It’s a question that I am often asked by my clients who are looking to launch their digital marketing strategy: should they focus on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Pay-Per-Click (SEM, PPC)?
Too many people are under the impression that their online marketing presence should be guided by one strategy or the other. I’m here to tell you that the most effective digital marketing strategies take a blended approach, using components of both tactics.
SEO and SEM strategies are complementary ways of achieving the same goal: prominent inclusion in search engine results that lead to traffic to your website. However, while each is effective and critical tools in your digital marketing arsenal, they each have unique principles that can help you reach your objectives. Let’s take a look.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the tactic of using your site’s content, linking structure, blog posts, and social media exposure (amongst other things) to help you rank organically in search engine results. Search engines take all of these cues into consideration when deciding where to rank your site in their results for a particular keyword, like “auto insurance in Rhode Island”. SEO is the critical foundation to your website’s visibility in search engine results. The things that you do to optimize your online content and relationships will have a long-lasting effect on your rankings in search engines. However, those effects, while critically important, might take a long time to take hold in the search results. Google indexes your content at its own pace, and the general rule of thumb that search engine marketers go by is that it can take between six and nine months before you begin to realize the results of your on-site optimization.
On the other hand, SEM has more of an immediate impact. Once you build a campaign that targets your specific keyword set, and you set that campaign live, you are eligible to see an instant impact on your traffic and visibility in search engines. While inclusion in organic search results are merit based, your SEM campaign can force Google (or any other search engine) to place you within the top results of some competitive keywords. With that newfound visibility, your website is bound to see traffic increase. That’s what the pay-per-click model does for marketers. However, the effects of your SEM campaign are not as long lasting as your SEO strategy – that is, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget. You see, your site is guaranteed inclusion in search engine results for only as long as your campaign is funded. As soon as your campaign has generated enough clicks to exhaust your budget, your traffic will stop. The great thing about SEM is that it is a guaranteed source of traffic – if people aren’t clicking on your ad and visiting your site, you don’t pay a cent!
Now that we’ve reviewed the different characteristics of SEO and SEM strategies, it is important to note how they work together. In fact, our best e-agencies have told us that the best performing digital marketing strategy leverages both SEM and SEO in tandem. This blended strategy has helped them appeal to a broad and comprehensive audience, and has resulted in their website being a more prominent piece of customer acquisition.
Here are three reasons why you should have SEO and SEM as part of your site’s digital marketing strategy:
- Gain visibility on all keywords, even the most competitive terms.
Your SEO campaign can help you gain inclusion in search results for a wide variety of keywords related to your business. Chances are, though, that you can’t organically rank for your most important keywords – they’re just too competitive! You’re not alone. Many of our friends in the insurance industry are running up against the same problem. They can’t rank for highly desirable keywords like “auto insurance” because that search landscape is dominated by highly reputable and voluminous competitor sites in the industry, such as Allstate, Liberty Mutual, and Progressive. However, when our clients target these competitive keywords in their paid search campaign, they’re guaranteed traffic on these critical sources of website traffic. Use SEM as a way to target even the most competitive keywords when your SEO campaign can’t!
- Target a specific audience with a customized campaign.
Want to get traffic from a very specific set of keywords, but don’t want to dedicate content on your site to optimization of those terms? Look no further than SEM. With a targeted paid search campaign, you can drive traffic to your site on keywords that don’t necessarily dominate your site’s content. Use SEM to force traffic to your website through keywords that your site hasn’t yet developed content for. This is a great testing opportunity for new areas of business.
- Use SEM data to inform your SEO strategy.
One of the biggest benefits of SEM is the sheer amount of data available to marketers in the paid search space. We can use keyword-level data to see which keywords are driving the most visits to your site, the keyword combinations that visitors are using to find your site, and even the keywords that have had the most success turning searches into traffic. While marketers use this information on a daily basis to optimize their SEM campaign’s performance, too many people fail to realize that this performance data can be used to inform your SEO tactics. Have a keyword that has shown to drive the most interest in your site? Why not target that term with enhanced content on your site? Is there a term that has shown to convert visitors in customers at a greater rate? Use that word prominently on your home page.
These are just three reasons for you use SEO and SEM in a blended strategy. Doing so will give you a well-rounded digital marketing presence, and likely drive enhanced search engine traffic as a result. Stay tuned to this space for more reasons why you should focus on a blended approach to digital marketing.