Which is better for you – SEO or SEM?

Getting found on search engines like Google is a question that gets asked a lot, especially by businesses just starting out (or just beginning to explore the digital landscape). In digital marketing, this is a massive topic, and one that doesn’t have a clear answer.

There is no right or wrong answer here; it depends on the company and the goals, so both approaches should be considered and tested. We have broken down both methods so you understand what each platform can do for your business, as well as their pros and cons.

Your website will be ranked high on Google search results through SEO (search engine optimization). Since very few people look past the first page of Google results, ranking highly on the first page of Google results is often a high priority for businesses who feel most customers will search Google for them.

If you decide on the right long-tail keywords to rank for, SEO is beneficial for any kind of business, and can provide ongoing, cheap (if not free) results – in other words, high rankings on Google are a gift that keeps on giving.

To rank well in SEO, however, you must be patient, especially if you have a new website. It can take a long time to make sure all the boxes are checked when it comes to determining ranking factors. Additionally, these things are beyond your control. It is Google who will primarily define where you sit, and because Google keeps exact factors that go into determining rankings a secret, it’s usually a matter of working at it until you get there.

Despite what many people believe, SEO isn’t free. Businesses will need to invest in software and/or various services to succeed, especially in highly competitive industries or when there’s no SEO specialist on the team.

Also, bear in mind that just because you’re on the first page of Google does not mean you’ll see a return, and that’s something you can’t control. Our experience shows that companies have spent thousands of dollars on SEO under the misguided belief that it will produce a positive ROI, but it didn’t. Maybe people simply aren’t searching for the keywords that the company focused on specifically in the first place (maybe in this industry, people like to scroll?) or maybe the number one position isn’t the highest performing position after all.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that Google is very user centric. The relevance, user friendliness, and authority of your website will be considered by Google when determining your ranking. Although SEO isn’t a priority for your business, it’s important to at least consider some basic SEO practices, such as making sure your website is mobile-friendly, making sure you don’t have broken links, or that the site is mobile responsive, or that the entire site is easy to navigate, fast to load and all the pages are easy to find. Although just doing these basic optimisations might not significantly bump up your rankings (it might though, you never know), it will definitely be beneficial for your business none-the-less.

SEM (search engine marketing) is placing ads on Google. You’ll have seen them right at the top with the yellow background or running down the right-hand side bar. SEM, unlike SEO, can net you instant results. Once you place an ad, you can almost see your business on Google straight away. For businesses who aren’t ranking very highly organically, SEM is a boon for getting noticed straight away – position 1 and 2 in ads rank above any position organically, so strategically made ads can boost you right to the top, higher than any organic means.

Moreover, you have far more control than SEO. Using Google AdWords, you can specify what keywords you want your ad to appear for, what keywords you don’t want your ad to appear for, and even add extras such as site link extensions (things that Google will figure out for itself organically).

As well as testing headings and texts, you can even control exactly where you rank if you know what you’re doing.

Unlike SEO, which is typically an ‘invest big’ strategy, you can also put a small budget into SEM to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, you can just turn it off.

SEM has a definite cost, and it can be high in competitive markets. Aside from that, SEM can also be a very good way for an inexperienced user to burn through a great deal of money without returning anything in return.

Through your dashboard, you can measure your cost-per-acquisition and even your cost-per-conversion, which you can use to determine whether SEM is working for you or not. You simply need to increase your budget if it is working to see more traffic.

Nonetheless, it’s vital to keep in mind that both platforms work together. By using Google Analytics tools, you can view where your traffic comes from, the digital path they take before buying, and the most cost-effective, valuable funnels; you can also use Google’s Keyword tool to figure out which keywords you want to focus on before entering either SEO or SEM. There are times when a company may rank well organically, but the people who click through to their site through ads tend to be more valuable customers, or vice versa. Thus, these two platforms should not be mutually exclusive – even if you’re doing exceptionally well with SEM, don’t overlook SEO, just as if you’re ranking very highly in SEO, don’t ignore the additional value SEM can offer.

Find out how Digital Marketing can help your business by contacting Stich Creative.

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