SEM, SEO or Both?

During an age known for a struggling economy and companies looking to cut costs from their marketing budgets, it helps to have the best understanding of modern marketing operations. Despite how prevalent online marketing is in our society, there is still confusion and a lack of understanding about the differences between SEM (search engine marketing) and SEO (search engine optimization) and which is best for business.

First and foremost every company should not only invest in SEO but also understand that it is a full-time, continuous process that is vital to their ability to be competitive in today’s marketplace. In simple terms, SEO refers to a website’s visibility to search engines and its contents’ compatibility with how search engines rank websites.

SEM refers to the paid placements a company can purchase to rank in specific areas of a search page. The cost of these ads can be exorbitant for some companies, as they are based on key words that are used by their competitors and are sold and positioned through a bidding system.

Given these facts, every company has probably asked the question,

“Which one of these two online marketing strategies should I use?”

As already stated, every website should be SEO compliant.   If your website is not, consider making the investment in optimizing your website—as it is today. Once this has been done, you will need to dedicate an online marketing professional to developing new content, pages and tools and optimizing them on a regular basis. Google algorithms require websites to have dynamic, fresh and user-relevant content.

Considering that the initial optimization can take a few months—yes, I said a few months—SEM is a good substitute to implement while you are waiting for your SEO to come up to speed. While you are waiting for this to happen, it is a good practice to check your key word rankings at least every couple of weeks, more frequently as it improves. Keep a spreadsheet of the progress of each key word. Once a key word appears naturally on the first page of Google for two consecutive weeks, you can eliminate it from your paid search program, thus saving money.

A commonly asked question a lot of companies ask is, “Why are naturally appearing ads more highly regarded than paid ads?” It’s not really a matter of preference. It is more about the nature of your business or the product or service you are marketing. Natural ads, those placed on the search page via SEO, appear in the left column of the search page. Because we have been taught to read from left to right, these are the first ads people tend to read. Furthermore, most people tend to use the Internet to research a product before buying. Natural ads take a reader to a page on a website where the viewer will find information about a product or business.

On the other hand, paid ads occupy the right column of the search page, plus a few spots at the top and/or bottom of the right column, depending upon the search engine. Naturally, those who landed at the top of the left column paid the most and receive more traffic than their competition. Paid ads are also promotional in nature. Their language reads like a TV commercial or an ad in the newspaper. They contain “call to action” phrases and sometimes statements of urgency such as “on sale now.”

In today’s web-based marketplace, paid search is best used for promotional marketing as described above. So, once your website is optimized, rather than eliminating your SEM program, consider modifying it for promotional purposes. It is a great way to promote seasonal items, market closeouts, launch new products and in today’s content marketing universe, support your inbound marketing initiatives.

Think of it this way, if you are going to spend money to run a paid ad on the same search page ad your natural ad, wouldn’t it be waste of money to have both ads carrying the same message?

Leigh March is a marketing professional with nearly 15 years of experience utilizing and promoting Internet technologies. With degrees in mass media and website architecture, she has used her unique combination of skills to work in several aspects of modern marketing, including web design, SEO, SEM, content and inbound marketing, social media, e-commerce, e-mail marketing and integrated marketing communications.

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