When you think about making sure your business’ online presence is search-friendly, you probably think about search-engine optimization, or SEO. But did you know that SEO is just one part of a larger tactic called search engine marketing (SEM)?

While SEO focuses on having the right keywords on your website, SEM focuses on using paid advertising to improve where your business appears in search-engine results.

SEO tactics

Optimizing your online presence can help your paid search-engine marketing efforts go further to draw in customers.

If you’re looking for an organic way to improve your search results, make an effort to generate content. This can be done either through blogging or even by being active on social media channels.

Participate in industry discussions, share news both about your company and your field, and respond to questions and comments. It may take some time to get into the rhythm of either blogging on a regular basis or jumping into social media conversations instead of just lurking. Remember, though, that your active and vibrant web presence goes beyond having an up-to-date website. Get ready to engage!


Once your organic efforts to market your business online are ship-shape, you can integrate paid methods to boost your reach.

Search engine marketing will cost you, but your business can control the investment closely to stay within your marketing budget. Google search ads and many display advertising options offer a pay-per-click option: you set the budget and ads stop running when your budget runs out — meaning, when a certain number of search users have clicked on your ad.

Pay-per-click campaigns run close to autopilot, but it may take some time before you pinpoint the best way to approach your customers through this advertising method.

No matter your target demographic or location, be sure to focus your paid campaign on what makes your business unique. If your company offers free estimates or 24-hour service, for example, include these options in your ads. Customers in a jam who are searching for services like yours will probably jump at the chance to click on a search ad placed high in their browser page. Be sure to direct your ad to a strong landing page, perhaps your form to request a free quote or a page featuring your phone number for emergency service.

Think like a customer — and don’t get anxious that your ad is too simple. Customers like to keep things simple, too.

SEM and traditional marketing

SEM can have a significant impact in how you market your small business, but it’s still one ingredient in a complex marketing recipe.

Depending on the nature and scope of your business practices, you may need to mix SEM techniques with traditional marketing methods, such as print advertisements. Don’t forget to measure the effects of your various marketing techniques — simply asking your customers, “Where did you hear about us?” can help you determine, alongside web analytics and online sales data, which parts of your marketing mix are serving you best.

Remember, you can always review your advertising copy and spending with a volunteer SCORE mentor, too. It’s completely free — all you have to do is ask.


About the Author(s)

Bridget Weston

Bridget Weston is the Acting CEO of the SCORE Association, where she provides executive leadership and works directly and collaboratively with the Board of Directors to establish the vision and direction of SCORE.

Search Engine Marketing