SEO And SEM: When To Pick Which Approach?


The importance of SEO and SEM could not have been better explained without the following two quotes:

“The best place to hide a dead body is page 2 of Google Search Results Pages”. (Anonymous)

“Stopping advertising to save money is like stopping your watch to save time.” (Henry Ford)

Inspired by these two quotes, let’s begin the journey to learn both the approaches better than each other.

By the end of the post, you’d be able to:

  • Understand the terms SEO and SEM better.
  • Dig into the fundamental differences and the relationship between both approaches.
  • And understand the scenarios and situations where each path is more appropriate.

So, let’s get down to it.

The chances that you haven’t heard of either of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are as many as being stuck by lightning thrice a day. 

Now, how often does that happen?

Let’s see what each of the terms really does:

Understanding The Terms SEO And SEM Better

SEO is the process of improving your site’s quality, so it organically gets better visibility, ranks higher, and receives more valuable visitors. The critical point here is that SEO doesn’t involve paying the search engine to rank you better.

And no! You can not bribe the search engine into doing this.

The primary focus of SEM is the same as SEO, i.e., increasing your site’s visibility to land more of your target audiences on your website. However, SEM makes use of paid marketing to achieve this goal.

SEO Vs. SEM. What’s The Main Difference? What’s The Link?

Both SEO and SEM are interlinked, connected directly under the umbrella term Search Marketing

The link between SEO and SEM.

When choosing SEO strategies to get our website ranked, we rely on organic search results. There’s no direct involvement of money but strategizing the content so that the site ranks higher on the SERP.

On the other hand, SEM uses paid searches to rank on top of the SERP, right above the organic listings.

The website ads which come up on your Google search result have used SEM as their ranking strategy.

Let’s understand it better with a real search:

I ran a Google search for the keyword “Online Colleges In Oklahoma.” What else should be on our mind in the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Here’re are the top results I got:

Google ads for the keyword 'Online Colleges In Oklahoma'.

The image contains ads of the colleges in Oklahoma that are offering online teaching services. These ads show on the top of the SERP. 

An advertiser secures this position by paying for it. The same advertiser can achieve a higher position on SERPs for his website, right under the ad space.

In this case, he’d be making use of Search marketing (SE), i.e., SEO and SEM. 

After the ads, you’d see the Search Engine Optimized (SEO-ed) content for which there’s working on the back-end and no direct payments involved.

SEO results for the keyword 'Online Colleges In Oklahoma' 

A Short Summary Of SEO Strategies

SEO strategies are focused on generating organic traffic. There are many aspects of SEO that you have to consider to earn an organic ranking. Our blog post briefly touched the following six basic strategies that e-Commerce businesses should follow to rank high in SERPs, organically. Read that post to understand Search Engine optimization even for dummies, or stay here for a summary:

Creating Backlinks

You earn backlinks or incoming links when other websites share your content and credit you.

Meta Description

It is a 160-character description of your page/post. Call it the summary of a webpage.

Organizing The Website Structure

Achieving an organized and speedy website by categorizing the content gives it a better understanding and navigating structure.

Using Keywords Appropriately

Researching and using the right keywords to develop your web content around shows your content to the prospects right when looking for your content.

Voice Optimization

Optimizing the content for voice searches through different techniques makes your content appear to searchers who use this kind of search.

Featured Snippet Optimization

Creating content that gets visibility in featured snippets – position zero – on Google SERPs gives you more visibility.

Read More:

A Complete Guide To Doing SEO For A Medical Clinic

Doing SEO For Small Businesses The Right Way

Let’s briefly touch Search Engine Marketing Solutions now, in the next section:

 A Short Summary Of Search Engine Marketing Strategies

Let’s have a look at how SEM works.

SEM uses all the paid marketing strategies, including PPC, the acronym for pay per click

After optimizing the website for ranking organically in the search engines (SEO), you start working on PPC.

How To Optimize Your PPC Traffic?

Pay-per-click or PPC is the amount you pay to a search engine, whenever a user clicks your product/ business ad.

Call it the fee you pay to the search engine to get clicks on your ad. 

You may be paying a nominal amount for this click and converting these clicks to actual sales, making huge profits. Or, you might have to pay a huge amount for each click that might not even convert. 

Falling under the first category instead of the second one calls for a better understanding of the PPC system. 

The number of clicks you get on the ad is known as click-through- rate (CTR). The higher the CTR, the more are the chances for sales conversion.

“How so?” you ask.

Here’s how:

If your website receives 100 visitors, the people who convert would be lower than the number when 1000 people visit you. Even though the conversion rate could be the same, the number of conversions would vary. The more the people land on your website clicking through the ads, the more are the chances of conversions. 

Sounds interesting?

It is indeed, but your PPC has a criterion to get the highest rank. 

It depends on the ad rank. Ad Rank is a metric calculated by multiplying two factors known as the cost per click (bid) and the ad quality.

