SEO, SEM, and How To Use Them

Jeff Heiniger

Imagine the power of having a salesperson on staff that is your top performer and that top performer works 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year. And they work for free. That may sound unrealistic, but that salesperson exists for every company. You may have figured out by now that I’m talking about your website! There is no better salesperson for a company than your website. You advertise to drive traffic to your website, and if your website tells your story and demonstrates your product appropriately, that website visit will lead to a phone call. And that phone call will lead to a sale!

This all sounds great, but how do we get visitors to our site? Let’s talk about the difference between SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and how we determine which one may be the best option for you, and how both can even work together to drive traffic to your homepage. Despite similar monikers, they are very different products.

You can go after the consumers that are in the market for your product RIGHT NOW, by doing a paid search. You may have heard this referred to in a few different terms, such as SEM, PPC (Pay Per Click), or Google ad words. Or you can just cut to the chase, as one of my clients did, when he referred to it as buying leads. This practice places an ad at the top of the page, allowing you to be easily noticed when someone does a search. The beauty of SEM is that you can do the research in advance to make sure there is enough search volume in your business category to constitute paying for an SEM campaign. SEM results are extremely trackable, with reports showing phone logs and providing recordings of those calls, allowing you to cross reference your SEM results with your database, to ensure that your SEM leads are indeed converting to customers. However, very few local businesses will have the budget to show up every single time a search is done. Especially, as many categories compete with national companies that bid millions of dollars across hundreds of markets, nationwide. 

That is why it is important to show up on the first page organically as well. If your company is not receiving prominent placement organically, you may need to also incorporate an SEO campaign to help ensure when a consumer does a search within your business category, they will be exposed to your business. When someone searches using a term related to the content on your website, SEO helps your site come up in the results. SEO is organic, meaning you don’t have to pay for your site to rank higher in search results, you just have to use the right tools and tactics to improve your ranking.  It definitely feels a little misleading to say that SEO is organic and therefore you don’t have to pay, because the reality is that many local businesses are in need of an expert to help them maximize their organic voice…and…that costs money! That being said, SEO can be a powerful strategy for a small local business that doesn’t have the budget to launch an SEM campaign. The top 5 links on the first page of a Google search garner more than 67% of all clicks. That’s an eye popping number, definitely making SEO worth the investment and time and effort.

So the question remains, which one do you use? While reality dictates that budget is the biggest indicator of where your capabilities may lie, SEO and SEM aren’t mutually exclusive. They work better together. Looking at the web traffic for my clients that do both SEO and SEM, about 3 out of every 4 visits to their website are a combination of both of the two. The combination of the 2 actually elevates both tactics. The more relevant your website content, the lower your cost per click. The google algorithm looks at many things, including the content on the website. Google’s goal is to serve relevant content to the people doing the search. For example, if one of the most common searches regarding cosmetic surgery is “does insurance cover cosmetic surgery,” you may want to use SEM to ensure that your website definitely shows up when this popular term is searched. But, if your site has relevant content but does not answer that specific question, Google will charge you more money per click than if you had optimized content that directly answers the question.

To get the best results with Google searches, use SEO and SEM to inform each other. For local businesses, showing up on the first page could be the difference between seeing an increase in website traffic or being buried beneath pages of competitor’s links. Seeing a return on your investment is the ultimate justification for digital marketing and Google statistics state that on average, advertisers with Google made $2 for every $1 they spent. Doubling your money sounds pretty good. Reaching consumers doing a search truly is the low hanging fruit. These people are searching for your product. They are already at the bottom of your sales funnel. Don’t allow consumers in the market for your product to go to your competition for their needs.  

Jeff Heiniger


Ad Lab Advertising & Marketing