Another day, another acronym.
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing – another route a business can take to increase their website traffic.
But wait, isn’t that what SEO is for? There’s a difference, and it’s especially useful when it comes to targeting particular groups. Let us explain.
What is SEO?
First, let’s explain SEO.
When people want to buy something, they search for it online using keywords. Real estate is power on search engines like Google and Bing. For example, First Page reported that, in 2024, the business that ranks first on a Google search engine results page (SERP) gets a whopping 39.8% of all website traffic from that search. Number two gets 18.7% of all traffic and number three gets 10.3%. 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.
How to improve SEO.
- Evaluate your current position. Before diving into content creation, it’s a good idea to know where you stand with your SEO. 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?
Once upon a time, SEM encompassed all forms of search engine marketing, but these days, it has become known purely as the paid side of the business. It’s also known as paid search, paid advertising, or PPC (pay-per-click).
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.
Search engine marketing strategies are significantly faster than SEO, as they jump you straight to the head of the queue. Google Adwords is the most popular paid search platform, followed by Bing Ads, which is why it’s handy to have a service like SEM that is both a Google Premier Partner, and a Bing Elite Channel Partner (which, we’ll be honest, is actually fairly rare!).
Tips for great SEM.
- 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 the top 3 rankings. According to Wordstream, 41% of clicks go to the top three 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 copy-writing 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.
SEO and SEM tend to work well together, with some of a company’s investment going into content creation for the former, and some going into paid search for the latter. Aside from the payment aspect of SEM, one of the biggest differences between the two is the ability to seriously hone in on a particular demographic or audience for super targeted ads.
Customer groups you can target with SEM.
Targeting customers in your online marketing almost knows no bounds. Here are some of the top ways you can use SEM to speak to your audience:
- By geography: If you are a local store selling home wares, you can target ads to customers within a vicinity around your shop to make sure they’re aware of your presence, and know you’re not far away. Another way of using geographic targeting is to push ads exclusively outside of your local area, for example if you run a tour company and want to appeal to travellers who are currently far away, but planning a trip to your location.
- By time: Let’s say you’re a business that delivers pizza. It wouldn’t make much sense to run paid ads at 9am in the morning. From 5pm to 9pm however, when people are hungry and could be tempted into skipping the shop-prep-clean process, would be the perfect time to push your paid ads.
- By behaviour: Search engines are clever enough to follow a consumer’s behaviour, so you can create audience segments cut along the lines of the way people act online. For example, a simple one is to target those who have already visited your site, which is called remarketing, and is why you’ll often see ads online for sites you have already been to. Another sneaky option (but often worthwhile!) is to target customers who are fans of your competitors, which is easy to do with Facebook advertising as so many people offer insights into their preferences with their listed interests.
- By device: You can even target your ads based on what type of device your audience is browsing on. For example, if you’re advertising a game app, it would make more sense to target tablets and mobile phones, but if you’re promoting a business that people prefer to view on a laptop or desktop computer, you can skip paid ads on mobile and tablets.
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 located 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.
Yellow Pages’ digital experts work with thousands of businesses to ensure their SEM is as effective as it can be. If you’d like to chat with one of our specialists about how we can create and implement an SEM strategy to connect you with the right customers, click through to book in a call.