Brand marketing is critical to growing your business. Good brand marketing accomplishes a couple of objectives. The first is to make consumers aware of your business. Consumers can’t purchase your products or services if they don’t know you exist. The second objective is to build trust around your business’ values. Do the values of your business, such as professionalism, align with the needs of consumers? Good branding will bring consumers closer to making a decision to purchase your products or services.

So, what role do search engines (e.g., Google) play in branding? More and more consumers are using Google (or Bing) to research products services. To acquire those potential clients, your business needs favorable search results. What do I mean by favorable? Favorable is when your business shows up on the first page of those search results. If you land on page two, you’ll probably not be noticed. Your business landing on the first page of search results is your branding moment.

There are two ways to work with the search engines for branding: SEM and SEO. If you’re new to digital marketing, you might have heard these acronyms tossed about. Do you really know what they mean? If not, you’re not alone.

Let me define these acronyms.

SEM is search engine marketing. SEM is where you pay your favorite search engine for placement in their search results. Every business wants to appear on the first page of search results. With SEM, you pay search providers for the honor of this placement. You’ll notice the paid SEM results annotated in search results with phrases like “paid” or “sponsored.”

SEO is search engine optimization. SEO is also focused on achieving a higher ranking in search results. Unlike SEM, you don’t pay your favorite search engine for that preferred placement. SEO tactics are actions you take with, and around, your website to give you better search result placements. Google and Bing search engines are looking for indicators to tell them where your business should be placed in search results. Good SEO aligns your website with positive indicators so that you’ll receive the most favorable ranking.

What’s the best way for you to land favorable search results? Is SEM better than SEO? Both sets of tactics can land you on the first page of search results. But I strongly suggest you focus on SEO tactics and ignore SEM. First, most consumers are starting to filter out search results labeled “paid” or “sponsored,” preferring to see what Google natively thinks are the best results. The second reason is that SEM requires an ongoing financial investment to retain good results. SEO tactics, on the other hand, will require some upfront effort and possibly investment but do not require ongoing payments. SEO tends to have a better ongoing return on investment.

So, focus on SEO and ignore SEM. How does Joe Average Business Owner achieve SEO success? That’s the crux of this article. For SEO happiness, focus on the following:

  • Keep your website content fresh
  • Make sure everything on your website works
  • Build links to your website
  • Honor Google and you will be rewarded!

Keep your website content fresh

Google likes active websites. Active websites indicate to Google that a website is remaining relevant. So, change your images or add new written content. Website changes trigger Google to re-index your site, which will positively influence your search results. I’m not suggesting you need to continually redesign your site; just keep your site’s content changing.

Here are a couple of examples. Customer satisfaction review services like Listen360 can integrate with your website. That allows you to have a constant flow of customer reviews being posted to your website. Another example is seasonal imagery. Change images on your site to reflect the change of seasons or upcoming holidays.

To help manage your workload, define a fixed timeframe (e.g., quarterly) to refresh your content. You don’t need to refresh your site every day.

Make sure everything on your website works

Google hates broken links and missing images.  Google doesn’t necessarily punish you if your site has broken links and missing images, but it certainly will not reward you.

So, establish a timeframe, say once a quarter or every time you refresh content, to go page-by-page through your website clicking on every link and reviewing every image. If a link is broken or image missing, repair or replace it.

This basic website hygiene will give your site its best shot at good results.

Build links to your website

Search engines love websites that have other websites that link to it. This signals to Google how “important” your website is. If the New York Times website, for example, publishes a link to your website, Google will love you. This SEO tactic is called link building, in case you want to drop this phrase at your next cocktail party.

There’s a whole discipline around building links. There are, however, some basic tactics that you, as the business owner, can perform. You’ll just need to devote some time to this activity. As an enticement, this activity will have a huge ROI for your search results.

How to get started? First, register your websites with online directories. An example directory is www.yp.com, the digital version of the Yellow Pages. I need to warn you that there are hundreds of these sites. Which ones should you register with? Google “top online directories for local marketing.” Review the results of this search and, if you recognize a directory, register with that directory. As a rough rule, I suggest you register with about 20 of these directories.

Another basic link-building technique is to build links with other local websites. If, for example, you sponsor a little league team, just ask if they can link to your website on their website. Also, if you’re a Chamber of Commerce member, make sure your business information on the Chamber site has a link to your website.

The key to link building is consistency. Be very consistent with the information you provide online directories and local websites. For example, if your business address has “Drive” in the address, either spell it out or use the abbreviation “Dr.” Regardless, be very consistent.

Honor Google and you will be rewarded!

This recommendation is probably your most important consideration and one that you should implement first.

Google rewards websites that use Google technologies and services. Likewise, Google punishes websites that do not use Google technologies and services. This may seem unfair, but Google defines the rules when comes to search. Good or bad, you need to feed the Google machine.

What specifically is Google looking for?  The answer is “Google for Business.” Google for Business is an uber online directory. Like other online directories, you register your name, address, phone, hours of operation and domain name (plus other things). What’s very unique to Google for Business, however, is that it has an active review capability. So, to make Google very happy, actively encourage Google reviews. I will guarantee the Google gods will rain search goodness on you if you feed Google for Business.

Here’s another practical fact. Have you ever noticed those nice business summaries that Google shows with a map to your business, your phone number and other useful pieces of information that encourage customers to shop with you? All that information is extracted from your Google for Business page. If that information is missing or inaccurate, you’ll cut off that source of new customer acquisition.

I hope I’ve convinced you to take action and honor the Google gods. If you don’t take action, please lower your expectations for growing your business.

In conclusion

Brand marketing is essential for your business’ growth, and search engines can play an important role. SEM and SEO can be intimidating. So, ignore SEM and take the SEO steps I’ve outlined in this article. Once you’ve implemented these fundamental tactics, I suspect you might be pleased with the results.