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SEO, SEM, PPC, OMG! What’s the difference?

SEO, SEM, PPC, OMG! What’s the difference?

To the average business person, digital marketing may at times seem like a mishmash of meaningless acronyms: SEO, SEM, PPC, ROI, CTR… the list goes on.

There are three strategies you may hear the most about when it comes to internet marketing, SEM, SEO and PPC. You’ve may wonder, which is the most important? The answer is, all of them. Here’s why:

Search engine marketing (SEM) most often refers to paid and unpaid tactics to draw traffic to your website.

Search engine optimization (SEO) more often refers to the free tactics and Pay-per-Click (PPC) refers to the use of paid ads.


First, SEO. One of the most important things to remember is that people searching the internet are not really interested in putting a ton of effort into their searches and they’re easily distracted. In fact, a study has shown that peoples’ average attention span is eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. And some 97% of searchers don’t go beyond the first page of search results. You want people to find you fast – or better yet, first – when they do a web search.

GoldfishSEO stand for search engine optimization. It’s all about is getting your website to rank high organically (free) in search engine results pages (you may hear them called SERPs). The way to do that is to make your pages as Google-friendly and as discoverable as possible by including words (keywords) and phrases (long-tail keywords) that people frequently search for.

Now, in the old days (actually just a few years ago, which is a lifetime on the internet), there were a lot of SEO experts who knew how to game the system to get pages to rank higher in search results. The emphasis was on quantity – lots of low-quality content stuffed with as many keywords as possible that would trick people into going to a site. So, people were ending up on web pages whether what was on that page was relevant to what they searched for or not. It seemed great for businesses: Inflate the numbers! Make it look like we have lots of visitors and can charge more for ads.

The problem was it wasn’t good for consumers – and really, in the end it wasn’t great if you wanted real prospects. Why would you want to draw a bunch of unqualified leads to your site if they aren’t your target audience and they probably won’t buy from you? Businesses may have been seeing a lot of traffic, but they probably weren’t seeing corresponding conversions and sales.

These “black hat” SEO practices – that is, tactics that focus on gaming search engines and not on finding human in your target market – caused Google to make many changes its algorithm. Google’s ranking system algorithm is a set of formulas used to determine what a searcher is shown on search engine results pages.

“These ranking systems are made up of a series of algorithms that analyze what it is you are looking for and what information to return to you. And as we’ve evolved Search to make it more useful, we’ve refined our algorithms to assess your searches and the results in finer detail to make our services work better for you.” – Google Search Liaison

The Google Algorithms

No one (except Google) knows exactly what goes into those algorithms; the best guess so far is that there are about 200 signals that are used. We do know the new algorithms favored quality over quantity; relevance over repetition, and authority over amateurs. No longer can you stuff content full of keywords to rank higher in search engines. There’s no one “magic bullet” to fool these algorithms – and in fact you may be penalized by Google if you try.

A few of the most important signals Google looks at:

  • Does the site have quality, relevant content?
  • Do other reputable websites link to your site?
  • Is your site optimized for a mobile experience?
  • Do your pages load quickly?
  • Is the traffic to your site legitimate?

In other words, the better your site is for the user, and the more people visit it, the better chance you have of ranking higher in search engine results.

Here’s the thing: SEO is the long game. It can take several months or longer to see any real results in organic search.

While it’s important to always consider organic search and SEO when creating content or building web pages, there’s a quicker, easier way to get traffic to your website – if you’re willing to spend a little money.


Let’s look at a typical Google search engine results page for a keyword search of “phoenix attorney:”

Search Engine Results Page

Notice how the paid ads take up the top three positions on the page, and the first in the so-called “local pack”? The first organic listing is at the bottom, almost “below the fold.” Think of it like a newspaper: When you see a newspaper on the stand, it’s usually folded in half – you only see the top front. Everything else on Page 1 is “below the fold.”

AdWords to the Rescue

Paid Google ads (via AdWords) is a way to get results more quickly than SEO. The way paid ads work is that you target search words relevant to your product and audience. There are simple one-word keywords and there are long-tail keywords: Long-tail keywords are a longer string of words that make up a search term, but they’re a little more than that: they’re more about intent than numbers. They more closely mirror what the searcher means when they type in a search query. The idea is that as search terms become more precise, the competition becomes less. For a visual, I’ll share this graphic from Yoast, which does a good job of explaining how this works:

Long-tail KeywordsYou “bid” on these keywords and only pay when someone clicks on one. (You can also pay per 1,000 impressions, which is better for awareness than traffic). You want to make sure that your best, most likely customer prospects are clicking on those keywords because you don’t want to pay for useless clicks. So, you carefully pick your keywords, which is a blog topic in and of itself.

