You have finished developing and implementing your digital strategy…but your website is not receiving the expected amount of visitors. OK, it’s time to focus on driving online traffic, however…what is the best way of doing this? Or more specifically, should you invest your time in SEO or your money in SEM?
And most importantly, are you sure that having both: money and time, is enough to provide you with a good ranking in the search engine results page? As usually there is no right or wrong, and the best option will depend on your own strategy.
What are SEO and SEM?
I guess most people reading this blog already know the difference between SEO and SEM, however just in case, here’s a brief explanation:
- SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimisation, is a generic term that applies to all the activities aimed to make your website rank better on search engines (such as Google or Bing)
- SEM, which stands for Search Engine Marketing, is more specific and relates to all those activities where the company pays to have their website promoted on search engines, such as Pay Per Click (PPC) through Google Ad Words or Image Ads.
This means that in theory, even if you are paying to promote your site, this activity should be considered as SEO…However most times the term SEO is used only to refer to actions where there are not direct costs involved (not considering costs to pay a SEO consultant or agency); whilst SEM is used for those tasks involving a direct cost. Results shown through SEO are called Organic Search Results, whilst those displayed with SEM are called Paid Search Results.
Be aware though of one common thing: both concepts mention “Search Engine”. This means that promotion activities through other channels (such as Facebook, e-mail campaigns, etc…) have separate strategies and rules.
The benefits of SEO vs. SEM
- It is free: As I have already mentioned, the only costs involved would be those of hiring a SEO agency or consultant, should you prefer to use one.
- Trustworthiness: Many Internet users – especially experienced ones – do not trust on paid results shown on search engines as they are aware having a good ranking could be achieved also by having a larger budget. Thus, they will only consider organic search results.
- Works for most search engines: Although the specific rules to rank higher may change between search engines, general rules are pretty much the same, which means if your SEO is effective it would provide good results on most search engines. With SEM, you will be listed only on those search engines where you have paid.
- Consistency: once you have a good rank, this will rarely drop a huge amount of positions in a short period of time…unless something dramatic happens. With SEM, if you change your bid or do not renew, you simply won’t show up.
- Results represent better the reality: ranks represent how your site is perceived by the Internet as a community: if you rank higher, it means you are considered as an important reference by the community.
The benefits of SEM vs. SEO
- It is faster: Once you have selected your keywords and created your ads, it takes only a few clicks to set up your bid and your results will start showing. The higher is your bid, the higher are the chances your site will show on the first positions.
- Rules are easier: There are several rules to consider, however the main one here is: if you want to rank higher, simply increase your bid.
- Reporting: PPC platforms provide a robust reporting system that will tell you which keywords and ads are providing better results, so you can adapt your strategy more easily.
- Customisation: You can adapt the ad the user will see for a specific keyword, and include effective call-to-action messages. With SEO, the user simply sees the website name, and the first few lines of the page.
- More independent: With SEO your results may be affected by several external factors out of your control: links to your site, competitor’s SEO, etc… With SEM you don’t need to rely on other sites, links, visitors, etc… to have your site ranked higher. In the war of SEM, your budget is your weapon.
Whether you decide to use SEO, SEM or a combination of both, it is paramount to remember this is an ongoing activity that requires to be monitored and adapted on a regular basis. There is no magic formula that guarantees success, however be sure that if you ignore your SEO/SEM strategies, sooner rather than later your website will start to drop positions in the search engine rankings.
What option do you think is better? Why?