SEM, or search engine marketing, is one of the most important elements of your internet marketing campaign and overall marketing mix. We live in a world of instant gratification: if we have a problem, we simply “ask Siri” or “Google it.” This culture of abundant information means that it is more important than ever for your brand website to be highly ranked in web searches.

There are two main ways to achieve a high search engine ranking: search engine optimization (SEO) and pay per click (PPC). Whether to use one or both of these methods depends greatly on what you wish to achieve with your SEM plan. Neither are easily achieved, however it is important to understand their similarities, differences and appropriate uses in order to rank highly in search engines, prompt more traffic and ultimately achieve a higher conversion rate.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is the process of ensuring that your website appears high in the list of search results for given keywords and ultimately maximizing traffic to your website. Effective SEO oftentimes results in your website ranking high “organically,” or without paying Google. SEO is determined by hundreds of different factors and Google constantly changes the algorithm that decides whether to rank websites high. It can be hard to juggle all of the components of SEO if you are unfamiliar with the process. Some of the most important SEO factors to consider for the backend of your website are:

  • Content: make sure your website is full of fresh, useful, specific and substantial content. Google is all about creating solutions to problems, so your content should do just that.
  • Keywords: all of your content should be crafted considering the keywords it will be discovered under. This includes header, title and description text. If you overuse keywords in a way that does not make sense, however, your ranking could suffer.
  • Quality: original content that is well thought out is most likely to rank higher in search results. Copying and pasting another website’s blog content is one example of providing content for your site that lacks quality and ultimately hurts SEO.
  • Mobile: Google has recently incorporated mobile-friendliness into its algorithm as a major player in whether your site will rank high. If your site does not work properly on smartphones and tablets, do not expect to find it on the first page of Google.

While these on-site factors play a crucial role in the ranking of your website, if you do not pay attention to off-site factors as well, your site will not achieve the highest ranking possible. Off-site SEO is all about references that show Google that there is buzz about your website. The elements of off-site SEO can be organized into two categorie:

  • Link SEO:  building high-level backlinks to your website shows Google that your content is useful and popular. Backlinks can be achieved naturally, or when people editorially include your website into their content, manually, or when you ask customers or influencers to link to your website, and self-created, or when you include a link to your site into a forum, directory, press release, etc. Google will rank your site highest if your backlinks appear on trustworthy and popular websites that are relevant to your content.
  • Non-Link SEO: Influencer marketing, a strong social media presence and guest blogging are all ways to show Google that your website is worthy of ranking high. All of these activities will not only lead to greater traffic, but show Google that people use and trust your website.

SEO Pros

  • Ranking high in the search results organically builds trust with users.
  • SEO traffic will be more continuous.
  • SEO traffic will generate better quality traffic and leads.
  • You will have to pay for an SEO campaign upfront, but once results are achieved, most of the cost goes away.

SEO Cons

  • SEO takes a lot of time and effort. You may not have to pay Google to be search engine optimized, but it will cost you.
  • The amount of effort demanded from a SEO campaign heavily depends on the amount of competition associated with the chosen keywords.  

What is PPC?

While SEO web traffic is earned, pay per click is bought. PPC is a model in which you pay the search engine a fee for every time someone clicks on your website in return for the search engine putting your website at the top of the page in the “sponsored results” section. Google AdWords is the most popular PPC system to date. Users bid on a certain keyword, and when someone searches for that keyword, Google sifts through the bidders and chooses a handful to feature at the top of the page. While the amount of the bid does play a small role in whether a certain website is selected, many other features come into play as well. Content quality and keyword relevance are the two main players–Google did not reach so much success against other search engines by simply generating the results of the highest bidders to people in search of information, they did so by providing the highest quality information available. Highly optimizing your keywords is essential for generating more conversions with PPC, however it can cost more money.

PPC Pros

  • Traffic will be more immediate using PPC.
  • Other than optimizing your keyword, PPC does not take as much effort as SEO.
  • Your website will appear above the organic results.

PPC Cons

  • PPC generates lesser, more expensive traffic.
  • Many web users have trained themselves to automatically ignore paid results.
  • Unlike SEO, as soon as you stop paying, you will lose your ranking.

So Should You Use SEO or PPC?

That really depends on what your goals are. If you are just starting out with developing a web presence, PPC may be perfect for you. It is great for a jump start, as it generates more immediate traffic. While traffic may be heavier in the beginning with PPC, it will be less consistent and of lesser quality than that of SEO. SEO is the way to go for continuous, high quality traffic and higher conversion rates. SEO, however, is very time consuming and requires a lot of moving parts. If you do not have a lot of quality, pre-existing content or enough time to create it, SEO may not be a realistic endeavor.

An additional option is incorporating a mix of both SEO and PPC. Most professional campaigns recommend this method because of the fact that PPC helps stimulate traffic while a website is still in the process of building its SEO. Once SEO begins to generate enough organic traffic on its own, a website can stop using the PPC campaign and focus on the higher quality, earned traffic.

Whether a business chooses to fully commit to SEO or PPC, or maybe even use a little of both, incorporating SEM into a marketing mix is a reliable way to generate more leads. Studies show that 60 percent of customers check out your website before doing business with you. Do not miss out on this monumental opportunity by making it too hard for customers to find your website.

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