Here’s the thing: Paying for ads isn’t enough to get you to the first page, especially if you’re in a very competitive industry. The decision on how much you pay and where you’ll rank used to come down to two things: the maximum cost per click (CPC) you were willing to pay and quality score. Quality score, according to Google is “is an estimate of the quality of your ads, keywords, and landing pages. The more relevant your ads and landing pages are to the user, the more likely it is that you’ll see higher Quality Scores.”

Notice that one factor is the relevance of your landing page? That goes back to SEO. The better landing page experience, the better the quality score. So, make sure your web pages are optimized for your keyword and the content on the page is useful and relevant to your ads.

PPC encompasses several search engines, such as Google and Bing, two of the most popular ones. But in the US, Google dominates the search engine market with a 90% share, so chances are, you’ll be working with AdWords.


So, back to SEM, which we learned earlier is simply the process of attracting web traffic (and ultimately customers) via SEO and PPC. There are two ways to do this: By yourself or by hiring someone else.

Have someone else do it

SEM takes a good amount of time – even after the initial learning curve. If you’re tackling SEO and PPC yourself, that’s time that takes you away from running your business – your most important task. If you have the staff to do it, that’s great, but you might benefit by hiring a contractor or an agency to do the work for you. They will set up, monitor and do the reporting for your campaigns and they have the training to see opportunities and challenges for which they can make changes on the fly.

Do it yourself

We’re not going to try to tell you that SEM is rocket science. It’s not. But it does take a certain understanding of search, marketing and keywords. In addition, Google makes small changes every day, and broad changes several times a year. Occasionally the changes are major and if Google makes a major change to its algorithm, your rank could take a hit that could take a while to come back from. Someone needs to keep up on changes and be ready to make adjustments if an algorithm affects your page rank.

Do you really want to do that yourself? If so, there are plenty of good resources out there: Perry Marshall has some good books and resources; there are websites, such as Search Engine Land and Wordstream that have handy information; and of course, there’s Google itself, which has tutorials and certifications.

How much does it cost?

Google AdWords costs as much as you want to pay. Depending on what you want to accomplish and how much you have for a budget, you can spend $10 a day or $100. Or $1,000. In addition, if you hire someone to handle you SEM for you, they will likely charge a fee for managing your account, making necessary changes, and monitoring and reporting results. A freelancer may charge an hourly fee, while an agency may charge a flat monthly fee.

The bottom line is that concentrating on PPC over SEO will bring you traffic and leads more quickly. But remember: You must have a quality website with relevant content to get people to stay once they land on your site, and you must update the content to get them to return. That involves SEO, which is a longer-term investment. Your website is your lead magnet and PPC and SEO are two strategies that help make it work.

It’s Not You, It’s Them. Bad Managers and the Bottom Line

It’s Not You, It’s Them. Bad Managers and the Bottom Line

When I was in a corporate environment over the years I worked hard to be a good manager and continually learn how to become a better one. Now I have my own business and I’m at home every day, so I haven’t had anyone to manage, really. It’s important to me to keep my skills up, so I appointed the dog Chief Barketing Officer and set to work.

My day now goes something like this:

After I’ve had my coffee in the morning, I go into my home office (once known before he went to college as my son’s room) and I start my day. I draw up a list of anything the dog had done the day before that wasn’t up to my standards (eating the Munchkins I left on the counter for instance). Then I call her into my office and tell her she’s a bad dog. I give her a set of confusing and vague directions that I’m pretty sure she’s incapable of completing given the fact she has no thumbs, but that’s not my problem. I have things to do because I. Am. Very. Busy. And too important to explain myself to her, so I tell her to figure it out and send her on her way.

Once she’s gone, I stew over the fact I haven’t come up with a good blog idea yet. I complain out loud that things aren’t going as well as they could. The blog’s not going to write itself and, for the love of god, can someone other than me come up with some good ideas for once. When the dog presents an idea – or as she quaintly puts it – “barks” – I throw her out of my office and shut the door, leaving her to Facebook for the rest of the day or whatever it is she does when I’m not looking.

Around mid-day I have lunch. I toss the dog a piece of crust, so she’ll think I don’t think she’s a total waste of space and hope that’s motivation enough that she won’t try to get out the front door for the rest of the day.

