Confused by search engine optimization and search engine marketing? Is there even a difference between both techniques? To make matters worse, both terms are often used interchangeably by supposed industry experts. It's important to note that each method is different and in this article, I hope to accurately detail what the fundamental differences are.
Search Engine Marketing definition
Search engine marketing or SEM, refers mainly to the text advertisements which appear at the top or on the right hand side of search engine results pages. These advertising links are purchased mainly from Google (Adwords) and Yahoo (Overture). They then in turn publish these ads on their secondary ad network as well. For example AOL displaying Adwords.
These ads are Pay Per Click (PPC), meaning you pay for every time someone clicks on your ad. The ranking sequence is determined by a variety of factors such as top bid price, and in Google's case, a more complex combination of Click Through Rate (CTR) is thrown into the mix. Essentially in Google's Adwords, the less clicks on your ads, the more you have to pay and/or your ranking drops. This is because in Googles ranking system, it has deemed ads that are highly relevant (high CTR) should be rewarded with lower prices and better rankings. In the Overture system, ad rankings are based purely on bid prices, so theoretically, the advertiser with the most money wins top spot.
In many instances though, the top 2 spots are not necessarily the best positions. Often times, you will find that #3 - 5 are the optimal positions as you invariably pay a much lower click rate. Not to mention the many surfers, by the time they reach your ad, have probably price shopped or done comparison studies with your competing sites.
SEM also includes any banner advertising or ad placement advertising at authority related sites. So charge a flat monthly fee or a cost per impression. Traffic from these ads tends to be high, but the conversion rate is debatable.
In a nutshell, SEM is very controllable form of marketing in the sense that you have complete control over the budget, keywords and websites you wish to target.
Search Engine Optimization definition
Search engine optimization or SEO refers to improving a web sites' natural and organic ranking in the search engine results page. This more affordable method is often slow and new web sites may take up to a year to achieve decent rankings in Google. The methods of achieving high rankings are based on 2 main components, which follows,
Title Tag optimization
Keywords in the content
Quality of original content
Keywords in hyperlinks
Keywords in headings and bold tags
Keywords in URL
Meta Tags (some engines)
'Indexability' of the web page
|Off-page optimization |
Amount of incoming links
Quality of sites that link to yours
Relevancy of sites that link to yours
Keywords in the anchor text
I will go in further detail on each component in a future article, but suffice to say, if you achieve high scores on both on and off page ranking factors, then it is safe to assume your site will enjoy high rankings, and the free traffic that comes with it!
SEO and SEM Showdown:
At the end of the day, which method should you choose? SEO, SEM or both?
SEM holds the advantage in the fact that you can get instant qualified traffic to your web page. How much traffic is only dependent on your budget. So what are the cons of SEM? Firstly, if you do not properly optimize your ads, as in Google's case, you run the risk of burning through your marketing budget very fast and having a low conversion rate to show for it. Basically, if you are paying more for each converted sale than the actual product itself, then something is seriously wrong. There is also the issue of click fraud. A situation whereby a competitor is deliberately clicking on your ads, causing a depletion in your funds. Although the main PPC systems claims to have systems in place to detect click fraud, there doesn't seem to be conclusive proof that this is no longer an issue.
SEO on the other hand is a longer term approach, and utilizes many best practice web design standards. Good original content, well implemented on page optimization and a solid link building campaign is usually more than sufficient for SEO. Apart from achieving good rankings, you are also developing a solid site that your visitors like to visit and stay on. Some people, however have no patience for SEO and often wonder why it is taking so long to rank well. To be honest, overdoing the SEO on your web site often results in an over optimization penalty, so it is imperative that your client fully understands the nature of SEO.
Also, be careful of individuals or firms that promise you top 10 rankings. This is impossible to guarantee! Anyone that says otherwise is either lying or using underhanded methods to boost your rankings. You run the risk of having your website banned altogether from the search engines. The best firms are the ones that practice clean, or white hat, optimization techniques that will eventually increase the amount of qualified traffic to your site anyways.
Here at Visualscope Studios, we understand and execute both search engine marketing and optimization methods. We often recommend a strategy that is holistic. That is to say, start out with a budget that is 65% geared towards SEM and 35% SEO. As the months go by, you should see an increase in traffic from SEO, this will then allow you to either lower your SEM budget, or divert more into the SEO method to speed up the process.
Remember though, whether it is SEO or SEM you choose, the rankings is secondary to the goal. The primary goal is always to maximize the amount of relevant and qualified traffic to your web site in relation to your marketing budget.
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