While looking for ways to get the best results with your business website, it’s likely that you’ve run across the terms SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing). Often, people try to define whether one or the other is better for marketing online, and which one will get you the kind of results that you’re looking for.
It’s true that each has its strong points and its weaknesses. However, it’s becoming widely recognized that these two methods can actually be used together to create an even more effective online marketing strategy.
In this article, we’re going to discuss exactly what are SEO and SEM, how you can use them together, and why you should. Also, we’ll see how to test whether these methods are really working for your company.
Defining the Terms
Research shows that most consumers search online before making any kind of purchase. So it’s obvious that your company’s presence in search engines is essential to reaching your business goals.
To help with that, we’re going to discuss the two primary methods of using search engine query results to increase traffic. We’ll define both terms and see how they relate to each other.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of using different techniques to improve your website’s rank in search engine page results (SERP). It means increasing the amount of traffic to your website while also increase the quality of that traffic.
SEO involves many different factors, including:
The more useful, informative content that you have, the better. Also, including relevant keywords helps search engines to direct your site to the appropriate searchers.
If your site loads reasonably fast, this will improve its rank.
Ease of Use
How easy is your site to navigate for the user?
Search engines judge authority based on links. Inbound links give you authority because search engines see that other sites reference your content. Outbound links serve as citations to the information that you provide, building authority for your statements.
So what are the benefits and weaknesses of SEO?
- Free to Implement
If you’re willing to spend the time to learn it, SEO can be a completely free option to market your business.
- Brings Targeted Traffic
Getting higher on search engine results doesn’t just mean you’re getting more traffic. It also means you’re getting better quality traffic.
Since the search engines are trying to provide the most relevant content in the results page, they’re directing people to your website that are genuinely interested in your services or products.
- High Conversion Rates
Due to receiving more targeted traffic, your website visits will be more likely to convert into sales, subscriptions, etc.
- Results Take Time
For SEO to really work, it could take weeks of effort. This is partially due to the time that it takes to fully optimize your site.
Additionally, Google starts to trust websites only after some time of being online. That means that even if you work extremely hard to improve your site’s SEO, it will still take time for you to rank well in search query results and get more traffic.
- No Guaranteed Results
In addition to the time it takes, there are no guarantees when it comes to SEO. Landing on the first page is essential to the success of your SEO methods, and getting to the top of that page is even better. Research shows that 60% of all organic clicks go to the top three organic search results. So if you’re not making to the top, it’s difficult for you to make it at all.
- Especially Difficult for Competitive Niches
The above statistic is especially worrying in markets with a lot of competition. If you are optimizing your site for a keyword that is highly competitive, it will be extremely difficult for you to reach the first page of results, not to mention being one of the first three results.
What is SEM?
Also known as paid search advertising or paid search marketing, this method involves the paid ads that you see displayed on a search results page. These ads are targeted to certain keywords, and appear when those keywords are searched.
When you search google for certain keywords, you’ll notice that the first few results might have the word ‘Ad’ or ‘Sponsored’ next to them. Also, Google will place these types of ads on the right sidebar of your search results page. These ads or sponsored results are paid links to related content.
Usually, these ads are either PPC (pay per click) or CPM (cost per impression). This means that you are paying either every time someone clicks on or every time someone sees your keyword-based ads.
When working with Google AdSense or its equivalent across other search engines, you’ll be able to set your maximum budget for ads.
So what’s the good and the bad of using paid SEM?
- Fast Results
If you’re looking for immediate results for your business, then SEM is the fastest way to get you to the top of search results. If your ads are well targeted, you could be bringing in new traffic within hours!
- Brand Recognition
Seeing your brand at the top of the search results gives you more visibility across different platforms in your related niche. Even if the searchers don’t click on your website, they’re becoming familiar with your brand within that niche.
- Brings Targeted Traffic
When setting up your campaign, there are plenty of ways to make it targeted to your potential customers. This means that more clicks to your website will be from the people you want.
- Easy to See ROI
Within the panel of your ad campaign, it’s easy to see how well your ads are doing, whether the traffic they bring is converting, etc. You’ll have a great view of the return on investment, as well as being able to adapt your campaigns to the results you’re seeing.
- Requires Specialized Knowledge
Each different management platform (e.g. Google AdSense) is unique, and usually quite complex. There is a definite learning curve involved. Also, knowing how to set up and manage an ad campaign that is successful takes a fair amount of knowledge.
You could always decide to hire a professional to set up your ad campaign for you, but this will be an extra expense.
- Takes Time to Implement
Keyword research, learning a new management platform, and setting up your campaign will all take time. But the time involved doesn’t end there. After setting up your campaign, it will require constant monitoring and optimization to achieve the best results.
How do SEO and SEM Relate?
This is the main focus of both SEO and SEM methodology. People search for keywords that help them get the information they need, and the results that they find are those that are optimized for those keywords.
If your pages are optimized for SEO, it means that they will come up as organic search results when people query the right keywords. Along the same lines, if your sponsored links and ads are well targeted to the correct keywords, your pages will show up in the sponsored area of the search results, above the organic results.
