When you had your company’s website built, like so many people, you may have believed that once your site launched, customers were going to flock to it and your sales would take off. But it’s just as likely that no one told you that, in order for potential customers to find your site, you had to ensure that it was optimized to rank highly on the leading search engines: Google, Bing and Yahoo!. Soon enough you realized that your prospects couldn’t find you in a sea of thousands of similar sites.

SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a complex task that takes time and involves several steps performed in a specific order for it to work correctly and get you the results you desire. SEO done well can certainly improve your rankings on Google (for this article I will use Google since it is the largest search engine of all). However, in order to really impact sales you need to engage in both SEO and SEM, Search Engine Marketing.

Let’s begin with SEO. The goal of good SEO is to demonstrate to Google that your company is the authority in your industry, your market segment and your geographic service area.

Keywords are key

Identifying the keywords that your prospects will be using to search for your vending, OCS or micro market services is critical to effective SEO. Review the on-page SEO on every page of your website to make sure Google sees why your company deserves to be ranked for the keywords you’re targeting. There are a variety of keyword identification and planning tools available today, some free.

You could also conduct a competitive review of the websites of your closest competitors, namely those companies that “keep you awake at night,” to glean additional keywords that can be added to your SEO program.

Adding pages to your site that include your keywords is an excellent way to ensure you remain on page 1 or page 2 of Google’s search results. The reason for this is that Google’s crawlers are always looking for new content. The more you have, the higher you rank in searches. Adding new pages — through a blog, for instance — allows Google to index them, thereby enhancing your authority in the industry and your geographic service area.

As part of your keyword effort, be sure that the title tags and meta descriptions for your website pages are optimized. Also, check to be sure all of the photographs and other graphic images on your site have meta descriptions embedded in them because search engines can’t “see” a photo/image, but they can read its meta description. All these pieces of source code for your site should absolutely include your keywords.

Before we leave the world of keywords, a note of caution: Be careful NOT to engage in keyword stuffing. There are almost as many opinions on the ideal number of keywords per page as there are SEO experts. It typically depends on the length of a web page.There are several types of keyword stuffing to avoid in the event they are recommended to you. One way is to insert repeating keywords within the input type=“hidden” field or the keyword tag so that the keywords are not seen by site visitors but are read by search engines. Another way is called invisible keyword stuffing in which the keyword text is made the same color as the page’s background, rendering it “invisible” to site visitors but visible to search engine crawlers.

Other SEO enhancements

Following are a few additional actions you can take to boost your position in the search engines:

  • Citations are defined as mentions of your business name, address and phone number (NAP) on other web pages — even if there is no link to your website. An example of a citation might be a listing in an online yellow pages directory or a local chamber of commerce page or local business association. Citations are a key component of the ranking algorithms in Google and Bing.
  • Employ a local SEO software, such as Moz Local, BrightLocal, Whitespark or Yext. For instance, Yext’s has integration-based partnerships with Google, Apple, Facebook, Bing, Yelp, and 100+ other local digital endpoints, which can power your location data anywhere customers encounter your brand.
  • Backlinks: In the early days of SEO, backlinking was one of the most obvious and powerful options in establishing a web page’s ranking, as the number and quality of sites that linked to your pages were directly responsible for establishing your authority and visibility. And while that’s not as much the case as it once was, make no mistake that backlinking will undeniably improve your SEO.
  • Press Releases: That’s right, good old-fashioned press releases written and sent to primarily online media properties can bolster SEO. Often such outlets will just upload the press release verbatim because they are always looking for content. Hence, your release should include your website’s URL and keywords.

Ultimately, the key to success is to roll out the steps above over three to five months’ time. Why? Because Google loves link diversity and backlink credibility, but that process has to be staged over time. They love to see credible links coming from many different sources on the web, but not all at once.

SEM & digital marketing

While SEM can include gaining more visibility through SEO, the term usually refers to paying for that visibility through paid search advertising. Simply put, you buy advertising space in the search engine results. It’s become so popular that Google now lists three to five paid listings either above the organic search listings, below them, or both.

What follows is a campaign approach to SEM and outbound digital marketing (based on who’s clicking through on your paid search advertising or other digital media properties) that should generate traffic to your website within six months. It will also bolster your prospect database and create a sales funnel that results in stronger leads and greater sales. (See the Digital Campaign Timeline Graphic).

Month 1 -- Set-up

During the first month, you should ensure that your website’s analytics are up and running and delivering important information about who’s visiting your website, what pages they are viewing, click-throughs, bounce rates and other needed quantifiable information. Signing up for Google Analytics is free, and the information available should be factored into the campaign outlined below, since constant analysis will reveal who your ideal digital targets are.

You should also begin building a detailed customer and prospect database — reflecting all history, past and future sales touchpoints, location in your funnel, etc. Having a complete and detailed database will also facilitate a smooth and targeted outbound email marketing effort, as outlined in Month 5.

Finally, you must create either a campaign-specific landing page, or at the very least, a call-to-action on your website that offers something of value to a prospect or visitor in exchange for their contact information. (Smart marketers also set up an Autoresponder email program that thanks your new prospects/website visitors and delivers on your call-to-action, such as an eBook, a white paper, a free trial, etc.)

It’s preferable to direct a prospect/visitor during the lead-gen months to an actionable, campaign-specific landing page rather than simply having them click through to your home page. This strategy does not preclude a prospect from browsing the other pages of your site once there; it simply directs them to a page that offers an effective call-to-action.

Months 2-4 -- Digital advertising & lead generation campaign

During these months, you should develop and initiate a pay-per-click advertising campaign, using Google Adwords (or one of the other search engines) and/or Facebook advertising if you believe your key decision makers — HR managers/directors, office managers, facilities managers and, in the case of smaller companies, owners, partners, C-suite executives, etc. — are avid Facebook users. As you gather more data from ongoing Google analytics results, you can refine your targeting so that your ad spend (cost-per-click) is as efficient and targeted as possible.

Obviously, you will have to invest additional dollars to pay for the Google (and perhaps Facebook) ads, but understand that you’re only paying for click-throughs to your website, so your digital ad dollars are spent on only those prospects who are interested in what you have to offer. Also, it’s wise to set a realistic monthly budget for Google and/or Facebook initially, then adjust it based on the success you’re seeing with click-throughs to your website. An initial budget of at least $500/month should start delivering clicks, but depending upon your competitors and your location, the costs per click could be higher or lower.

If you’ve done a good job with SEO and keyword analysis, you should know what keywords to include in your Google (and/or Facebook) ads, ideally those that drive click-throughs to the landing page/call-to-action created in Month 1. You should also establish other campaign guidelines like geotargeting, demographics, etc.

Month 5 -- Outbound digital marketing campaign

By the 5th month of this campaign, you should have a fairly robust database of contacts, including customers, prospects and others with whom you want to drive through your sales funnel. At this point, you should initiate an outbound email campaign using an economical service like Constant Contact or MailChimp — both are easy to use, offer tips and techniques, special offers, etc. The objective at this stage is to keep prospects engaged and believing that you’re a leader in the industry. What’s nice about a service like Constant Contact is that you can segment your database by type or prospect (or customer), then direct certain email messages, promotions and offers tailored to them. (For instance, you wouldn’t offer an existing customer a free trial unless they have agreed to expand their business with you.) And always, always include in any outbound email or marketing communication a link to your website and your keywords.