Later in the day when she hasn’t accomplished what I’ve asked her to, although I wasn’t really clear with her about what I wanted done in the first place. That’s because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted until I saw what I didn’t want. So, I send her a nasty email in ALL CAPS like some electronic howler out of Harry Potter. I berate her for her general lack of competence. If she whines, I point out that the door’s right there. If she can’t do the job, there are plenty of other dogs in kennels all over the country who can. Which, of course, is totally not true, but it makes me feel important and really, that’s what being a boss is all about, isn’t it?

I tell her if she doesn’t start doing better – although I’m purposely vague about what “better” is in case she should accomplish it and get all uppity because she thinks she’s actually good at her job – she’ll be back at the pound. I tell her to go back to her bed, think about whether she really wants to work here and tell me in the morning if she’s ready to shape up or ship out.

Then the cat and I will laugh about her over drinks at the local watering hole after work.

Let’s talk about bad management

Of course, anyone who even remotely cares about being a good manager knows this is an example of really bad management. Yet there are people out there who still think this is the way to manage employees. You probably know one or two of them. They make whole movies about these people – “Horrible Bosses,” for instance, or even “9 to 5.”

Let’s face it: Almost anyone – and I think statistics will bear me out – can be a boss. They don’t have to be good at it. Not every boss is a good manager and every boss is certainly not a leader. People are routinely made bosses because, frankly, their boss doesn’t know what to do with them. They’ve probably been there for a long time, the logic goes, so they should be promoted to something, even if they’re not really good at anything.

And that’s a great plan if you want to demoralize your employees, create a toxic work environment and sacrifice any productivity there might be.

If you don’t care about bad managers creating a work environment that even pay and benefits can’t solve, then you should be concerned about this: Bad managers affect your bottom line – and not in a good way.

Bad managers lead to disengaged employees and according to Mental Health America’s 2017 report Mind the Workplace; disengaged employees cost up to $500 billion annually in productivity losses. According to the report:

“Unsupportive and unstable workplaces fostered psychological distress and contributed to a decline in employee engagement. Among employees with lower levels of engagement, a majority (65 percent) reported that they spent between 31-50 hours a week distracted in their workplace, and 70 percent stated that they were thinking about and/or actively looking for a new job. Low levels of employee engagement were moderately correlated with overall workplace health.”

It takes as much thought and effort to be a good manager at it as it does thoughtlessness to be a bad one. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t take some effort to be a bad manager: I’ve worked with a few and believe me, they put in a lot of effort to suck at managing as much as they do.


Brigette Hyacinth via LinkedIn

So, what are some things a bad manager does?

Here are a few things you might have experienced:

  • Bad managers are always looking for someone to blame (other than themselves)
  • Bad managers tell employees they can be replaced
  • Bad managers don’t listen to suggestions
  • Bad managers take credit for other’s work
  • Bad managers threaten, bully, and belittle
  • Bad managers don’t set expectations: they provide vague directions, so they have little accountability.
  • Bad managers will always tell you when you do something wrong, but not when you do something right. (I worked at a place where I was actually told “If they don’t say anything then you’re doing ok.” True story.)
  • Bad managers don’t care about work/life balance
  • Bad managers ask for suggestions, then ridicule them.
  • Bad managers berate employees in front of everyone
  • Bad managers are too busy to talk to you – about anything
  • Bad managers don’t promote good people

What do good managers do?

I’m a marketer and I specialize in social media marketing. It occurred to me that managers can take some lessons from good social media marketing practices when dealing with employees. After all, we use social media to attract customers and create a positive brand, why wouldn’t we use the same strategies to deal with our employees and create a good working environment? Conveying a positive brand starts from the ground up. Or the top down.

