SEO vs Search Engine Marketing

Search Engine Marketing: Beginners Guide to SEM vs SEO

It’s not always easy to know the difference between SEO vs search engine marketing. Search engine marketing is another one of those techy phrases that sounds more complicated than it really is. Well, okay, yes, there is room to make it complicated — depending on your budget — but you can still take a simple and effective approach. This post will show you how to do just that. It’s a chill beginner’s guide — we promise you won’t have a headache at the end of it.

What is search engine marketing?

Search engine marketing is about making your website content (the text, images, back-end descriptions, etc.) all Google-friendly so that the mighty Google search engine can find your site and content and show it to your customers who are looking for you. Think of it like putting a big McDonald’s sign on top of your business so that people can see you and know immediately what they can get. Billboards make your business physically visible, and search engine marketing is about making your business visible online.

In more proper terms, it’s about paying search engines to have your website show up on the first page of search engine results (SERP) when a customer searches for a keyword or phrase related to your business. There are also other ways to go about this that we’ll explain below.

Why is search engine marketing important?

Because everyone is online today. People tend to search for a business online before they look for a brick-and-mortar store today. If they can’t find your business when they are looking for a product or service you offer on Google, you’re in trouble. Since the pandemic, it’s even more so because there’s almost nothing you can’t order online anymore, right?

You could say that making your business visible to search engines is even more important than a physical presence now. (The youth would say, if you’re not online, are you even real? These kids didn’t know business before internet, so we can’t blame them!)

There is also the fact that, depending on the nature of your business, you can reach a much bigger audience online than you can in person. In-person setups and events cost a lot in terms of logistics, staff, driving, expenses, etc. Online, it’s about connecting your target audience to your content and offers in a way that’s both relatable and compelling.

Benefits of search engine marketing

1. Whether you prefer to use a paid or organic marketing strategy, both methods are beneficial for improving your company’s online visibility. In other words, there’s no need to wonder whether you should do it or not — you absolutely should!

2. If your budget allows it and your priority is to get fast results, go for the paid option. The rest of the time, it’s well worth it to go the organic route as well (and let the results of the paid option help inform the organic one — don’t worry, we’ll unpack this in a minute). Either way, you can get results, both now and in the long-term.

3. Search engine marketing should form a natural part of your entire marketing strategy, including content you create for marketing on social media. Remember, it’s about being found online, so the principles of using relevant keywords and phrases your customers use to look for your products or services apply on every online platform, not just Google.

What is the difference between SEO and Search Engine Marketing?

SEO is Search Engine Optimization, a way to do SEM, Search Engine Marketing. If SEM is the what, SEO is the how. In a sense, SEM is a part of SEO, but it is not often referred to as such. Paid search (or SEM) works on a PPC (pay-per-click) model, and SEO is mostly free (as in you don’t pay an ad fee, but you might still want to pay someone to do the technical stuff for you) and is more about getting, analyzing and optimizing the traffic to your website.

How to get the right keywords for search engine marketing

Use keyword research tools (such as Ahrefs, SEMRush, Google Keyword Planner, Google Trends, SpyFU and AnswerThePublic to compile a list of keywords that are relevant to your business product or service.

Types of search engine marketing

Local SEO

Local SEO is when you use Google’s local listing features (like Google My Business) and Google Shopping to make your business findable online in your area, town, or city. This is particularly important for service-based businesses where you need customers to physically come to you. These customers will often search for these services on Google along with the area or suburb name, giving you an opportunity to show up online.

Local SEO listing is also free. You can increase your chances of showing up on search results by using the listing features that allow customers to rate and review your business, connect social media engagement, etc.

Organic SEO

Organic SEO is different in the sense that you are not paying for results in the short-term, i.e. paying for Google Ads. This is about using keyword strategies and content creation with SEO to have your business show up on the organic search (below the paid listings at the top of the search results page). Your keyword research is then included in all your content creation and marketing strategy — your website copy, image descriptions, back-end descriptions on your website, product tags, etc.

Getting backlinks (other companies write about your services or products and include links to your business) is also part of boosting your organic SEO strategy. You’ll score more points with Google as they will begin to recognize your domain as credible and improve your ranking over time.

This strategy also does not necessarily include local intent, though local-based keywords can be part of your organic SEO strategy. It can take about 4-6 months to see results based on your efforts, competition in your niche, etc. That said, it’s a strategy worth applying alongside and regardless of whether you are using paid strategies or not.

PPC (Pay Per Click)

This is the pay-to-get-results-faster option, where you spend money on Google Ads to have your business show up at the top of the search results page with other paid listings. You pay only every time a customer clicks on your listing.

Now that you realize that being found online is all about keywords relevant to your business, this naturally will inform your PPC efforts as well. The right keywords and phrases will help determine the effectiveness of your campaign.

How organic SEO informs PPC and Google Ads campaigns

It’s a balance between keywords that work for you, and the amount you’re willing to spend per click compared to your competitors. This is why a combination of one or two more expensive and high-ranking keywords with lower competition, long-tail (which means long phrase) keywords is a helpful approach.

How to build an effective SEM strategy

1. Assess your available resources in terms of budget, time, and skills.

2. Decide what is your top priority for the next three months — awareness, getting more online reviews and ratings, website traffic, ranking online, lead generation, or straight-up sales?

3. Compile your strategy starting with the non-paid options that have not been implemented yet or refresh them if they’ve not been updated recently (such as your Google My Business listing online, etc.). If any pages on your website have not been properly SEO-optimized yet, start there, and make sure your company blog is also optimized for SEO.

4. Use the keywords you’ve compiled using the tools above and in your ad campaigns and PPC and decide how much you’re willing to spend to achieve the goal you’ve set. Use Adbot to make your ads even smarter and more effective (we have an AI tool that makes it super easy for you).

5. After three months, assess results and make a note of what worked. Use the ads and keywords that got the best results and most engagement in more of your content marketing.

Bonus tip for effective content marketing

You don’t have to crank out all the copy by yourself. You can hire a copywriter or use AI tools like Jasper, and editing tools like Hemingway app, Grammarly, and ProWritingAid to create content that reads well and includes your keywords. Remember, the trick is not to stuff your writing so full of keywords that it reads unnaturally. Don’t cram it, Google will not like it either (yeah, they’re smart like that).

Sprinkle your top priority keywords in your title, caption, sub-headings, and your content, particularly in the first part of your content if it’s an article. Use it in your social media image captioning, but stay human, okay?

Keep working on your goals and enjoy the results! Consistency always pays off.

Google Ads? Adbot it!

Author byline

Heideli Loubser is a wellness and education copywriter and a content marketing strategist helping you grow your business. She is also a solo homeschool blogging mom of two kiddos. When she’s not wielding her powerful pen to help businesses and other parents, she enjoys gardening, painting, caffeine, and dark chocolate in large amounts.

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