When you execute a Google search you will notice two results, organic search results ranked in order of authority and paid search results. While it may seem like magic, the websites that appear in both sets of results have heavily executed SEO and/or SEM campaigns that ensure their SERP performance.
For the beginner, it may seem like getting a top ranking in the paid or organic search results should be enough to drive traffic to your website, and for a bit, it may be. However, the best results come from a search optimization campaign that integrates both SEO and SEM strategies. If you want to scale your company, the ROI attached to both is extremely high compared to the investment, which makes it extremely worthwhile to learn more about how SEO and SEM function separately and together when properly implemented.
What is SEO?
SEO (search engine optimization) is the process of optimizing a website with the intent of improving its performance in organic (non-paid) search results. There are a variety of techniques that can be executed as part of an SEO campaign including link building, page speed, content creation, technical optimization, citations and backlinks.
What is SEM?
SEM (search engine marketing) is often seen as an extension of SEO, but the major difference is that it utilizes paid strategies to earn higher search rankings. Some people refer to it as PPC or pay-per-click advertising as it involves optimizing ads and creating ads to attract web traffic. Like SEO, it is very keyword-centric, but instead of using keywords to gain ranking positions in the SERPs, SEM uses keywords to create effective advertising campaigns within their niche.
How to Correctly Leverage Both SEO & SEM
A lot of people think that SEO and SEM are the same, or that they overlap enough that you only need to worry about one or the other to drive traffic. However, the best results come when both strategies are integrated and carefully utilized to reach a shared goal.
Like any marketing campaign, different audiences may respond differently to different approaches. Most major companies run advertisements and commercials that are tailored to regional preferences and some movie studios even run different film trailers based on what they perceive different audiences will find attractive.
Similarly, SEO and SEM should be carefully utilized to drive traffic to websites based on the current need of the website. The intent actually plays a large role in how keywords should be chosen and what branding practices should be used. Organic and paid search results differ, as does the average customer who clicks on one or the other. Therefore, running an SEO and SEM campaign side by side still requires individual attention to detail.
With this in mind, before performing keyword research, you need to understand the psychographic segmentation and buyer persona of your target audience. Once you create several profiles for both, you can begin to sort out the most effective keywords to reach the target audience you have defined.
Google Ads and Google Search Console
A good way to see both sets of data together is to link your Google Search Console account in Google Ads. With this information side-by-side, you can filter for top keywords converting in one channel but not the other.
How to Carefully Choose Keywords Based on Intent
At this point, it is essential that you start your keyword research recognizing that while there may be overlap, in most cases your SEO and SEM will not share the same keywords. The best way to begin your research is by simply looking at the top keywords that relate to your business, service, product or industry.
It can be helpful at this point to also perform a competitive analysis of top related businesses to see which keywords they are targeting. The CI you glean from this serves two purposes: to identify which keywords are effective at grabbing the attention of customers, and to identify which keywords are a lost cause.
By lost cause, we mean too competitive to hope to make a splash against. As a small business owner you cannot expect to compete against Target and Walmart, so attempting to optimize against those giants would be a waste of money. If they hold top-ranking search positions, it is a better idea to back off and choose other keywords. On the other hand, if the keyword you have in mind will place you against another local business you feel you can adequately battle, then it's worth your time to optimize your paid and organic search results.
Keep in mind that your keywords are not something you can set and forget. Proper SEM and SEO campaigns require constant reevaluation and monitoring. Browsing habits vary by season, month and day. A hot topic one day may not be by the next, so if you want to retain your position in the SERPs you need to continually test for success and reassess when necessary.
In addition, you need to remember that SEM placement will cost your business money, therefore you need to have a budget set aside to pay for each click you receive. Depending on your advertising budget, this may mean that top-performing keywords are out of the picture. On the other hand, SEO is free, which means that those same keywords that were too costly for SEM are back in the picture. In general, you will generally have more freedom when choosing keywords for an SEO campaign since the price is not a factor.
SEM/SEO and Your Business Niche
The industry that your business falls under will have a large influence on the effectiveness of SEO and SEM. There are naturally more competitors in certain industries, which may mean that SEM is the most effective way to get your company on the map now, versus waiting months for your company to even make an appearance on the first page of organic results. However, it bears keeping in mind that properly executed SEO will continue to grow over time, while SEM does not so if you are playing a long game SEO is an excellent tool to develop while using SEM to jump-start your business.
How To Measure Success of a Search Optimization Campaign
Of the two, SEM is easier to test since you can turn your PPC campaign on and off to assess how many clicks you are paying for and how much web traffic you receive while it is on versus when it is off. SEO is harder to assess by the day but can be monitored by watching your company's performance in the SERPs over time as you continue to boost your SEO value.
Regular monitoring is essential to redefine and build on previous successes, and with enough time balancing the two should provide a consistent revenue stream that allows you to scale your business and reach new heights.
Increase SEM Budget When SEO Leads Are Down
To take measurement further into action, set up down funnel reporting on conversions so when you see SEO leads declining, you can be agile in increasing the SEM budget which should offset any losses.