  1. Listen. Listening costs nothing but your time. With social media, it’s important to listen to our customers to be sure we are providing them what they want and need and that we are being true to our brand. In the same way, when an employee comes to you, listen. Look, we’re all busy, but almost no one has NO time to stop for a couple of minutes. If you absolutely can’t listen right then, provide an alternative time to meet. And they employee has an idea they think might help the company, remember: at least they have the good of the company in mind. Don’t ridicule the idea even if it’s so incredibly ridiculous you nearly choke on your coffee.
  2. Engage. Engagement in social media is very important. People who like your page but never engage, are not likely the people who will buy your product or be passionate about your brand. The important prospects are one that engage. The best workers are engaged workers. So, ask your employees for suggestions on how to accomplish a task or to fix the problem.
  3. Empower. Social media has given the power to everyone, young and old, to say what they think in a large forum. Yes, some people get carried away with that (I’m looking at you, Mr. Troll), but people feel now, more than ever, that they have a voice. With social media it’s a good practice to answer people who engage with you. Give your employees a voice. Allow them to speak out in a constructive way and in a way they feel they are being heard. Let them feel comfortable coming to you with a problem – and for heaven’s sake don’t get angry – even if they tell you the problem is you.
  4. Support. Social media gives people a platform that’s easy to use. Give your employees the tools – and permission – to do what’s needed. Do what you can to make take away friction from their tasks, so they can be more productive. Don’t hassle them over small purchases if it helps them do their job more easily and better. In the long run it’s cheaper to buy a new laptop then to have an employee take twice as long to complete a project because of computer issues.
  5. Reward. When someone follows your page or provides a positive review, thank them. It doesn’t cost anything, but it shows your followers you’re listening. Give employees something – even if it’s just heartfelt praise – when they do good work. It’s true talk IS cheap. Sometimes a small perk can mean a lot to an employee and it costs you nothing. Take Nina Hale: The Minneapolis-based digital marketing company recently granted employees “Fur-ternity” leave so they could work from home for a week after getting a new pet. Cost = $0; Worth = Priceless.

Use social media marketing best practices when you deal with employees and your employees will feel good about your company: they will fell valued and empowered. When they feel valued and empowered, they’ll be better engaged. When they feel engaged, they will go the extra mile for you, and they are far less likely to quit.

So, if you’re a company focused on an outstanding customer experience and great customer service, why should you treat your employees any different?

I better go check on the dog.

Case Closed: A Blog Can Bring Clients to Your Law Practice

Case Closed: A Blog Can Bring Clients to Your Law Practice

With more than 30 movies, more than 270 episodes and more than 80 books and short stories, Perry Mason probably didn’t need a blog. It wouldn’t have hurt, but he seemed to do all right on his own, with an impressive percentage of cases won somewhere in the 99 percent range.

However, if you’re not Perry Mason, a blog could be a useful tool for your practice: A blog can bring clients to your law practice by raising your visibility and positioning you as an accessible, helpful expert on a specific topic or niche practice, as Amy Campbell has noted in her blog. In other words, it gives you exposure: Exposure to clients, exposure to potential clients, exposure to colleagues and exposure to networking opportunities.

While there are two main issues lawyers should be aware of – ethical issues, such breaching the duty of confidentiality and rules of professional conduct that set guidelines for advertising – there are plentyof good reasons to blog (or, in this case, blawg, as law blogs are known). Blogs are part of the content – quality content – that you need to boost your rank on search engine results pages. Each blog is a separate page with tags, links and metadata that get picked up by search engines and figured into their algorithms that determine page rank. That’s  an important benefit because 38% of people use the Internet to find an attorney, but 75% of people won’t look beyond the first page when they do a Google search. You want to be on that first page – and as far up on that first page as possible. The way to get there is by using a three-pronged approach – content, links and social media. (Forbes writer Jason DeMers provides an excellent overview of this approach here). Finally, blogging helps an attorney develop new ideas, improve research skills and keep up-to-date on legal developments.

Business development

A law practice is like any other business that needs customer fuel to keep the engine running, and that requires some form of business development. The statistics on the results companies get from regular blogging are pretty convincing:

  • B2B marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads than those that do not (Hubspot).
  • Blogs rank as the third most influential digital resource guiding consumer purchasing decisions (Marketing Magazine).
  • 81% of U.S. online consumers trust information and advice from blogs (BlogHer)
  • 39% of lawyers have acquired clients through blogging (My Case)

Perry Mason BookYou should think about who your blog audience will be. Will it be for your clients? Other lawyers? It’s important to know who your target audience will be because you’ll want to write your blog in a voice that’s appropriate for your reader: clients will appreciate getting information in layman’s terms, while more complex information delivered in more technical language would be useful for colleagues. There are several audiences for a lawyer’s blog:

Current clients. Your blog can keep them informed in areas of interest, answer common questions, and provide them with useful content that’s relevant to them.

Prospective clients. An informative, easy-to-understand blog that shows that you are an expert in your field can draw new clients to you.

Lawyers in your practice area. Providing useful information to other lawyers also establishes you as an expert in your area of law and gives you exposure should they need an out-of-state referral.

The general lawyer population. Your blog is a great way to establish dialogue with other members of the lawyer community and is a vehicle for networking opportunities.

