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SEO vs. SEM: What’s the Difference?

So everyone wants to drive more traffic to their websites, right? But the real question there is how should you go about that process? Of course, there are multiple options – integrating social media, inviting guest bloggers to write for you, among others. However, perhaps the most popular option is to start up an advertising campaign. This is an easy way to drive the most people to your website. Unfortunately this brings up another set of options concerning how to go about the ad campaign. In this post we will delve into two options: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

What is SEO?

At its simplest, search engine optimization is the process of making your website more visible when people use a search engine (Google, Bing, Yahoo). Website owners don’t have to pay anything to use it, and it involves using “organic” or “natural” keywords and links.

This begs another question: what do the terms “organic” and “natural” mean in this sense? In essence, it’s advertising you do yourself. In order to appear at the top of search results, you must utilize key words, titles of blog posts or articles, and take full advantage of back linking. Back linking is the act of using a hyperlink that connects back to your website. Many search engines consider websites with more back links to be more relevant and thus places them higher in search results.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is the paid, older brother of SEO. While SEM is the broader term, it mainly refers to paid ads that website owners purchase in order to position their website higher on search results. Through programs like Google AdWords, you can pay per click, and choose where your ad appears, as well as set a budget and track who is clicking on your ads. This allows you to create ads for select groups of people and only show the ads in certain places.

So which should you use?

There are many debates today about which of the above strategies is better in the long term for an ad campaign. Each has its own set of distinct advantages. SEO certainly takes a longer time to show any return on interest, however, if done right, you can reap the benefits. You just need patience, and somebody who knows the system. SEM, on the other hand, can be considered almost instant gratification. Anyone with a credit card can pay per click and then place their ads where they want them and see instant results.

You will need to sit down with your business plan and decide which of these options is for you. Many websites employ both of these, using SEO all of the time, and constantly improving on it, while they use SEM on a case-by-case basis. Any way you spin it, using SEO or SEM (or both!) will help to increase traffic to your site and improve visibility of it on search results.

Why Your Web Experience Matters

User experience (UX) can quietly make or break a website. UX refers not to how a site looks, but how it functions for a user. A beautiful site will initially catch a visitor’s eye, but doesn’t guarantee the outcomes a website exists to create. Once your business or application has someone’s attention, it should guide them through interacting with the site easily and smoothly. Through retaining user attention and facilitating desired actions, a site that is easy to navigate simply produces better results.

Usability Across All Devices

Responsiveness and user experience are not the same thing, but they should work together in a well designed website. Responsiveness, which we will discuss further in the coming weeks, refers to a site’s ability to operate effectively and attractively across various devices, from the biggest monitor to the smallest smartphone. Good UX must hold up across devices. For designers, this means ensuring that important buttons and desired actions are placed well on all platforms. There is a trend toward “mobile first” design, since the limited space of a mobile device necessitates such intentional prioritization. Regardless of where you begin your design process, a website’s effectiveness hinges on its ease of use on all devices.

User experience is not about keeping up with current design trends. Remaining trendy and relevant is important, but UX should never suffer because of efforts to modernize. We recommend that highly visible businesses experiment with new designs about once a year and completely overhaul their look every two years. However, UX must remain consistently strong to ensure that customers can easily interact with the site after any changes are made. Your customers should never have to figure out how to make a purchase. They should be guided through it by an intuitive experience.

Define Your Calls to Action

Well defined calls to action are not exactly what we mean by UX. UX is about how your site executes its calls to action and facilitates the user’s interaction with your business. Amazon is a great example of this. We all know what Amazon wants its visitors to do – make a purchase and do it now. But notice how easy that make it for a user to comply. Their site prominently invites you to “add to cart” as soon as you are looking at a product. Amazon would never expect their users to fumble around to figure out how to send them money, and neither should you. Once your user is interested in answering your call to action, make sure they have an easy time doing so!

Great functionality requires some planning, but intentionally setting up your site to further your goals is essential. Don’t waste your time and money on a site that doesn’t optimize your visibility and sales. Invest in excellent UX early to get the most out of each user’s visit. You’ll see the results in repeat traffic and in your desired outcomes.

Domain Name: Finding The Right One

You have this fantastic business idea, but now you need to figure out what domain name that works best. Should you shorten your name (since that domain name happens to be available) or should you use your full name (since that’s what people will be searching for)? First, you need to define what you want people to search for and then hone in on your new domain name.

What Are People Going To Search For?

Let’s say your company name is Thompson Home Renovations. You definitely know potential customers are going to be search for Thompson Home Renovations since that is your full company name. You definitely should pick up that domain name (even if you have to shell out a little bit of money to purchase it from someone).

You know that eventually, people are probably going to just call your company name (around their friends) Thompson Home. Given that you know this is a good possibility, it’ll be a good idea to go ahead to see if you can grab this domain name as well.

Tip: We do the same thing for Classic City Consulting. We own ClassicCity.com, ClassicCityConsulting.com as well as ClassicCity.consulting. We point all of them back to ClassicCity.com since it’s shorter and we want people to start calling us Classic City.