The goal of SEO and SEM tends to be the same: to drive more traffic to your website. However, that is not the only goal. Both of these methods have the goal of increasing, not just the volume, but the quality of the traffic on your website. And ultimately, the end goal of increasing high quality traffic is to get a higher conversion rate.
Both of these methods are effective in reaching their goals due to their natural responses to keywords. The difference between them is the time involved and the effort it takes to see results.
That being said, the differences between these methods can actually lead to huge benefits in using them together as a team.
The Benefits of Using SEO and SEM Together
Long- and Short-Term Results
As we’ve already seen in our pros and cons lists above, the timing involved with SEO and SEM is very different.
SEO will bring you organic results, but seeing those results will take time. It could take days (or even weeks) of work to optimize an entire website. Once a website it optimized, it will still take time to see new, quality traffic coming in.
However, the long-term results of SEO are what make all this waiting worthwhile. Once your website is optimized (and as you continue the process of optimization over time), you will see traffic continuing to increase. This, in turn, will lead to higher conversion rates.
Now, let’s combine that idea with SEM. Using well-targeted keywords, you’ll be able to drive traffic to your website immediately. Thus, SEM is your way to fast results, while SEO will keep those results coming in the long term.
Get Seen Twice
Let’s say that I do a search for camping gear.
In the sponsored results that appear at the top, I see one company called ‘Fred’s Camping Supply’. That means he’s done well with his SEM strategies.
However, I keep scrolling and find that this company appears again under the organic searches. That means that, within my search for camping gear, this company has appeared twice!
As a searcher, that tells me that this company knows what they’re doing, and establishes them as an authority. It tells the searcher that this is a credible source of information, and increases awareness for your company.
So another benefit to using both SEM and SEO together: get your company seen twice on search results pages, and thus build authority for your brand.
Watch What Works
While monitoring your PPC campaign within the search results pages, you can easily tell which keywords are giving you the best ROI. This means that you have an inside peek at which keywords bring better traffic to your company’s website.
Once you have this list of hot keywords, you can use them within your SEO strategy. Implementing those keywords gives you a head start, because you already know that they convert well!
The Main Effort Plus a Backup
Think of SEO as your main effort. It takes time, it takes energy, but it pays off well in the long-term. However, as mentioned above, it will probably fail you in regards to short-term results.
When SEO is failing you, don’t give up! Keep working hard to optimize your website for organic results. But while you wait for that optimization to bring you ROI, turn to your backup plan.
SEM gets fast results, meaning that you can use it to fill the gaps where SEO falls short. Whenever your SEO strategy goes awry, you can rely on the quick results that SEM and PPC campaigns can get you.
If you want to appear in the list of results for search terms that you don’t currently rank organically for, then PPC ads are the way to go.
Using SEO and SEM together, you’re able to fill any gaps in effectiveness and ensure that your website has constant, high quality traffic.
How to Combine SEO and SEM
1. Identify How Each Works for You
As we’ve seen above, SEO and SEM work best when they’re put to use together. Each can fill the gaps that the other leaves, giving you a well-rounded search engine marketing strategy through organic and paid results.
This means that when planning how to implement SEO on your website, you must keep in mind your SEM and PPC strategies, and vice versa.
One way to measure the results of your paid ads versus organic results is by checking the paid click percentage. Using your tracking system, you’ll be able to see the total number of clicks both for paid and organic results. Within that total number of clicks, check what percentage comes from your PPC ads.
That percentage will tell you what’s working and what isn’t. For example, if certain search query terms get a high paid click percentage, it’s likely that those terms within your site aren’t ranking organically on the first page of search results. Knowing this, you can try to optimize your pages better for those search query terms, thus getting a higher organic rank.
2. Test Keywords
Using the analytics program for your PPC ads within search engines, you’ll be able to see exactly how your keywords are converting. The data provided in these programs gives you more than enough information to see which keywords are working to drive traffic to your website that converts.
Since it’s easy to see ROI with your PPC ads, start testing keywords here. Choose both general and specific keywords that relate to your brand. Also, using Google’s keyword planner, check to see the rate of search per month compared to the competition. A high search rate with low competition is your sweet spot for keywords.
So once you’ve chosen and implemented your keywords, which metrics do you need to consider when testing their effectiveness?
· Click Through Rate (CTR)
The first step in testing the effectiveness of your PPC campaigns (and thus of your chosen keywords) is to see how many impressions and clicks they receive. For example, if you’re not spending your budget within the PPC campaign, it may be good to add more or different keywords.
Once you see good levels, it’s time to test to CTR. This is the ratio of clicks to impressions. In other words, how many people are clicking in to your website compared to the people that are seeing your website listed in the search results page?
If you get many impressions but very few clicks, then your ads and keywords may need to be adjusted. However, if you see a good ratio of impressions to clicks, then those keywords are the ones that are successful.
It’s hard to define what a good CTR is, as it depends on the type of campaign that you are running. For a search campaign, it’s good to aim for anywhere between 3% to 5%.
· Conversion Rate
This is a somewhat obvious point, but a very important one. The ultimate goal of increasing traffic to your site is to get more conversions. In other words, you want those people to take a certain action on your site.
