technically encompasses SEO as well, most people refer to SEM primarily in the context of paid advertisements. These paid ads may exist as search ads – as pictured above – but they may also occur on social media networks, in mobile apps, as contextual banner ads or in a number of other places and formats.

What your business pays for ads will depend on several factors, including:

  • Where you’re advertising
  • How competitive the keywords or display placements you’re bidding on are
  • The relative quality of your landing page

It’s important to note that paid ads often come with a learning curve. It can take several months to determine the optimal combination of ad format, placement, copy and visual messaging to be successful. Your business must be prepared to invest long enough to overcome these challenges and reach profitability.

How Should Your Small Business Invest?

While this general information about SEO and SEM should give you a baseline understanding of the marketing opportunities available to your small business, it still leaves one major question: what the heck should you do with it?

Do you start by dedicating all of your free time to SEO? Go all-in with paid ads? Give up and outsource the whole thing to a company like Windsorborn?

We hope the following questions will help you come up with the game plan that’s right for your company.

What have you done so far?

No conversation about digital marketing game plans is complete without some understanding of what you’ve done up to this point. So start by analysing your existing website and digital marketing campaigns. Have you done any SEO work (or did the company that originally built your website)? Have you experimented with paid ads yet, so that you have some data on what works and doesn’t for your business?

If you’re starting completely fresh, it’s a good idea to begin with a structural website analysis that ensures your site is accessible to both visitors and search engines. Both SEO and SEM require that your site is structured appropriately; don’t bother investing in either until you’re confident your site is ready for them.

Once these basics are handled, consider taking any or all of the following steps, based on your current campaign status:

  •  Add analytics tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console to your site. Use these tools to find your top website pages, as well as the search queries for which you’re receiving some organic traffic. Change the keywords on your website or add keyword-rich content to increase your odds of ranking further.
  • Claim and complete your profiles in different business directories. The more directory citations you have and the more complete they are, the greater your odds of ranking become.
  • Conduct a post-mortem on your past paid ad campaigns. What worked for your company? What didn’t? Are there any lessons you can learn that will help you iterate to better results in the future?

Just remember that it’s better to take imperfect action than none at all. Choose from these or other suggestions based on what you’ve already done – as well as any internal skills or knowledge present in your small business – and move your digital marketing forward.

What is your budget?

Budget, of course, is a big one. SEO is generally free to implement (apart from the costs associated with your time or any agencies you hire). SEM requires a spend based on click-throughs or impressions (the number of people who view your advert).

Determine how much you can reasonably commit to your digital marketing efforts, as this will influence the game plan you build for your company going forward.

How quickly do you need to see results?

Finally, consider that, while SEO is free or cheaper to implement, it can take 4-6 months on average to show results. SEM, on the other hand, operates more like a faucet – as soon as you turn on the ads, traffic can start flowing in.

If you’re in a position where your business needs a sudden influx of customers in order to survive, SEM offers better odds than SEO. But if you’re investing long-term for your company’s digital marketing health, plant SEO seeds now that can grow into new streams of organic traffic down the road.

Getting Started with SEO and SEM

Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t tackle both SEO and SEM at once – or that you have to do everything by yourself. At Windsorborn, we work with plenty of small business owners who simply don’t have the time to invest in digital marketing on their own.

However you decide to move forward, don’t keep putting off SEO and SEM. Choose a game plan that’s appropriate to your circumstances and move forward with it. The results will be worth your investment.

How is your small business investing in SEO and/or SEM? Share your game plan by getting in touch at studio@windsorborn.com

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