What Not To Do with .com

Given that a lot of .com domain names have already been taken, some business owners get excited about shortening their name and using it for their domain name. However, this will not help you out from an SEO perspective in the long run.

Don’t use dashes: No one will remember where they are supposed to be placed or even remember if they should actually be present. Just because you can have dashes doesn’t mean you should.

Don’t abbreviate your name: In our example above, you don’t want to own ThompHomeReno.com. Much like with dashes, people aren’t going to remember what part of your name is abbreviated. It’s best to go for the lengthy version or (if you have the luxury) modify your business name before committing to a domain name.

Make sure your domain name is appropriate: Your name might look correct in your logo (and with spaces in the correct locations), however a domain name is agnostic towards those items. teacherstalking.org definitely looks like Teacher Stalking at first, but in reality the website is about Teachers Talking.

The Wrap-Up

With the invention of websites, having an appropriate domain name for your business is as critical as naming your business. Before you get too excited about a name you came up with, check for it’s availability on the web before you sign too much paperwork with the state for your business license. It could save you a lot of hassle (and a lot of money) in the long run.

4-Hour Work Week for Entrepreneurs

The Wikipedia article on Tim Ferriss reads like a list of “The Most Interesting Man in the World” jokes. He’s an investor or adviser to an impressive list of successful young companies. He once won a national championship in Chinese kickboxing using unconventional strategy and dramatic weight manipulation. His books have been wildly successful. The New York Times at once compared him to business giant Jack Welch and to a Buddhist monk. I normally shun the self-help section at the bookstore (my friends say I’m pretentious about books), but I consider Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Workweek required reading for entrepreneurs.

Subtitled Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich, the book preaches a lifestyle more than a business strategy. Ferriss offers solutions to proactively maximize efficiency. He talks about eliminating wasted time and identifies inefficiencies it’s easy to fall into. His ideas have legitimate research behind them (he did go to Princeton, after all), but many of them also seem self evident once he lays them out. The strategies he outlines are great for entrepreneurs, who are often pulled in several directions at once, but I was an hourly employee when I read this book, and I found it relevant to my situation as well. Anybody looking to maximize effectiveness and stop wasting time can benefit.

Mr. Ferriss goes further than recommending ways to be efficient. He recognizes that while your business may sometimes feel like it consumes your life, it’s really just part of your life. Your business should add to the richness of your life, and 4-Hour Workweek is about cultivating a satisfying, enjoyable, existence more than it is about just running a company. Even if you don’t go so far as to follow in the exotic, adventure filled footsteps of the author, his wisdom on work life balance is invaluable.

Everybody’s business is different. Everybody’s life is unique. You may find some of Tim Ferriss’s ideas to be a little outlandish. Don’t throw the baby out with the extreme, thrill seeking bathwater. 4-Hour Workweek is full of useful, practical advice and tools to improve your effectiveness, leadership, and, above all, satisfaction with your time. Start on his website, where he’ll spot you the first fifty pages of the book in exchange for an email address.

Do This (Not That!)

Having an impressive looking website doesn’t always mean a lot in today’s world of technology. Sure, on the outside, these websites may look trendy and cool, but click around enough and you’ll find that many have terrible functionality and could be compared to wandering through a maze. Why should you settle on having a half usable website when, after following a few do’s and don’ts, you could have a truly great site?

There’s no place like Home(page)

Do This Make your homepage easy to navigate

No one likes to be confused upon arrival. Not at the airport, not at a grocery store. So why would you make your website’s homepage confusing? It is the first thing customers see when they visit your site, and it needs to be concise and clear. Make sure visitors are certain what you want them to do – whether that’s to purchase an item, view a gallery, or enter an email address.

Not That Clutter things up

This is one thing many new web sites fall prey to. It’s easy to want to jam pack your homepage with all possible information about your business. However, too much content can run potential clients off. Treat every visitor as if they have the attention span of a goldfish – if they can’t figure out what to do in two seconds, you probably need to reconsider the structure of your homepage.

Don’t hate, navigate!

Do This Make it easy for visitors to find your navigation

Going along with the above do and don’t, making your navigation readily available and obvious is another important aspect to your website. You don’t want to make people spend their valuable time searching for navigation. Spend as much time creating your navigation page and visitors will having an easier time traversing your site.

Not That Cram too many links

One thing that can serve to be overwhelming to visitors is too many links under your navigation page. Not only does is clutter up your page, it also can confuse and bemuse people. If you must include lots of links, be sure to break them up under categories, so it feels a little less intimidating.

Knowledge is Power

Do This Give people a chance to leave their information

An impressive looking website, combined with easy navigation tends to instill trust in visitors. This is where you can grab their attention and ask them to leave a record of them visiting. This can be as simple as leaving their email or signing up for a deal. Whatever the case, this information will help fuel your business. Make sure the submission form is easy to find and even easier to fill out or people will just skip it.

Not That Make visitors uncomfortable

No one likes to be visiting a website and then be bombarded by pop-up windows every ten seconds, begging for your information. Not only is this annoying, it’s also intimidating. Be sure to ask for basic information, and take care that visitors don’t feel like they have to leave their age, sex, or location in order to be kept up to date with your website. Also be sure to give people a way out – letting them know how to unsubscribe to notifications.

