SEO vs SEM: What’s the difference and do you need both?

As you get more immersed in the world of digital marketing, you’ll often hear people talking about ‘search marketing’. Search marketing is a way for your business to gain traffic through both paid and unpaid efforts, through what we know as SEM and SEO.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it’s a way for you to get free (organic) traffic to your website from search results on search engines.

All big search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, have search results where web pages and content are ranked based on what the search engine considers to be the most useful, relevant and valuable to a user. You can’t pay a search engine to have your web pages rank highly in organic search results – you have to earn it through SEO.

If you can get it right, SEO is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business online in the long term. If you can rank in the top spot for a key term that brings 1000 visitors to your site per month (and you can manage to stay in that top spot), imagine the potential if you’re able to nab the top spot for other popular search terms!

RELATED: 9 free SEO tools to simplify your marketing strategy

The three pillars of SEO.

To get SEO right, you generally need to focus on three pillars:

  • Onsite SEO: Creating valuable, useful and optimised content that helps search engines to see your website as a valuable source that people want to find.
  • Technical SEO: Paying attention to site speed, mobile friendliness and linking structure to ensure your site is as crawlable and indexable as possible.
  • Offsite SEO: Attracting high-quality backlinks (links from other people’s site back to yours) to build your website’s reputation and authority. Great content is the driving factor for attracting natural links to your site.

Start with these onsite SEO tips below to boost your rankings in Google:

  1. Brainstorm potential keywords that are relevant to your business and your service. You can start by writing down what you do, what services you offer and what locations you service.
  2. Mix and match those keywords and put a few variations into a keyword research tool such as UberSuggest to understand how many people are searching for those terms each month.
  3. Prioritise keywords based on what keywords you think your potential customers are using when looking for the products or services that you offer, and which ones receive the most searches per month.
  4. Create content around those keywords, but make sure your content is engaging, formatted nicely and easy to read.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, and unlike SEO, it’s mainly the process of gaining traffic through purchasing ad spots on search engines. SEM is often referred to as paid advertising, pay-per-click or ‘paid search.’

By and large, the most popular paid search platform that is used by search marketers is Google Adwords, but ‘paid search’ as an umbrella term can also refer to advertising on major social networks such as Facebook or YouTube, or through paid promotion on content distribution platforms like Outbrain or Taboola.

An easy example is when you run a search on Google and see up to four results at the top of the page marked with a small ‘Ad’ sign. These are the results of paid search, and if you click on one of those links, the company will pay Google for that click.

Use these tips to target potential customers with SEM.

Customer targeting with paid advertising gets more and more sophisticated by the second, and you’d be absolutely flabbergasted at what you can achieve with a few simple clicks. As Google knows a lot about its audiences through their location, searches, online behaviour, and basic demographic, you can use that knowledge to ensure your ads reach the people who are most likely to be interested in your business.

Let’s say you’re a mechanic based in Newtown, Sydney, and you want to grow your business. Here are some handy options using SEM.

Target potential customers by location. Push ads to people in the Newtown local area so they’re aware of your business, or push ads to people in Sydney’s inner west to capture the attention of an even larger pool.

Target potential customers by behaviour: There are a few things you can do here. You can remarket to people who have already visited your website. Perhaps they browsed but were too busy at the time to make an enquiry, so you can remarket to them with advertising to jog their memory.

You can also create audience segments based on your potential customers’ likes and dislikes. As a mechanic, for example, you could create a segment based on personal interests in ‘cars’ + ‘Newtown’ or advertise a special introductory offer to an audience segment that likes a competitor of yours.

RELATED: Why SEM is vital for small business.

Why should SEO and SEM be combined?

SEM’s effects are immediate, whereas SEO’s effects can take months. You can jump right in and connect with your audience straight away. This is especially good if you’re running a sale, have a special offer or want to reach a very specific market and don’t have time for SEO to kick in. You can be very precise with terms such as ‘Red Back Spider removal’ aimed at people in just the southern suburbs of Adelaide.

Google estimates that for every $1 businesses spend on paid search, they make $2 in revenue, making SEM an effective and lucrative form of digital marketing.

SEO, on the other hand, is a way for your website to appear organically on a search engine by improving its relevance and authority for the main things your business does. It works off more generic search terms such as ‘Pest Control Adelaide’.

It’s difficult to put a figure on SEO revenue, as it depends on a range of factors and is less quantifiable, but one study says that as much as 33% of website revenue stems from SEO.

Basically, SEO is your long term strategy for helping customers find you all the time, while SEM allows you to have a more agile strategy when trying to attract customers in the short term. Combined, SEO and SEM deliver maximum visibility and greater revenue.

Want more help giving your business the best chance to rank on search engines? 

From SEM to a detailed YPOL listing, there’s plenty Yellow Pages can do to help. Get in touch and one of our experts will take you through the best ways to build your search presence online. 

Talk to Yellow Pages about how targeted SEM can generate leads for your business.

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