Let’s assume for a moment that you own a business and want to go about getting people to find it online via search engines. And we’ll also assume that you want to promote awareness about your business via social media venues such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. It is all-too-easy to become immersed in the sea of acronyms and conflicting information related to search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and Social Media Marketing (SMM). Often, freelancers and self-proclaimed marketing “experts” even misuse the terms and take important concepts out of context. Add to it the fact that Google endlessly changes their algorithms that determine search engine rankings, and from one month to the next the applicability of the information changes. For the non-technical business owner whose goal it is to spend hard-earned money on a well-targeted campaign for online success, the whole mess of terminology and conflicting information can be exasperating– and perhaps even intimidating.

Let’s put it all into relatively plain language that any beginner can grasp. If a word or two eludes you, don’t worry too much. You’ll get the overall concept. Once you have the basics down pat, you can “graduate” to learning more about each topic in more detail.

Here we go:

Search Engine Optimization, called “SEO”, is a preparatory process of making your website “optimized” for the search engines to properly index the content. When we optimize content for the web, there are some “rules of thumb” that we follow, and there are some absolutes that we follow as prescribed by Google’s own “best practices” standards which Google is kind enough to publicly make available to anyone who cares to do it right. Doing it right is affectionately referred to as “white” hat SEO. Doing it wrong or with the purpose of manipulation and/or exploitation is labeled as “black” hat SEO, much as white and black were colors of hats used in old western movies to represent “good guys” and “bad guys” respectively.

PREPARING the site for proper indexing via proper SEO is the first step in effectively marketing the site. As recently as the year 2010, SEO and SEM were lumped how to see your fb followers together collectively under the term “SEO”, but since that time, the two disciplines have really come into their own respective realms of strategies, techniques, and methods. SEO is “passive” but essential to the marketing process. It’s very important that a website is optimized well, but not “OVER-optimized”, which is a term used to describe sites that are intended to manipulate search engine results.

Periodically Google makes changes to the rules that website managers (webmasters and marketing people) are to follow. Minor changes are often unnamed, but major changes are typically named to call attention to them, and to categorically address the types of changes being made so web professionals can “talk the talk” and be on the same page with respect to what types of marketing efforts are affected. Some of the Google names for their algorithm changes, for example, are “Caffeine”, “Panda”, and “Penguin”. Cute as these names sound, they each encompass a set of rules and criteria that are affected by the change. For instance, the most recent Penguin 2.0 change will impact over-optimized sites in the search engine rankings.

Optimization generally involves adjusting text and link characteristics of a website to include text position, keyword choices, site structure, page titles, keyword density, keyword dilution, and many additional considerations. That’s where the rules-of-thumb and absolutes come into play. Again, Google provides pretty clear guidance on what’s acceptable and what are considered no-no’s.

SEM is Search Engine Marketing. It’s the active process of promoting a site on the search engines. If a site is marketed without first being optimized to some extent, then the site is being promoted without being properly prepared, sort of like broadcasting a TV commercial without editing it to clean it up.

SEM comes in two basic flavors: subscribed and organic.

Subscribed SEM includes things like pay-per-click, pay-per-impressions, pay-per-placement, etc. Sites that use paid links to promote the site will take a hit with Penguin 2.0 if the links are determined to be spammy links.

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