When in doubt, hire an expert

Do This Be willing to hire someone who knows what they’re doing

There is nothing more valuable to you and your website than a web site designer who knows his business. These people will work closely with you to make your website come to life. Yes, designers cost money. But in the long run, your website will run smoother and look nicer for it. Working with a designer will also help keep your project on track.

Not That Cut corners

We all appreciate trying to save a few bucks. However, your website is not the place for penny pinching. In today’s tech world there are people who are good designers and people who don’t have a clue. And we all know who the less expensive hire would be. A professional website should be worked on by a professional. Period.

Phone Home

Do This Guarantee your website looks good on mobile devices

In today’s tech world, the mobile device is king. From iPhones to iPads, to Kindles and smart watches, everyone has them, and these devices are generally what your website will be viewed from. To ignore this trend towards mobile design (also called responsive design) would be nothing short of disastrous. Make sure whatever designer you go with is both familiar and competent with responsive design, and can show you examples of sites they’ve done. If your site looks like trash on mobile, then why bother even having a site at all?

Not That Rush into things

We all know how it feels to be excited about a project coming to completion. You have waited for it, and you’re willing to skip steps in order for it to be ready. You could be convinced to just stick with the desktop version of your site. However, at the risk of alienating many visitors, you need to commit to having a mobile version. Having this will push you and your website into the mobile age and help garner support and visitors.

Conclusion

Obviously there are many ways to successfully go about building and maintaining a website. Enumerated here are just a few suggestions. However, should you decide to follow all, or even a few of the do’s and don’ts listed here, you will notice a drastic increase in traffic to your website and potentially new business.

4 Challenges Every Entrepreneur Faces

There’s nothing easy about starting your own business. Entrepreneurship requires taking on risk at a level that would terrify most people. You might have to work longer hours than you ever did as an employee. You carry the stress that comes with being the final decision maker on every question that arises. The rewards, however, are immense. Be your own boss. Build something from the ground up. This endeavor feels unmistakably American, and it brings a sense of pride that is difficult to match punching a timecard and working to further somebody else’s goals.

Today we’ll discuss a few of the challenges that confront entrepreneurs as they make the leap into running their new business full time. We address these difficulties not to discourage people considering starting a company, but to warn them of some common hurdles so that they might overcome them with the benefit of our experience.

Initial Lack of Resources

Many first time business owners struggle with capital as they try to get off the ground. Even with investors, money is a stressor at this point in the process. Don’t let self-doubt creep in. No business can expect to be profitable on day one, and many take several years to break even. Preempt this problem by going in with a specific plan. Although surprises always change budgets, you should have a breakeven analysis in place. Know your costs and understand how much revenue you need. Otherwise, the first few months will be an emotional rollercoaster, with panic or elation taking hold every time the bank account changes. Expect bad days, expect to keep a tight grip on your spending at first, and hang in there.

Coping with an Unpredictable Income

As your company goes through its early volatility, you may take a vastly different amount of money home each month. Depending on the nature of your business, this may never change. Even if you are making plenty each year, some months may be tight. Be intentional with your personal budget. Resist the urge to overspend after a prosperous period. There are resources available for people with unpredictable incomes, like this Forbes article. Remember that this situation isn’t unique to you, or even to entrepreneurs. Consult salesmen who are paid commission or experienced business owners for advice about how to handle your personal finances so they don’t become a distraction or a stressor as you guide your company to success.

Wearing so many New Hats

Entrepreneurs quickly become their company’s, well, everything. My mother liked to refer to herself as the chief cook and bottle washer at an independent coffee shop she ran for several years. Her experience was a common one. Before you’re big enough to pay specialized employees, you handle an astonishingly diverse array of duties. You may not have an MBA, but you’ll find yourself worrying about marketing, accounting, HR, and an endless list of concerns specific to your industry. Our best advice here is to seek out free help from friends and family (without taking advantage). Buy your uncle lunch and pick his brain about how he kept customers coming back during his career as a salesman. Ask your college roommate to give you a few pointers about maximizing your company’s searchability. And when you are making enough money, hire people whose strengths align with your limitations.

Trusting Employees with “Your Baby”

When you are able to hire these first employees, you may have trouble relinquishing control. You’ve built your business from nothing, and giving up even small decisions can be scary. Still, you wouldn’t have hired these people unless you needed their help and they were qualified to help. Balance keeping the company moving in the direction you want with giving your people the latitude to do their jobs. Nothing can kill employee morale like a micromanaging boss. As in so many aspects of business and life, communication is key. Set clear expectations up front. This should cover not only quality of work but also decision making authority. Be available for questions. I once had a boss who had unreasonably specific expectations but was unreachable most of the day. Don’t let your employees feel like they can’t figure out how to please you. Equip them to be capable of what you need from them.

We commend anyone who makes the gutsy decision to start a business. The process can be daunting, but remember to seek advice and encouragement from the successful people in your life. Most of the challenges you’ll face have already been overcome by someone you know.

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