The days when a mom-and-pop shop could do well simply by setting up in the neighborhood and putting their listing in the Yellow Pages are long gone. These days, it doesn’t matter what you sell or how you sell it—if you want any chance at lasting success, you have to invest in your online presence. And this means using SEO and PPC advertising.

Unfortunately, far too many companies—especially startups—put themselves in a world of financial hurt because they don’t take the time to make sure they’re doing things right.

You don’t want to see your entire marketing budget go to waste because you messed up on your SEO and PPC strategy. So how can you avoid this business-killing dilemma? These five tips are a good way to stay safe as you take those initial steps into the world of SEO and PPC marketing.

Keyword Strategy

Sick and tired of hearing about keywords being the basis of successful SEO and PPC? You’ll have to get used to it, because keyword research is the only way you’ll create successful digital campaigns.

Keyword strategy is an ongoing process, both when you’re initially formulating your SEO and PPC campaigns and as you fine-tune them later on. As you target relevant keywords that lead to conversions, you’ll be better able to improve your search rankings and PPC outcomes.

As Rory Witt of DigiMar explains, proper keyword selection can have a huge impact on both your conversions and your digital marketing budget. You have to be careful, though. “Even a relevant ad group with a high cost per conversion could suck away your PPC budget and keep you from getting the results you need.”

Keep in mind that modern keyword research doesn’t just focus on short “head terms.” Long-tail keywords have become increasingly important in recent years, and many brands have been better able to reach a narrowly defined target audience through these phrases than with broader, shorter keywords.

Build Your Online Brand

Consistent, quality, branding is another key to getting your SEO and PPC efforts off on the right foot. Sure, you may not have the brand recognition of the Coca-Cola’s and Chevrolet’s of the world, but sending strong digital branding signals can reinforce your SEO campaigns and help you achieve—and maintain—a high ranking.

The sooner you start building your online brand, the better. From bulking up your presence on Facebook and other social media platforms to implementing consistent on-site branding—with logos, fonts, colors, etc—these seemingly simple steps can go a long way in improving consumer trust.

This in turn sends stronger signals to Google, which begins to recognize you as a brand and not just some random website—and your SEO rankings will grow as a result.

Watch the Competition

Every business should have a clear understanding of who its competitors are. Even more important, however, is understanding what their competition is doing.

This applies just as much to your SEO and PPC campaigns. After all, learning from your competitors’ successes—and their mistakes—can help guide you in your quest to identify top keywords and strategies.

Best of all, modern tools like SEMrush have made it easier than ever to get quick, actionable data regarding what your competitors are up to. You can see where they rank, where they’re generating backlinks, and what keywords are turning in the best results for them.

If you don’t have any idea what your competitors are doing, you’ll never be able to strategize appropriately so you can get ahead. Identifying the strengths and weaknesses in your competition’s SEO and PPC efforts can help you take advantage of opportunities you would otherwise miss entirely.

SEO, Then PPC

It can be tempting to rush into making PPC your top digital marketing priority. After all, PPC is often touted at delivering fast marketing results. But before you dive into PPC, you absolutely must get your website ready—and this means focusing on SEO and the user experience.

In reality, pretty much everything you do to improve the usability and usefulness of your site plays into your SEO rankings. Google doesn’t just look at keyword optimization — though that certainly plays a role. Ease of navigation, quality content that provides actual value, and even SEO-optimized photos will all affect your ranking.

Even more important, however, is that each of these SEO optimization tactics will also impact how people respond to your website after they arrive there through your PPC campaigns. Quite often, seemingly minor factors like a poor menu location, an auto-play video or pop-ups can drive your customers away after only a few seconds, hurting both your SEO ranking and wasting your PPC budget.

Take the time to make your website adhere to the best SEO and user experience practices. Aside from keyword strategy, this could ultimately have a bigger impact on your SEO and PPC success than anything else.

Don’t Gamble on Marketing Agencies

Effective SEO and PPC campaigns require a lot of work—so why not let the pros handle it? Unfortunately, one of the biggest mistakes that many businesses entering the online marketing world make is choosing the wrong ad agency to work with.

An ad agency that uses flashy jargon and makes bold promises on its webpage isn’t necessarily going to provide great results. Thoroughly vet the ad agencies you’re thinking of working with. Look at their experience and case studies—better yet, see what current and former clients have to say about them!

Don’t fall for flashy self-promotion. Make sure your ad agency of choice measures success the same way you do, and that they truly know what is needed to grow your business.

In the world of SEO and PPC, you never know when a Google algorithm update or a random issue with your website can suddenly throw off your campaign. But with a quality marketing agency on your side, you’ll be able to identify and resolve these problems quickly so you can continue to get the results you need. With a bad agency, well, good luck.

Parting Thoughts

It’s a fact of life: SEO and PPC mastery can be hard. But when you take the right steps to establish these important elements of your digital marketing strategy, you can avoid the pitfalls that derail so many companies’ attempts at online growth.

Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

Lucas Miller is a freelance blogger, content marketer and advocate for what he likes to call, “Editorial Entrepreneurship.” When not working to strengthen Echelon Copy and Green Splatter, he’s busy reading, writing or running alongside the Wasatch Mountains in Provo, Utah. Also, for what it’s worth, he claims to have an incredible head of hair.

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