Don’t Forget Social Media

Your blog should be paired with social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook – and your website for maximum impact. It’s all part of inbound marketing, in which you create helpful, relevant content and distribute it to people who are interested in it. It draws them to you, so when they need an attorney and they’re ready to call, you’ve already established something of a relationship with them. Outbound, or traditional, marketing pushes promotional messages out in a disruptive, scatter shot way, hoping someone hears it. With inbound marketing, you are speaking to the people who are interested in what you have to offer to begin with.

Traditionally, lawyers have had to get business through referrals and networking. Inbound marketing takes away some of that work and allows you to market 24/7 by letting your blog, social media and website generate leads for you.

As long as you’re not violating any ethics rules or divulging  client information, there should be no reason you can’t blog – except for time or commitment. In that case, there are services that can help you, or you could hire someone to ghost write the blog for you. While you might want someone with a law degree to write blogs aimed at other lawyers, finding a general content provider who can present ideas in language accessible to your audience might be the best route for a blog aimed at current and potential clients. So think of this as a case: The Case of the Missing Blog. You don’t have to be Perry Mason to solve it.

What Inbound Marketing and Fly-Fishing Have in Common

What Inbound Marketing and Fly-Fishing Have in Common

What’s the difference between traditional and inbound marketing? Traditional marketing is like trawling – you know, fishing by trailing a net through the water. When you trawl, you get fish, but you get a lot of other things too. Say you’re trawling for a specific species of fish; you throw out your net, drag it behind your boat and later haul up the net.

So, you cast a wide net and you managed to snag a few of the fish you were looking for, but you snagged a bunch of other stuff too. Turtles, perhaps. Dolphins, maybe. Trash, probably. That’s traditional (outbound) marketing: Cast a wide net and hope you get the right customer buried among the wrong customers. By wrong, I mean the ones who aren’t interested in what you have to offer.

Trawling catch

Consider this:

  • Some 44% of direct mail is never opened (HubSpot).
  • 86% of people skip TV ads (HubSpot).
  • More than 221 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on the FTC do not call list (Federal Trade Commission).

Enter inbound marketing. If traditional marketing is trawling, inbound marketing is fly fishing. In fly fishing, you create the right fly for the right location and the right fish. Fly fishing is deliberate and targeted. You’re not dropping a net on the fish and trapping them haphazardly; you’re setting up a situation in which they come to you. When you trawl, the fish see the net coming and yell, “Run! Run!” When you’ve tied on the right fly and cast it perfectly, the fish say “A Woolly Bugger! Nom nom!” The fish come to you. They bite; you reel ‘em in; and you keep them (marketing is NOT catch-and-release)

When you tie flies, you take your fur, feathers, thread and hook to create something compelling that will bring the fish to you. With inbound marketing you’re doing the same thing – except your marketing fly-tying materials are blogs, SEO, web pages and social media sprinkled with calls to action, email and landing pages. You’re casting, attracting, hooking and landing – and possibly sautéing in a little butter with a nice Chardonnay on the side.

Tied flies

So, you pick your fish, you create something it wants and you put it out there. That’s inbound marketing:  Instead of shouting, you’re studying, you’re listening and you’re targeting; you’re getting the fish you want. And by fish, I mean customers. You’re getting the customers who want to buy your product.

Now consider this:

  • Inbound marketing costs 61% less per lead than traditional, outbound marketing (HubSpot).
  • 54% more leads are generated by inbound tactics than traditional paid marketing (HubSpot)

Here’s what marketer Guy Kawasaki has to say about inbound marketing:

“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”

So, what is inbound marketing?

A common definition of inbound marketing is “publishing the right content in the right place at the right time.” The content you put out, whether it be a blog, ebook, email or social media post, is relevant to your audience. You know your audience because you’ve created buyer personas; and you know the right time because you’ve done A/B testing and you’ve worked at nurturing leads – even after they become customers.

That last piece is important: After you get a customer, you want to continue to delight them so that they become repeat customers – after all, it’s about 7 times more expensive to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.  And, existing customers tend to spend more, so it’s a win-win.

There’s no doubt that inbound is effective, but as with everything, marketing is constantly evolving and inbound is changing as well. At the same time, it’s important to know that traditional marketing isn’t dead, and it shouldn’t be thrown out the window. Inbound and outbound can play nice together: In fact, a mix is likely to be more effective than putting all your eggs in one basket. You might have to reallocate some budget until you find the right combination of strategies for your company or product.

It all comes down to what you’re trying to accomplish and/or what you’re trying to sell – and to whom. There’s no one-size-fits-all, because everyone is different. After all, you wouldn’t use a Kinky Muddler to catch a salmon, right?