Business Insight: An Insider Guide to SEO and SEM

Interview with Meita Siswana

The world of digital marketing can be elusive. We sat down with Meita Siswana, a passionate marketer and digital enthusiast who consults for many beauty and personal care businesses and asked her to let us in on the secrets of successful search campaigns.

Work+Store (W+S): For those of us who are newcomers to the internet marketing game, can you clarify what SEO or SEM is?

Meita (M): Certainly! SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It is basically the ads on Google — the non-organic search results that pop up at the top of your result page with a yellow Advertising tab on it. SEM bosses know it more fondly as pay per click (PPC) advertising on Google. On the contrary, SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is your unpaid or organic results. It is the process of tailoring or optimising your webpage so it will rank higher on search engines.

W+S: What are the pros and cons of focusing on either SEO or SEM as a marketing strategy? In other words, which one should we focus first?

M: That is a chicken and egg dilemma. SEO and SEM serve different purposes. As a marketer, it is important to understand the distinction between the two to create an effective search strategy that works for your company. I’d suggest SEM if you want to generate fast leads or have regular products or events that you need to market all the time, and if you cannot pinpoint the keywords that your customers or potential customers use. SEM highlights your ad without the need for customers to browse and trawl through your website, but it can only do so much.

SEO’s organic nature is better suited for long term strategy. You can generate leads and increase the visibility and credibility of your company in the internet. From my experience, if your market is saturated and very competitive, undertaking SEO is a long and arduous journey. Start with SEM first and give it a couple months. This will give you the insights on which keywords you need to optimise for your SEO undertaking. At the end of the day, it’s best to remember that you cannot have a successful search campaign without both SEO and SEM.

W+S: What are your top three tips for business owners planning their first SEO/SEM campaign?

M: First, understand why you want to do SEO or SEM. You need to be clear about your objectives and take the steps to track whether you are meeting them. Second, mobile optimization has outweighed the importance of optimizing web experience from desktop. And third, SEO is powered by algorithms that change all the time. The Google ranking algorithm changes at least 400 to 500 times annually. So to stay on top of the game, your strategies have to keep evolving. Also, do not fall for agencies that promise you can consistently rank on the first page. No agency or individual can guarantee a consistent ranking!

W+S: Could you share with us some of the common mistakes we need to be wary of when executing a SEO or SEM campaign?

M: Not doing your keyword research thoroughly. The foundation of any search campaign, whether its SEO or SEM, is keywords research. People don’t really pay as much attention to this as they should. As a result, they end up buying or optimizing the wrong keywords.

Another common mistake is not spending enough time and resources to monitor the performance of your campaign. Even though SEO or SEM is a digital campaign, you cannot expect it to run on its own and expect to see amazing results. You need to regularly check on your campaign: spend a minimum of 3 hours per day to analyse your campaign’s data and consequently use it to optimise your campaign.

W+S: What are the criteria that you would use to measure the success of your SEO or SEM campaign?

M: Again, it depends on the objective of the campaign. But generally, for SEO, take note of your search ranking achieved after your campaign and the amount of organic traffic to your website with SEO posts. An increase in organic search traffic is always a positive indicator. SEM comes down to calculating your cost per action. Cost per action can be in the form of sales leads, sign ups, or an actual product purchase. As a rule of thumb, if your cost per action is lower than your profit earned from that lead/business potential that came in from your ad, then your campaign is successful!

W+S: Are there any free SEO or SEM tools that small businesses can take advantage of?

M: Plenty, although they are not 100% free. With SEO, check out MOZ and Mysiteauditor. They are really easy to use: all you have to do is paste the website URL on the site and it will check the health of said website.

You can also use SEMrush to check out your competitors and understand their strategy: what keywords they are optimizing, backlinks, where they rank against your site and if they use any paid advertising.

With SEM, the first big tool you need is Google Adwords. The keyword and display planner allows you to plan all aspects of your campaign, from your keywords, budgeting, optimization, and account access to your campaign structure. When you want to analyse your website, you can’t go wrong with Google Analytics and Webmaster tools. They are free and indispensable. Of course, you need to understand the functionalities of these tools, and they can be quite a challenge. Fortunately, there are a lot of online learning tools and videos provided by Google that can help you master them!