When discussing ways to increase visibility on the web, digital marketers will mostly likely bump into these terms a lot: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Both strategies are often confused with one another but they are actually two different services. How?
In this article, we are going to discuss the difference between the two and dig deeper on how to best incorporate SEM to your overall digital marketing strategy. Let’s start.
What is SEO?
SEO or Search Engine Optimisation refers to a strategy used to ensure that your website shows up ahead of your competitors in the organic (or unpaid) results of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
SERP is that ad-free portion of the results page where search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) deliver the best possible matches or lists of web pages to your search queries.
Your ultimate goal in SEO should be to see your website on the first page because the higher your ranking, the more chances for your visitors to discover your website.
It is composed of two main components:
- On-Page SEO – includes things you do to your web pages that will have a great impact on search engine rankings like optimising keyword density and placement on title tag, header tag, meta descriptions, improving page load speed, integrating social media sharing, fixing broken links, and many more.
- Off-Page SEO – refers to activities that increases a website’s ranking that are not controlled by the design or coding of the web page. Examples are link building, social bookmarking, directory submissions, forum postings, etc.
What is SEM?
SEM or Search Engine Marketing was originally an umbrella term that involves increasing the website’s visibility in the SERPs through paid search and SEO. SEM involves SEO strategies as well as other search marketing techniques such as social media marketing.
Search engines display ads whenever users who are searching for a certain type of product or service. It’s easy to distinguish these ads on Google, as they are commonly located on top of the search page or on the right side of the search results. See the screenshot below.
Over the years, digital marketing experts have come to define SEM to refer to paid search only. It aims to gain website traffic by placing ads on paid search listings.
So what’s the difference between SEO and SEM?
The major difference is that SEO is one of the components of search engine marketing. SEO is focused more on providing organic or ad-free search results to users.
In search engine marketing, you pay for an ad in search engines on top or right next to search results. Users searching for your keywords will then see your ads. SEM allows you more targeted traffic than just SEO alone. Other components included in SEM are paid search like Pay-Per-Click and social media marketing.
While both complement one another to get more traffic for your website, they are not the same so they should never be used interchangeably.
Why Should You Invest on SEM?
These five reasons should give you an idea why search engine marketing is important for your business.
It offers more targeted traffic for your website.
Research has shown that most Internet users would never go beyond the first or second page of search results. It could only mean that if your website is found on page 3 or up, it’s likely that you won’t have much organic traffic. This gets even more complicated if you have so many competitors who are also optimising their site for organic search. When you’re business is new and you want to beef up your lead generation efforts, it’s a great idea to try a PPC campaign since it delivers targeted traffic in less time than SEO.
It creates awareness for your brand.
People who go to search engines generally know what they’re searching for. With search engine marketing, it can direct potential customers to your site to get more details about your product. It helps to build your brand and establish your authority in your niche.
It works hand-in-hand with your other marketing strategies.
To promote their products and services, most companies would allocate a budget for advertising. Some huge companies may choose to advertise on TV, radio and newspaper as their main marketing channels while integrating SEM and SEO to bring optimum results online.
Your competitors are investing on SEM.
More and more companies are finding huge benefits with SEM, and that includes your competitors. So if you’re not using it to drive up your marketing efforts, you will surely lose ground in increasing your customer base.
It can be measured.
SEM is one of the best marketing channels because results are measurable so you know how many conversions your budget has actually produced. Unlike other marketing channels like billboards, it doesn’t tell you the exact number of people who have are actually influenced to buy the product or service advertised. SEM has powerful reporting tools that display your traffic sources, conversion rate, ROI and other metrics that will help you make better decisions.
Misconceptions about SEM
These are just a few of the misconceptions about SEM that many people might still believe in.
It is only for tech-savvy individuals.
Marketing might be intertwined with technology but this does not mean that only techie people can handle this type of marketing campaign. It requires people who have a skill in creating enticing call-to-action message, graphic design and copy writing. It is not just for tech-savvy people but it is something that can be learned and adopted by all departments in the company.
It is a quick SEO fix.
It is quite common to hear some companies, especially startups, to jumpstart on SEM for a few months and stop midway when they reached some good rankings. This strategy may work for a short while but, considering the search engine’s dynamic algorithmic movement, your rankings today may not be the same next month. So it is apparent that you need to have a long-term search marketing strategy to have the upper-hand in search rankings.
Social Media is not necessary for SEM
Quite often you will hear business owners claim that they don’t need to do social media since their customers are probably not on Facebook or Twitter. They could be right but there’s no denying the power of social media in creating a successful marketing campaign today. Do you know why? Whenever you share your content and engage with your followers and network, you are essentially building your authority and create a good impression with Google for you to get ranked.
I don’t need to be mobile-friendly since my customers are not using smartphones
If you want to compete online today, you better start revamping your site and make it more mobile-friendly. Millions of people are using smartphones and the numbers are growing every year. You will be amazed to learn that even old-generation grandparents own iPhones or use Skype to connect with their family members. Search engines are aware of this so they make the effort to provide their users with the best search experience by penalising sites that are not mobile-responsive by reducing their search rankings.
SEM gives instant return on investments
Just like starting any business, it will take some time to build your profile online before you can achieve any results. So to create awareness for your brand, you have to promote it and be discovered. It is the same with search engine marketing. It may take six months or more to get solid results with blogging and social media–and only when best practices are followed. For those who think that you can be successful with search marketing in just short time are in for a major disappointment. This is the main reason why most companies give up and stop their SEM campaigns altogether.
How to Create a Successful SEM Strategy
Optimise website for organic search
Aside from paid search advertisements, you can optimise your site on organic listings to get the best rankings. Here are some SEO best practices to follow:
- Use important keywords on title tags, meta description and H1 tags.
- Create a sitemap.
- Use internal site linking and easy navigation.
- Increase your inbound links from reputable and high authority websites
- Simplify URLs by getting rid of session IDs and avoid URLs that are dynamic.
- Choose a reliable web hosting service that can handle an increase in traffic overtime.
- Make sure your page speed is fast.
- Always remember, content is king, so it’s important that you provide your visitors with well-written and relevant content.
Measure your campaign.
When running a paid search campaign, it is crucial to track your progress by monitoring the results. There are tracking tools that can offer analysis, bid management, testing, and comprehensive reporting. Your website may offer these data or you can choose to use advanced tracking system to measure your paid search campaigns.
Never use unethical shortcuts.
Don’t waste time and resources on shady techniques that will do more harm than good. Examples are keyword spamming, link farms, invisible texts, gateway pages and other unethical ways to deceive the web spiders in order to boost your rankings. Do it the right way even if it takes time.
Determine what business needs.
Knowing what you must pay for a click will depend on certain factors such as average order, site conversion, daily marketing spend budget and many more.
Treat every web page like a home page.
Web visits don’t usually start at the home page; some visitors may discover your company through your interior pages. So make sure that every page on your website looks like a mini-home page by showing an attractive value proposition. The product page should convince your buyers why they should buy from you. Provide links to product guarantees and customer toll-free number. Keep in mind, that that product page may be their first and last encounter with your brand.
Review log entries
Review your search box regularly for inbound search queries buried in referral URLs from search engines. These logs may provide valuable insights into phrases that visitors use when they are looking for your products.
This is Only the Beginning
The tips we have shared here should help you get started. Remember, search engine marketing is a continuous process and will require a good amount of trial-and-error on your part. When it comes to choosing the right technique for your website, it’s important to assess your specific needs and use the right tools and strategies that are aligned to those needs.