Internet 101: A small business guide to SEO and PPC

BusinessZone
Dan Martin
Former editor
BusinessZone.co.uk
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Inspired by a popular discussion on our sister community UK Business Forums, Dan Martin examines search engine optimisation and pay-per-click advertising. This article is the first in a series of content focusing on internet marketing and ecommerce, brought to you in association with .co.uk, the number one domain for British business.

What is SEO?
The Wikipedia definition of search engine optimisation (SEO) is "the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's "natural" or un-paid ("organic") search results".
Without investing in some form of SEO, your company website is unlikely to appear very high in the results when people search online for keywords relevant to your products or services.
In previous years, SEO was mainly about getting links to your website on as many other websites as possible but now it is much more engaging potential customers through various online channels. Posting on UK Business Forums, 'helmuc' said: "SEO isn't just link building and site optimisation anymore. You should see it as 'public relations for your website' by working with press, TV (yes, even TV), search engines, bloggers, social networks, local businesses and more."
How to succeed at SEO
To get your website ranking highly in search engines you need to do your research. Spend time understanding where your customers hang out online and work out what your competitors are up to. Look at where they rank in Google and if they’re higher than you, try to work out why.
To find out which keywords are best for you, use tools like Google Adwords or jaaxy.com, a service recommended by UKBF user 'andrewakinyede'.
You should also think carefully about what domain name and top level domain you use for your website. According to a study by DNIR Research in 2012, four out of five internet users in the UK prefer .co.uk websites when searching online.
Content is king when it comes to SEO and search engines love quality articles, blog posts and FAQs that aren’t spammy or salesy. Create useful resources including your relevant keywords but which also reflect your expertise; engage the owners of websites with high domain authority and ask if you can publish guest content.
Social media is playing an increasingly key role in SEO and it provides a great  channel to share your content. Don’t automatically set up accounts with all social networks though; work out which are right for your business.
Consumer-focused companies for example will generally be more suited to Facebook, while B2B firms are likely to enjoy greater benefits from LinkedIn.
Google+ also appears to be growing in importance with many experts arguing that a strong presence on Google’s social network can dramatically boost your search rankings.
In his book, The New Digital Age, Google chairman Eric Schmidt said: "Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance." Using Google+, you can now claim authorship of your content.
To truly succeed at SEO, you need to be constantly measuring. Use Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to monitor how people find your website and what they do when they get there.
What is PPC?
Wikipedia describes pay-per-click (PPC) as "an internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites, in which advertisers pay the publisher (typically a website owner) when the ad is clicked. It is defined simply as 'the amount spent to get an advertisement clicked'."
Often described as a 'silent auction', advertisers select keywords they think their target audience will use when searching for their product or service. When users click on a PPC ad, the advertiser pays the search engine. Various pay-per-click services exist but the most popular are Google Adwords and Microsoft Bing Ads.
The cost of PPC advertising depends on the popularity of the keyword but it can be a very good testing ground for which keywords bring the best results for your website.
How to succeed at PPC
For PPC to work successfully, you mustn’t get carried away by spending lots of money on advertising without measuring the results. PPC services can bring instant visitors to your website but you need to track how they move around. It is a good idea to do split testing by trying out different keywords and different advertising messages to see which work well.
Like with organic SEO, you also need to properly research your keywords using the various keyword tools.
Which is better? SEO or PPC?
As the UK Business Forums debate shows, there is no correct answer to the question above as it depends on various factors including your marketing objectives, your budget and the sector your business operates in.
SEO is generally seen as a long term strategy, while PPC is much more short term.
UK Business Forums member 'dschulhof' commented: "Adwords is a great way to get immediate sales and data on what keywords work and which don't. Many people spend months chopping and changing SEO strategies and keywords before finding the winning formula. A week or two of PPC campaigns could save you huge chunks of time in your SEO strategy."
But that's not to say SEO isn't for you.
UKBF member 'timreeves' posted: "If you've got a medium-large budget, go for both and get someone who knows what they're doing to help you get results. If you've got a small budget - just focus on SEO, it'll get you where you need to be. PPC can be added at a later date to help drive more traffic."
Adding to the debate, 'Poundpig' said: "I'm staggered that only one person in all the threads has touched on the competitiveness of certain keywords! Yes, both PPC and SEO are great in their own individual ways, combined or used separately, but the application of how they are used are so individual to each and every business.

"If you're in insurance for example, you're deluded to think that you will ever get on page one of Google for car insurance (trust me!) So SEO would, in this case, be rendered useless. No matter what long term strategy you use, as an amateur SEO'er you have no chance!"

What do you think? Add your thoughts to the debate by commenting below.

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