Is it SEO or SEM?

October 29, 2014

Being in the website-building business (among other things) we often get questions about how we’re building SEO into our sites. It makes sense: our clients want to be sure that once their new site is live, their target audience will be able to find them. The only problem is, SEO isn’t just about what you build into your site, but also what is built around it.

But first, a crash course on SEO.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the process by which you try to make your site discoverable through searches, without paying for ads. SEM, or search engine marketing, is similar, except it focuses on site optimization in addition to using advertising an marketing to boost findability.

To those unfamiliar with the digital space, SEO can seem like a fuzzy science, or like a dartboard hung on a wall that moves. These are usually the same people who believe adding enough metadata, ALT text, and “code” will help their page rise in Google’s ranks.
SEO is like a science, but it’s much more formulaic, and far less technical, thank you’d think. And luckily, many of the factors that determine your findability are within your control. To break it down, Search Engine Land has developed a Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors that not only lists the factors you need to consider with your site, but also which factors are within your control and which are not. You can download the full table here. For reference, here is the abridged version:

Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Elements considered “on the page factors” are pieces that are in your control. They include things such as whether your pages have quality content, use keywords that people would use to find your content, include fresh copy that engages readers quickly. They also include slightly more “technical” aspects such as whether the headlines and subheadlines use relevant keywords, if the URLs contain relevant words and if your site works well on mobile devices.

“Off the page factors” are pieces that are out of your direct control, but are introduced by readers, visitors and other content publishers. This includes pieces like whether your content is shared, re-posted, marked as spam, or revisited frequently.

Each piece has an influence on your site’s ability to be ranked well with search engines, but they don’t all carry the same weight. For instance, if your strategy is to target a very local audience, you’ll want to place a higher priority on making sure all of your local listings are exactly the same. This means your Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Facebook, FourSquare – all of them – need to have the exact same company name, phone number, and address. It seems simple, yet many business overlook it.

Prioritizing on the page and off the page factors is based in SEO but is actually a part of SEM. Whether you’re launching a new site for the first time or analyzing the success of your current site, the way you determine a site’s SEO success will be dependent on your needs and strategy. Start building your SEM by determining who is your target audience, what are they searching for, and how will you reach them. Then use the SEO tools available to match what your site offers to what your target audience needs. Or, partner with an outside firm to help walk you through how to help your audience find your website and get interested in your business.


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