SEO vs SEM: what’s the difference when marketing to regional communities?

When you’re based in a regional area, chances are your immediate local community is pretty close-knit. While this helps in building a loyal customer base, it’s tricky to extend the reach of your business in a cost-effective way using traditional marketing. After all, direct mail or sales calls aren’t as easy (or even as practical) when you’re trying to cover customers in multiple towns across the state, or branch into neighbouring cities.

This is where smart SEO and SEM can lend a huge helping hand. So what is search marketing, and how can it benefit regional businesses? We break down the differences and benefits for you here.

Man at laptop holding two post it notes. One says SEO the other says SEM.

What is SEO and why does it matter?

When people want to buy something, they search for it online using keywords. Real estate is power on search engines like Google and Bing. Search Engine Watch reported that the company that holds the number 1 position for a keyword on Google gets a third of all website traffic from that search. Number 2 gets 18% of all traffic, Number 3 gets 11%. In other words—where you rank matters.

All big search engines, such as Google and Bing, use an algorithm to rank websites and web pages based on what they believe will best answer the search of the user. SEO, also known as Search Engine Optimisation is the act of optimising your website to improve your ranking based on these algorithms.

There are three pillars of SEO:

  • On-site SEO. This refers to the content you have on your website, such as your blog posts or web pages. By creating relevant content on your website that’s optimised for keywords, search engines will see your company as a valuable source of information and rank it higher on unpaid search results.
  • Technical SEO. Technical SEO refers to things like your site speed, the linking structure on your website between pages and the mobile-friendliness of your site. Search engines rely on ‘crawlers’ to dig through your website’s content, and technical SEO ensures your website is crawlable by Google.
  • Offsite SEO. When other reputable websites link to your website (known as backlinks), search engines view your content as more relevant and useful. By creating incredible content that other websites link back to, you can improve your website’s authority on a certain keyword or subject, and improve your rankings on Google.

If you can get it right, SEO is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business online and get more website traffic—especially if you’re trying to expand your customer base to neighbouring communities or cities. SEO helps you appear in regional searches (such as ‘supplier in regional qld’), and ultimately brings in more traffic to your site.

Tips to improve your SEO.

  • Evaluate where you are currently at. Before diving into content creation, it’s a good idea to know your starting point. Popular SEO tools, such as Ahrefs, SEMRush and Moz can help you understand where you currently rank for certain keywords, and how many backlinks you have to your site. These tools also pinpoint any technical SEO errors on-site, such as with site speed or structure. 
  • Choose your target keywords. These could include the products you offer and the locations you service. You can also look into Google Analytics (or your website provider’s analytics tool) to see which keywords are currently driving the most traffic to your site. Tools like Google Keyword Planner and Keyword Finder can give you inspiration on keywords to target for SEO—simply key in your topic and the tool will generate a bunch of related search keywords.
  • Create content around these keywords. Build blog posts around your target keywords and optimise any existing web pages to include these terms. Crafting great content takes work, so try to add value to each piece you create.
  • Don’t forget your website listings. Backlinks matter, and one of the easiest ways to build up the number of links to your company is to list it for free on top online business directories like Yellow Pages Online.

What is SEM and why does it matter?

Unlike SEO, SEM – search engine marketing – needs to be paid for. When businesses want to rank for a certain keyword, they bid a certain price for each click on their ad – which comes in the form of a spot in Google’s top paid search results. However, it’s fast and more predictable than SEO because you can be extremely targeted in your keywords and customers. SEM allows you to target based on location, job and user behaviour—just to name a few.

Tips for search engine marketing strategies.

  • Know your target customer. Remember that you’re paying for every click, so it’s a good idea to be as targeted as possible when setting up your ad campaigns. If you’re servicing the Illawarra Coast in regional NSW, for example, set your location targeting within this region. The same goes for industry, if you’re in manufacturing, limit your customer interest targeting to keep your ads relevant.
  • Focus on top 3 rankings. According to Wordstream, 41% of clicks go to the top 3 Google ads. Like SEO, ranking is important: bid on keywords where you can get (or maintain) the top 3 position, such as ‘plumber in Wollongong’ rather than ‘plumber in NSW’.
  • Make an impact with your ad. The copywriting on your ad can make or break the success of your ad campaign. SEM listings on Google Adwords look the same as Google search results, so it’s important to stand out. Be straightforward in your writing, and include a call to action (‘buy now’ or ‘click here’). Keep in mind that each part of the ad has a set number of characters, so be sure to use up all the space available to you.

SEM vs SEO: which is better for regional businesses?

Ultimately, SEM and SEO should be combined to give your business the maximum amount of exposure possible. SEO is great to get organic visitors to your website and build ongoing brand awareness. However, it’s a long-term process.  SEM, on the other hand, comes into effect immediately, and is great if you have a new offer you’d like to communicate or want to invest in quick marketing spurt. 

Want to explore paid search? Yellow Pages’ SEM packages include custom ad copy, keyword research and ongoing management to help you tap into your customer’s searches. Get in touch with us today to learn how we can help you grow your business online.

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

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