Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are quite confusing. They can also cause major issues among small businesses. Considering a startup’s limited resources, which one should it work on first—or can it do both?
Today, we’ll break down the biggest differences between SEM and SEO. We’ll also outline the steps to supercharge any online marketing plan using this powerful combo.
What Is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?
SEO and SEM are eerily alike in many ways. They are digital marketing strategies that help increase your site’s online visibility. They bring in leads, increase click-through rates (CTRs), and even convert prospects to customers. They also rely heavily on keyword research.
However, they are not interchangeable terms. They differ in the following areas:
- Method of driving traffic. SEM heavily involves paid advertising. Think about cost per click (CPC), banner advertising, Google Ads, and remarketing searches. SEO, meanwhile, delivers an audience organically by letting you appear on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
- Ease of implementation. Because it generally requires purchasing ad placements, SEM is often easier to implement than SEO. You can start driving traffic to your site almost immediately after setting up your campaign. SEO can take weeks or even months before you start seeing results.
- Cost. SEM is a paid marketing strategy, while SEO is free, with a few caveats. You must invest time and resources to increase your website’s ranking on SERPs. Hiring an experienced SEO specialist may be necessary to help you jumpstart your optimization efforts.
- Results. SEM provides immediate results, while SEO takes time to show a return on investment (ROI). That said, SEO tends to have a higher close rate than SEM because it drives organic traffic. Often, visitors are already interested in what you’re selling when they reach your page.
Based on these categories, it seems one is better than the other. For example, a small business that wishes to see quick results might focus on SEM. Those that want to save money in the long term might go for SEO.
In reality, you don’t have to play “eenie meenie miney mo.” You can combine these two to significantly increase your chances of online marketing success.
How to USE SEO and SEM to Grow Your Small Business Fast
According to Digital Authority Partners (DAP), a digital marketing agency, it is highly possible to implement SEO and SEM simultaneously. In fact, it is ideal in many situations.
Here’s a brief but concise guide on how to use these two digital marketing strategies together:
1. Define Your Marketing Goals
SEM and SEO are worthless when you don’t know why you’re doing them in the first place. Do you want to increase traffic to specific landing pages? Would you like to increase your social media followers and get their email addresses for your mailing list? Do you want to increase product sales by 10% in the next three months?
Your marketing goals will determine your implementation strategies. You might, for example, use long-tail keywords in your SEM campaigns to target a specific audience and then use SEO to bring them to your website or blog.
Identify your objectives more effectively with these tips:
- Conduct a situation analysis. Doing this gives you clarity about your current situation, your target market, and the competition. Based on the data, you will know the next steps.
- Specify your target market. Create a buyer persona and dive deep into your sales funnels. Know the buyer’s journey.
- Make your goals SMART. Keep your objectives specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
2. Perform Keyword Research
Your keywords will be the foundation of both your SEO and SEM efforts. After all, these are the words or phrases that you want to rank for on SERPs.
As a small business, you might not have the luxury to try various keyword research recommendations. You can save time and money by focusing on these tips:
- Target long-tail keywords. These terms are easy to rank since they usually have low competition. Although the search volume is low, they often deliver more targeted traffic. In other words, people who find you are more likely closer to buying.
- Determine the search intent. What does the customer want? Are they looking for reviews, comparisons, or something else? The searcher’s intent will help you know the content type to produce and how to answer their queries.
- Check the competitor’s keywords. Identify the terms that your competitors are ranking for. Then do your best to beat them through strategic SEO.
3. Optimize the Page Before Doing SEM
Your website should be in tip-top shape before you even think about SEM. Otherwise, you will still not convert because people cannot use or appreciate your content and design. You are just putting your hard-earned money buying ad placements to waste.
Here are some of the things you need to do:
- Speed up your page. A fast site can improve user experience, conversions, and organic traffic. Increase the speed by compressing images, using a content delivery network (CDN), and caching pages.
- Design a mobile-friendly website. New technologies make managing businesses more convenient, including mobile devices. It explains why more are using their smartphones, tablets, and laptops often. How do you reach out to them? Make your website mobile-friendly through responsive design, easy navigation, or progressive web apps (PWAs).
- Write high-quality and keyword-rich content. People go online to look for answers to their problems. Giving them authentic and well-written content makes them appreciate your site more. Pair short articles with long-form content, such as e-books, guides, and case studies, to expound on topics and target more keywords. Write for humans.
4. Use SEO and SEM for Local Optimization
You are not selling to everyone. In fact, you might only be catering to customers in your locality. That is why local SEO should be one of your priorities.
Apply SEO and SEM to improve local page optimization in the following ways:
- Include the city or state in your keywords (e.g., “plumber in New York”).
- Put virtual tours, store locators, and other relevant information on your website or blog.
- Generate citations from well-known directories and review sites (e.g., Yelp and Google My Business).
- Buy local-centric keywords.
- Consider adding visuals, like logos or store images, in your ads.
5. Monitor Your SEO and SEM Progress
Do not just set it and forget it. Monitor the progress of both your SEO and SEM campaigns to ensure that they are working as intended. Use various tools to do this:
- Google Analytics gives you insights into how people interact with your website after finding you through an organic search.
- Search Console tracks your site’s performance on SERPs so that you can identify any technical problems that might be affecting your ranking.
- Ad dashboards from Google Ads, Microsoft Advertising, and other platforms let you track your ad’s progress, including the number of clicks, impressions, and conversions.
SEO and SEM are two effective digital marketing strategies every small business should take advantage of. They help you reach out to more people who might need your products or services.
Both can deliver great results if done right. But which one should you use? It depends on your business goals, budget, and other factors. A digital marketing agency that performs SEM and SEO can help you decide. You can also use this post as a guide in making an informed decision.