Do yourself a favor. Open a new tab and do a quick Google search for SEO and SEM.
Notice anything interesting?
Almost every listing implies that SEO and SEM are somehow diametrically opposed. It’s all about SEO versus SEM.
That would be fine if this notion stopped at the title. However, after reading quite a few of these articles, we found that the majority reinforce the fallacy that businesses must weigh their options and choose between the two. Most don’t bother to mention the more holistic approach of using both to complement one another.
Let me tell you why businesses absolutely, positively need to use both SEO and SEM.
An Brief Overview of SEO and SEM
When helping our clients identify the efficacy of various digital marketing solutions, I often try to break things down as a cost per lead. For example, if you invest $100 in a search engine ad campaign and get 100 people at $1 per click, but only 10 people who clicked on the ad actually purchased a widget from your store, my cost per lead is $10. Let’s start by looking at how cost per lead can vary between SEO and SEM:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) requires a lot of upfront investment for very little immediate pay-off. Depending upon your industry and level of competition in your geographic area, it can take many months of sustained effort to see appreciable results. For those that haven’t reached the coveted “Top 10” for one or more keywords, I’m afraid the odds are against you. However, over the long term your average cost per lead is likely to be much, much lower. Why? Because it takes substantially more effort (time, money) to get to Page 1 of Google than it does to stay on Page 1 of Google. If you want a thorough explanation of SEO, check out Amber’s Fort Collins SEO Workshop.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) can be very appealing because it provides immediate gratification in the form of website traffic, which will scale up or down with dollars invested. There is still a great deal of strategy that goes into building an effective search ad campaign. However, due to the immediate correlation between dollars spent and changes in traffic, it’s a lot easier to judge the efficacy of early efforts. The upside of SEM is also it’s downside: The cost per lead is relatively fixed and if you invest less, you will see an immediate and proportional decrease in traffic, whereas a “Top 10” Google page may hold its rank without any additional effort or investment for many months, or even years. If you’re going for highly competitive keywords, you can sometimes pay upwards of $20 – $30 per click.
How Can SEO and SEM Work Together?
Both search engine marketing and search engine optimization are tools that can be used to help a business grow, a movement gain traction, or a nonprofit recruit their next big donor. As established above, SEO and SEM ultimately both serve the same purpose, but with very different approaches. Savvy business owners and marketing directors will use the strengths of both methods to complement one another:
- Reduce what you have to invest in search ads by using SEO to target lower competition keywords. It’s still possible to get to “Page 1” of Google quickly, if you target a keyword or phrase that very few others are going after. This is especially true if you’re focusing on a particular geographic area or you have a very niche business.
- Use SEM to supplement traffic for a highly competitive keyword. Trying to rank well for a highly competitive keyword can be an uphill battle. If you’re in a highly specialized business, making sure that you show up for a specific keyword might be essential.
- Run a short campaign pointing to a new page/post that hasn’t gained traction and watch how visitors behave. Are people staying on the page? Are they signing up for your newsletter or clicking on your contact form? See what you can learn!
- Off-site SEO efforts can be an effective supplement to search ads. Getting your business referenced and linked to from major websites and online publications can have a massive benefit beyond enhancing search engine performance. The occasional large traffic spike is a great way to supplement search ads.
- Traffic from SEM can help your SEO. Depending upon where your ads are pointing (landing page, home page or an interior page/post), that traffic can either help or hinder your SEO progress. It also improves overall exposure and increases branded searches (i.e. searches for your business name). If ad traffic stays on-site for a while and takes the opportunity click around, they’re probably helping your rankings!
- Make sure your name pops up when people search for your competitors. Invest in a low-budget SEM campaign that targets the business names of your competitors — Viola! When people search for your competition, they’ll also see you!
Should I invest more money in SEO or SEM?
It depends on the ratio of online leads that currently come from organic search, versus the total number of online leads needed. They key is to invest proportionally. If a only a small number of leads are coming from SEO and you need to double business volume right now, then investing only a small amount in SEO and a large amount in SEM seems like the right choice. Over time, that small investment in SEO will slowly build to something more substantial. Conversely, if you’re getting most of the leads needed from SEO already, it may be better to invest heavily in SEO and build on that traction.
Are you thinking differently about SEO and SEM?
Hopefully we challenged a few preconceived notions! Are you seeing potential areas for improvement with your current digital marketing strategy? Feel like sharing?
Leave us a note in the comments section below!