Let’s take a look at what these factors are:

Bidding:

When you’re using SEM strategies for ranking high, you bid for a keyword. Whenever a user asks for the keyword, you have made a bid for, your ad appears on the SERP.

The rank of your ad depends on your bid. The highest bid, however, doesn’t necessarily get the highest rank. That’s because Google takes the bid quality into account too.

Whenever a user clicks your ad, you need to pay the bid amount to the search engine. It is known as cost-per-click (CPC). 

It is an auction-based system where the one who pays the highest for a position enters a competition with other bidders for the quality, relevance and other factors. The winner gets the top spot against the fee that Google charges each time someone clicks the ads.

Ad Quality:

The ad quality depends on three factors:

  • Expected CTR: This factor is partly based on the previous CTR data of an ad.
  • The relevance of keywords: How relevant your web page’s ad is for the user who clicked.
  • Landing Page Quality: How easy to navigate the landing page (the page you have put an ad for) is.

Interestingly, the cost per click goes down when the CTR goes up. 

Look at it this way:

The rule of demand and supply applies here. When more users click the ad, the click’s cost goes down due to a higher user supply. 

This might sound a bit confusing. 

So here’s another way to see things better: 

When the CTR is high, Google gives a discount to the website on its CPC.

Now that we have seen that the best way to get lower CPC is through higher CTR, time to see how you can improve your CTR.

How To Improve Your Ads-CTR?

The click-through rate depends on the quality of the ad. There are basic guidelines provided by Google to improve your ad quality. Here’s what Google suggests we do:

  • Keep the ads focused on a single ad group: Your ad should be specifically targeting a single relevant ad group. For example, if you’re aiming for the keyword’ gym shoes,’ your ad should be targeting only the users who would click the ad for ‘gym shoes’ and not any other kind of shoes. 
  • Dig your keywords carefully: Use the best possible keyword research tools and target the users on a single long-tailed keyword that will land relevant viewers on the web page.
  • Add the keywords to your ad text: Adding the keyword to your ad’s title and your ad’s complete text will entice more users to click on your ad. 
  • Create enticing ads: Use the unique selling point, current promotion, or discount in your ad copy.
  • Word your ad in a way that gives an urgent call-to-action: Add a call-to-action word such as buy, sell, or order in your ad copy so that the user gets converted.
  • Keep testing multiple ads: Make different ad copies and keep testing which one earns a better CTR.
  • Keep reviewing the campaign performance: When you keep checking different ad copies, you will observe which ads and calls-to-action get a better CTR and conversion in comparison.

 Read More: 

Effectively Running Google PPC Ads for A Clothing Business

SEO Vs. SEM: Which One To Choose For Your Business?

Now that we have understood the basics of SEM and SEO, we will get into their comparative analysis. 

When To Choose SEO?

Before diving into the scenarios where SEO is more appropriate, don’t forget that SEO strategies take more time to produce results. Additionally, they need consistent efforts to maintain the SERP ranking. 

Although there are no direct costs involved when you’re choosing SEO strategies for your website, there are costs involved in the process.

Even if you DIY the Search Engine Optimization without involving an expert, you need to pay for the subscription of research tools without which SEO is impossible.

Also Read:

DIY SEO Or Hire SEO Experts – Which Option Suits Your Business Better?

Now that the cost part is clear, we can move on to the scenarios when a business should choose SEO.

1- When There Are Long Term Benefits Involved

SEO strategies do not give you an instant ranking. You may need to wait for years to secure the highest rank, but you have sustained web traffic once you do it correctly. 

Here’s a wonderful depiction by Ahrefs on the number of days you’d need to get a specific SERPs position.

The number of days required to secure the top rank on SERP

This graph shows that the top-ranking Google webpage took almost 950 days to reach there. If you are not a mathematician, we will do the mental maths for you.

And this makes it about 3 years.

If you keep updating your SEO campaign, there are chances of ranking high on the SERPs, which eventually results in better sales. 

 2-  When You Want To Have An Authority Website

SEO is a tough process, but it has its perks too.

The best part is that your website becomes an authority website if the backlink profile is strong. People will start choosing your site to find relevant results on your website for an extended period. 

They start to trust your website for their queries and treat it as an information center.

3- When Your Advertising Budget Is Limited

Even though SEO involves some costs, it is still inexpensive. 

All you need to do is invest some money in the initial stages for getting tools of SEO. Later on, use the same tools for years to earn yourself high ranks.

4- When You’re Targeting An Already Established Niche

SEO practices can show results when you’re entering an established niche. It may sound incorrect to some, but SEO strategies such as keyword research become highly effective when the target is an established niche.

 Pros And Cons Of SEO

There are both positives and negatives involved here. Let’s see the positives first:

Pros:

  • It retains your web traffic.

Once you have crafted and implemented the SEO strategies, there’s no need to sustain the traffic. 

Organic traffic has a longer life than paid traffic, which leads to building the website authority over time.

(Don’t hold your horses though; consistent efforts are needed to retain the ranks.)