If they’re coming in from search results pages but they’re not taking the action that you want them to, then you may need to adjust your keywords.
So what kind of conversion are you looking for? This is not necessarily limited to more sales. Conversion could mean signing up to an email newsletter, starting a free trial, downloading a digital product, etc. It all depends on what you’re trying to achieve.
Check out all of the different engagement metrics within Analytics to see what kind of conversion you’re getting. Compare this with your goals as a business and see if you’re getting the amount (and the type) of conversion that you want from your keywords.
· Bounce Rate
When someone does a search query, they are looking for the answer to a question. If your keywords are well targeted to the audience that you want to attract, your website will appear in the right searches.
However, if you see that certain keywords have a high bounce rate, this means they aren’t working for you. In essence, people are clicking into your site from search engines, taking one look and leaving. Why would they do that?
If I search for ‘Apple store near me’ and one of the results is an apple orchard near me, I’ll leave that site as soon as I click in. Why? Because I know it’s not what I’m looking for.
So if people are bouncing out of your site as soon as they enter it, it’s like that your website does not fit what they were searching for.
It’s also possible that your landing pages are not attractive or interesting enough to keep visitors on your site. In that case, it would be the landing page that needs optimization.
Since a high bounce rate could be due to either of these two reasons, it’s good to compare this with other metrics when testing keywords.
· Session Duration
Check the average session duration, or time spent your website. Then, compare that with the average session duration when people come in through PPC. How do they compare? Is your overall average similar to the PPC session duration average?
This will give you a good idea of whether your keywords are working within SEM.
3. Optimize for Proven Keywords
Now that you’ve gone through the process of testing out different keywords, it’s time to optimize your site for those keywords.
Using the methods above, you should have a good list of keywords that help you to get more clicks and higher conversion on your site while maintaining low bounce rates. That list of keywords is your gold mine for SEO.
Using the right keywords within your website’s pages, you’ll be able to rank organically in search engine page results. Now that you know that these keywords work for your website, use them within your site to create organic results alongside paid results!
One word of caution does apply here: don’t just stuff keywords into your site. Writing pages of content with keywords stuffed into odd sentences could get you penalized by Google.
Instead, use those keywords to create content that is actually appealing to your audience. That’s when you’ll really see organic search results creating ROI for you.
One factor in Google’s ranking mechanics is how useful the information is to the searcher. If you consistently produce content that is informative and interesting, this will be a major boost to your marketing campaigns.
In fact, without some sort of valuable content, the methods we’ve discussed up to now are basically useless.
4. Keep Refining
Once you’ve finished this process, it’s time to repeat it! Refining and optimizing your keywords is never-ending. The internet is constantly changing (as are Google’s ranking standards), which means you need to keep your website up to date with current trends.
By constantly making sure that you’re using the right keywords, you’ll be able to convert both organically through SEO and with paid PPC ads.
How to See if SEO and SEM Work For You
Now that we know the methods to use, how can you tell if your SEO and SEM strategies are really working? Let’s consider some factors.
Define Your Goals
Before knowing whether or not these methods are working for your business, you need to understand what your goals really are. This means you must have another end goal besides increasing traffic.
For example, do you want users to sign up for your newsletter? Are you trying to increase sales? Do you want visitors to your website to become familiar with a certain cause?
When you know what you want people to do on your website, you can see whether the conversion metrics match up with your goals. If they do, great! If they don’t, it may be time to redirect your efforts.
Return on Investment
SEO, as we mentioned at the outset, is a free marketing method that can produce excellent results in the long term. SEM, on the other hand, will cost you money.
Since you’ve defined your conversion goals, it’s time to decide how valuable those goals are to you in cash. In other words, are you seeing a return on investment? Are you making back money through sales or leads to cover the costs of your PPC ads (or hopefully to make a profit)?
Compare the conversion metrics with your business goals to decide whether paying for PPC ads is really worthwhile for your business.
Increased Brand Awareness
It’s possible that the clicks to your website from PPC ads are not converting immediately. However, it is possible to track whether those same users come back to your site from another place. Those clicks to your ad are converting later on because they’re creating brand awareness.
It’s also possible to increase brand awareness without seeing any clicks.
Let’s go back to my search example above. I’ve seen Fred’s Camping Supply is a high ranking result in my search for camping gear. He has a PPC ad at the top of the page and ranks organically, so I’ve already begun to trust him.
I may not click on that company’s website today, but maybe tomorrow I’m ready to make my purchase and I remember the company name. I search for Fred’s Camping Supply, click into the site, and make a purchase.
If you’re seeing more search queries with your company name, then it’s probable that your PPC ads are creating brand awareness. Although it doesn’t mean immediate sales, this is actually a success in and of itself and will bring you ROI in the long run.
Using SEO and SEM together is one of the best methods to bring consistent and high quality traffic to your website. Although these two methods are each powerful on their own, we’ve seen that they make a stronger marketing strategy when used together.
When you implement the ideas in this article, you’ll have a better handle on how SEO and SEM work for you separately, and how they can be used together to cover any gaps in effectiveness. You’ll see more high quality traffic and higher conversion rates, and ultimately be better equipped to reach your business goals.