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Understanding SEO, SMM and PPC: A Gardener's Analogy to Web Marketing
Posted on June 18th 2010
What's SEO and what does it do? Do I need it? What's PPC?
Those are some of the most common questions I'm asked when I begin working with clients small and large. Let's start by defining them:
- SEO means Search Engine Optimization In short, this is getting a site to rank better in search engines using techniques that are both technical and marketing oriented. Some SEO is performed onsite, other aspects are performed offsite.
- SMM means Social Media Marketing Though this is a broad category including everything from blogging to YouTube to Foursquare and all of the social networks, we can understand it as using social tools on the web to foster interest, engage our target market and ultimately achieve goals — whether those goals are brand awareness, fundraising, sales, thought leadership, etc.
- PPC means Pay Per Click Advertising! The most common PPC campaigns are through Google AdWords, and this group is also commonly known as SEM or Search Engine Marketing, as many of the ads appear among search engine results.
Did that solve all your problems and answer all of your questions? All ready to go and handle your web marketing? No.
Let's work with an analogy to understand how these various marketing tools can fit your needs.
Imagine you've just moved into a new home, built from the ground up just for you. Now, it's time to plan your garden. Your budget is tight, what with the new mortgage and all, but you know what you can afford and what results you'd like to see. You want to invest in things that will grow over several years, but you'd also like things to be pretty this summer. And you want to bring a bit of the garden back inside with you, so some herbs are in order. Grab your trowel and gloves and let's get working.
SEO & Apple Trees
Your first purchase is an apple tree. This tree might cost more than all of the other plants and flowers in your garden, but it's worth it to you because you're in this for the long haul. The small sapling doesn't look like much now, but you understand it's an investment. That said, it's not as simple as dropping this glorified twig into the ground and letting it fend for itself. You have to maintain it and meet its basic needs, with water and a bit of fertilizer if you want to go the extra mile, but you know it will in time bear fruit. It takes a few years to mature. Unless it contracts a disease, your fruit tree will continue to provide you with tasty treats. If you really want fruit now, you're going to have to buy a mature tree.
Search Engine Optimization is like an apple tree. The time and money invested in optimizing your website will continue to bring you results for as long as you have the site. Barring major changes in the way that search engines rank sites (and these changes do occur), SEO doesn't expire and often costs less to maintain — as long as it gets a healthy start. Unfortunately, like our apple tree sapling, SEO doesn't bring results overnight. Although technical and marketing changes can make vast improvements in site ranking relatively quickly, SEO is a cumulative — it may take months to see clickthroughs from targeted traffic while the site's rank continues to rise for relevant search terms. If you want the ranking associated with a powerful domain name, your best bet might be to buy that domain name — but it can get costly quickly.
Social Media & Basil
While you love your garden, you really enjoy bringing a bit of the outdoors back inside with you. You want a close relationship with Mother Nature — and for you, that means fresh herbs for the dinner table. To that end, you're growing basil.
Though you've started from seeds, cultivating each plant, it doesn't take too long before you've got some leaves to harvest. But, if you really like basil and want to enjoy it more often, you're going to need quite a few basil plants. If you took all of the leaves off of one plant as soon as they were large enough, you'd kill the plant. But if you have five plants and harvest them in rotation, you're going to have vibrant plants and a steady supply of basil. That means having to buy more seeds and growing more plants at the start, even though by the end of the season you might have more basil that you bargained for.
To further complicate matters, there are several types of basil available and you'll need to know which plants will give you what you're looking for — depending on if your goal is pesto or spicy Thai food.
Social media tools are like basil plants. Each network has a niche that it's best suited for and some media types work better than others for different markets. To get the most out of it, you need to know which tools will help you achieve your goals.
While social networks don't take as long to develop as search engine optimization ranking, they do take time and commitment — if you pester the first people to join your Twitter feed or Facebook page by constantly begging them to invite their friends or retweet your posts, you're going to kill your following. Grow your network slowly — and, dare I say it, organically — instead of paying for leads or spamming your potential clients.
If you want to cast a wide net and see results more quickly, you will have to invest more resources initially. This might mean employing a wider array of social networks and media sites to create more entry points for potential followers. The downside here is that you might eventually have more interaction than you could anticipate — which means more to manage.
PPC & Snapdragons
The basil and the fruit trees are all lovely, but your basil doesn't have any flowers and your sapling is healthy but doesn't have the immediate eye candy you were looking forward to this summer. In short, you need cheap flowers and you need them now.
You might want snapdragons. Very colorful, with a relatively low cost and short life span. They're annuals, meaning that they won't be around to flower next year, but that's okay by you. You just need something nice to show your mother-in-law this weekend.
While you're going to put some money into pretty snapdragons, you're not going to blanket every speck of open soil with them. Their value and beauty are fleeting, so covering the backyard with them would be a huge waste of your budget.
Keyword-based advertising (pay-per-click campaigns) are like the annual flowers in your garden. They provide results right now and have a relatively low investment cost as compared to maintaining social media projects or site-wide search engine optimization. Unfortunately, advertising only works while the ads are in place — once an AdWords campaign ends, your premium slot on content networks or search results pages evaporates.
Finally, to dispel a myth, purchasing advertising through Google does not increase your ranking in search engine results. Those results are organic and cannot be bought.
What do you need in your web marketing garden? It depends on what results you need and when you need them.