  • It is cheap in the long run.

You invest initially, but there’s no need to buy clicks through payments. If you have implemented a smart set of SEO strategies, you will be getting traffic that constantly drives conversions.

Cons:

Even though SEO proves to sustain web traffic and is cheap, here are the downsides to it.

  •  It does not give instant results.

SEO is a long road. There’s consistent effort involved in it, and sadly, there are no shortcuts. You do every right thing and keep waiting to get the desired rank because many competitors are putting in the same efforts. 

It’s a long queue you have to wait in.

  •  It requires developing rich and unique content.

SEO is a content-centric approach – Content that is competitive and unique at the same time. It takes much time to develop the right – appealing – content for your website. It is virtual labor, which can get frustrating at times.

That’s all about when to use SEO for your business. Let’s move forward to see what are the situations when SEM is more effective. 

However, to understand your business needs better and decide the right strategy for growth, seek help from a professional Search Engine Marketing or SEM Agency.

When To Choose SEM?

So, let’s have a look at the relevant scenarios without further delay.

1- When You Need Instant Results

SEM gives instant results. People searching for the keywords quickly rush to the ads they see if they need your services urgently. 

There’s an influx of clicks on the advertisement if it is relevant and well crafted. Google garners 3.5 billion searches per day, which is a humongous search volume. 

Google search volumes in the past few years (from 1999-2012)

The above graph represents Google search volumes in the past few years.

Now, here’s the thing:

If your bid is reasonably high, and the quality score is good, your chances of getting a high CTR are very bright. 

2- When You Have A Time Limit For An Event

You’re aiming to pitch a particular event for which you cannot wait. It can be an end of season sale or the launch of a new product line. You cannot use SEO only and wait for people to click organically on your web page. 

Why?

That’s because the event is right ahead and you need quick traffic. The only way to get more of the high-quality traffic under sharp deadlines is through the correct Search engine marketing strategy.

3- When Your Advertising Budget Is Not Tight

To be honest, PPC is an expensive process. The clicks can be costly if your product lies in a competitive niche. Other than that, it is an auction-based system, so there’s a fair chance of over-pricing as well. 

However, make arrangements before you have to regret losing sales to lack of appropriate budget.

4- When You Have An Innovative Product/Service To Sell

If you’re entering an untapped market, Google ads can help you find customers. There’s no way to go for SEO strategies in this scenario. All your efforts will go down the drain due to one single fact: Not enough people are searching for your products, so your SEO results won’t help much. 

But, PPC ads do not necessarily show up as a result of relevant searchers. There are more ways you could use PPC campaigns to successfully reach potentials that are not even currently searching for you.

Pros And Cons Of SEM

There are good and bad sides to everything – we know for a fact. How could SEM lie above the golden rule?

So, here are some of the positives:

Pros:

  • It is swift

As mentioned above, SEM can generate web traffic quickly. Once your ad goes on the SERP, your CTR spikes high.

  • It allows experimentation

This model allows experimentation with different ads. You can test multiple ads for their performances and or the efficiency of different and the calls-to-action too.

Cons:

As said earlier, there are negatives to this model as well. So, just look into the not-so-good part.

  • It is expensive

Bidding for clicks is expensive. The clicks in competitive niches can sometimes get more costly than the product itself. SEM is not a good option to opt for in such a case.

  • Paid traffic vanishes when you stop paying.

Once you stop paying for the clicks, the CTR goes down drastically. 

Revisiting SEO and SEM: A Quick Wrap Up 

SEO

SEOSEM
Uses organic traffic to the website for ranking high on the SERPUses paid means to rank high on the SERP
Can take time to generate resultsGenerates quick traffic and results to the website
Can be used with limited non-advertising budgetRequires a sound budgeting plan for advertising
The traffic is sustainableThe traffic vanishes when the payment stops
Good for long term ranking goalsGood for short-term ranking goals


Conclusion

SEO and SEM are both effective in different scenarios. We cannot conclude with the notion that one of them is superior to another. Any of these models, if applied correctly, can garner the required results. 

A smartly crafted advertising strategy for any small or large business can prove to be fruitful. The core facts of digital advertising will remain constant. It requires a lot of effort to grab the top spot on a SERP. No matter which strategy you choose, you have to put your heart and soul to it. 

An SEO and SEM expert – a digital Marketing guru- would recommend a better business strategy. However, here’s the secret sauce to digital success: Incorporate both the SEO and SEM in your marketing strategy and see the results soaring through the roof.

Thank us later!

If you have any questions about the search engine marketing for small or medium businesses, give us a call. We are the top Search Engine Marketing Consultants around the USA.

Your Search engine Optimization queries and concerns for small to medium businesses would also find them best resolved here.

Wait! That’s a bold claim.

But our expert SEO consultants have proof of guaranteed Search engine optimization of your business sites.

Happy making your pick 🙂

Also read:

SEO FAQs For Bloggers To Ace The Optimization Process

Why Does Your e-commerce Store need SEO?

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