Do you remember those IBM commercials from the early 2000's? The ones where the execs are sitting around a board room table and there's a lone techie at one end spelling out "the new tech thing"? Awe and mysticism seems to fill the room. Appropriately quizzical theme music twinkles in the background. This is one of my favorites:

Clearly this is an exaggeration but those commercials crack me up. Perhaps it's because durng my careeer I've been on both sides. Perhaps it's also because I've spent more than 13 years sitting right in the middle - translating.

A little while ago I found myself in such a situation. I was moderating a panel for a great group of entrepreneurs-in-the-making and the topic was Search Engine Marketing. Much like the "Universal Business Adapter" lots of people eye Search Engine Marketing with a bit of awe and a lot of mystique.

One usually finds mystique in situations of information scarcity, not so with SEM (just do a search for search engine marketing and you'll see what I mean) and yet, the topic is still little understood.



I think part of the challenge is with the way SEM is covered:

  1. coverage often starts in the middle without treating the beginning, which makes it difficult to catch up.
  2. coverage often doesn't treat the topic from the perspective of small business owners — how do you know which of the techniques you're reading about is actually both meaningful and feasible for your small business?

So I've decided to tackle the problem and share it not only with the people who attended that event, but with readers here.

First let's address the biggest question — what does Search Engine Marketing actually mean?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the act of optimizing your Web site and what I like to call your "digital footprint" so that search engines like Google will rank your site above other sites when people search for things. When looking at Google, this refers to the left side of screen or the "organic" listings which can draw more than 70% of the search engine clicks. If you want to get really in depth check out Google's Webmaster Tools (beware, there's a LOT of information there).

Search Engine Advertising (SEA) is making a payment directly to a Search Engine (or through a broker or service provider) so you can place a text advertisement on the search engine results page (or SERP) when people search for things. This is also called "sponsored links" or "Pay Per Click (PPC)" advertising. You bid for a certain keyword phrase and you pay the search engine each time someone clicks on your ad.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) — has come to mean different things. Some people use the terms Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Advertising synonymously. I think this isn't really accurate or especially useful. Marketing is not just advertising. I think the better use of "SEM" is to refer to all of the ways that you can use search engines to market what you have to offer.

Next week I'll cover the most critical factor in any search marketing campaign — your keywords. How do you choose them? How should they be different for SEO vs. SEA? How do you keep from loosing your shirt by buying the wrong ones in a PPC campaign? Stay tuned'�

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