A critical component of any small business's digital marketing plan is search marketing.
What is search marketing? Search marketing can broadly be defined as getting your business to appear in search engine results pages.
Search engines can be likened to the Yellow Pages of the 21st Century. Modern consumers have become accustomed to finding information they want online with very little effort. They want to type a word or question into search engines and get results to their inquiry in seconds. What this means for small businesses is that appearing in search engine results is more important now than ever before!
The first step in creating your search marketing plan will be determining which search engines are most relevant to your business. Google is (by far) the largest search engine in North America, so this is a good place to focus your efforts; Bing is another key player and should be included in your plans. In addition, there are several smaller area- and industry-specific search engines that may be relevant to your business (such as TripAdvisor in the hospitality industry).
There are essentially three ways to get your business to appear in search engine results pages: 1) Online Directories; 2) Paid Listings; and 3) Organic (Unpaid) Listings. In this article, we will explain the pros and cons of each option.
What are Online Directories? The quickest and most inexpensive way to get your business to appear in search results is to establish listings in online directories. Each major search engine has their own online business directory. Google’s directory is called ‘Google My Business (GMB)’, Bing’s directory is called ‘Bing Places’. There are also several smaller directories to consider that are area- and industry-specific. Establishing listings in online directories a fundamental step in your search marketing plan - especially if your business doesn’t have a website yet.
How Do Online Directories Work? When customers search for your products or services online, search engines return a list of recommended businesses from their directories. Once you have established listings in these directories, your business should start appearing in these results. Patience is required as results will not be immediate.
Here is a screenshot of what our Google My Business (GMB) listing looks like (highlighted in red):
What are the Pros? Setting up these listings will take a little time, but it is well worth the effort. Best of all, it's FREE to do! Online directories offer many great features for small business owners to utilize. One of the most important features is customer reviews. Directories allow customers to post public reviews about your products or services which can be viewed by anyone who searches for your business.
What are the Cons? When customer reviews are positive, this can help build trust and get you more business; but when reviews are negative, it can be detrimental to your business. You will want to pay attention to what people are saying and respond (professionally) to negative reviews in a timely manner.
Establishing online directory listings is not a one-time task. Listings should be reviewed on a regular basis to monitor customer reviews and ensure your information remains up-to-date. It is a good idea to review your directory listings at least once per month.
The second way to get your business into search results is paid listings. ‘Paid Listings’ is synonymous with ‘Search Advertising’, Google's ‘AdWords’ and ‘PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Ads’. Depending how competitive your industry is, your business may have to fight for space in online directory lists. Further action (such as paid listings) may be required to achieve the results you want.
What are Paid Listings? Paid listings are advertisements that appear on search engine results pages. They look the same as organic (unpaid) listings, except they have "Ad" written beside them and they are only displayed on the top and bottom of each page. The middle of the page is always reserved for organic listings (which we will discuss next!).
Here is an example of a results page when we search for “marketing for small business okanagan". Paid listings are highlighted at the top in red; unpaid listings are highlighted below in teal.
How Do Paid Listings Work? Paid listings (PPC Ads) operate using an auction system. When you set up your ad, you select relevant keywords and state how much you’re willing to pay for them. When someone searches for one of your keywords, the search engine reviews all ads bidding for that keyword and selects a "winner". The auction process happens in a matter of milliseconds.
The two main criteria search engines use to select "winners" are bid price and ad relevance. Each time you "win" an auction, your ad will be shown in search results. However, You do not pay each time your ad is shown, you only pay each time the ad is clicked (hence the term ‘pay-per-click’).
What are the Pros? The two biggest 'pros' of paid listings are: 1) they offer immediate results (as soon as your ad is approved, it will begin appearing in search results), and 2) they offer unbeatable targeting options (your ad will only be shown to people who have already expressed an interest in your products or services!). Establishing an online presence and getting search engines to notice you takes time; paid listings can provide a quick and easy way to get your business to start appearing in search results NOW.
What are the Cons? The main 'con' is that paid listings cost money! If you are not very savvy when it comes to search marketing, it may be wise to hire a professional to setup and/or monitor your ad's performance. If you want to do this yourself, you will need to perform keyword research and learn how to optimize your ad copy. Once your ad is running, you will want to monitor its performance on a weekly basis and make improvements as necessary.
ORGANIC (UNPAID) LISTINGS
The third and final way to get your business onto search results pages is organic (unpaid) listings. Unfortunately, this is the most challenging of the three search marketing options.
A search engine's main objective is to match users with relevant, high-quality results to their search queries. As such, space is always reserved on results pages for organic listings that the search engine feels are most relevant to the search query. This space is not 'for sale'.
Search engines use complicated algorithms to determine who makes the cut, and these algorithms are constantly evolving. Getting your website to appear in the organic listing section is all about how relevant and high-quality your website content is. Obtaining a coveted 'organic' space is a goal for many small business owners; however, competition is fierce and only the best websites will win!
If your website is not ranking high organically, you may want to consider having a website audit done. Website auditing looks at your website from a search engine's point of view to discover any issues that are preventing you from ranking higher.
A WORD OF CAUTION: Many business owners will receive emails from companies claiming they can "help your business rank on the first page of Google". Don’t be fooled! Although these companies may be able to achieve short-term results as promised, they often use unethical "black hat" techniques to achieve these results.
Google cannot be fooled long-term and will punish websites that have used these unethical techniques to rank high by blacklisting the website! Blacklisting can be detrimental to a small business; it effectively removes you from search engine indexes, preventing anyone from finding you using search engines ever again. Obviously, this risk is not worth the short-term gratification! The only way to rank high long-term is to maintain a high-quality website with relevant content.
8 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR ORGANIC SEARCH RANKING
Here is a list of 8 things that a website audit will check for. These are real ways to improve your website's organic search ranking long-term. If you are a little tech savvy, you can check these things yourself and avoid paying a professional to do it for you.
Well, there you have it. Those are the three ways that you can get your small business to appear in search engine results pages. We hope this article helps you understand how search engines work so you can achieve your search marketing goals!
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Hi! I'm Danielle and marketing is my jam! I provide marketing services at OSB Services and I love sharing my marketing tips and tricks with other small business owners.