One of the most common questions I’m asked when it comes to building digital marketing strategies is the difference between SEO and SEM (or Adwords depending on how you want to classify it) and whether online marketing budgets should be invested in one or the other. The reality is, if the budget allows, every organisation should invest in both.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) should be a necessary component of digital marketing. No other technique comes close to matching the cost-effectiveness and power of SEO when it comes to building an online presence as most online users implicitly trust organic results (more so than paid results). But, one of the most frustrating aspects of SEO is the time between implementation and results.
It can take six months or more for search algorithms to acknowledge the fruits of your labour. In the meantime, your site’s online visibility will languish in non-existence as your competitors higher up in the rankings reap the rewards. Paid search engine marketing (SEM) methods can bridge that gap. So using both SEO and SEM in your marketing campaigns is highly recommended.
Benefits of SEO
SEO is primarily about optimising your website to rank higher in the search results for important keywords. There are multiple factors to consider – Google measures up to 200 factors when ranking your site in the organic results, but the ultimate aim is for your brand to be at the top of the organic search results of your prospects. The higher your site ranks, the more visibility and traffic it gets. Whilst the numbers vary between keywords and industries, according to a study conducted by Chitika Insights, a website holding the top spot in the organic search results receives 33% of the traffic share of that keyword. In short, if that keyword is searched for 100 times each month, the top ranking organic keyword will received 33 clicks. After first place, the traffic numbers drop drastically, with second and third place getting 18 and 12 percent respectively.
Furthermore, research by Enquisite found that organic search results attracted 7 to 8 more clicks than paid placements – as we said before, people trust the organic results more – so paid search could be delivering only a fraction of the traffic.
One of the key components of a good SEO campaign is high quality content – blogs, infographics, reports, video and so on. If you dive into producing this content, it will have a knock on benefit for other parts of your digital strategy – social media, newsletters and so on.
Any business, regardless of size and budget, can implement SEO techniques and reap the rewards. Depending on which keywords you pick, you can optimise your site now, do nothing for three months and still experience residual traffic and brand exposure. That makes SEO one of the most cost-effective marketing methods available.
Benefits of SEM
While ‘SEM’ as a term can mean the entire set of strategies and techniques used to build an online presence and generate more website visitors, it is more commonly used to refer to pay-per-click advertising. Rather than wait for the search engines to rank your website, as with SEO, you pay for exposure and clicks. It’s a quick way to get to the top of the SERPs and begin attracting customers.
While the overall clicks on paid search placements are lower than organic results, only 15% all clicks are apportioned to paid listings, they are 1.5 times more likely to convert. That means someone is more likely to buy after clicking on a sponsored listing. With SEM, you have direct control over your website’s visibility. Providing you target the right keywords and can successfully outbid the competition, you can propel your brand to the top of the search results, literally overnight.
Better still you can move your budget up and down at will, and whilst not recommended, you can even turn your campaign off during periods you might not want any new enquiries – i.e. Christmas and New Year.
Benefits of Combined Strategies
Brands that have the budget and resources will find great success using a multi-channel approach that includes both SEO and SEM. Here are a few benefits to keep in mind.
- Enhanced brand awareness – Fledgeling businesses can accelerate brand awareness by investing in SEM. Users will begin to recognise and trust your brand name, and you can rebalance your investment as your organic visibility increases because of your SEO efforts.
- Increased site visibility – Using a combination of paid and organic marketing strategies will help to give your brand more visibility in the search results. Not only will your business show up in the sponsored results at the top of the page, but also in the organic results that follow. SEO is essential for long term web search visibility.
- Improved Conversion Rates – As mentioned earlier, conversion rates have been shown to be higher when people click on the sponsored search results. That same study, from New Media Campaigns, also found that more people clicked on organic results than sponsored results. From that, it is easy to conclude that with a combination of paid and organic results your business can expect more conversions.
In short, SEO offers greater value for search marketing whilst SEM offers quicker results, and few companies can afford to wait for search engine optimisation to take effect, though. To bridge the gap and start driving immediate sales, you must incorporate paid search engine marketing into your strategy. As your SEO efforts begin to bear fruit, you can rebalance your budget and reduce expenditure on SEM.
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