SEM – the stuff you pay Google for
SEO – the stuff you pay a writer for
DOA – the stuff you pay the mortician for

If you haven’t already, you might be thinking about investing in search engine marketing, a.k.a. SEM. You’re not alone – lots of businesses are thinking about it.

A good investment? Yes. Definitely maybe. Well … if you do it right.

First, let’s define a couple of terms. What is this thing called SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) refers to paid campaigns on search engines that drive traffic to your website – they’re usually the first search results you see. Your bid for popular keywords determines your ad placement. (Actually, it gets more complicated, but more on that in a minute.) It’s easy to get started with SEM, and easy to track ROI, but every click comes with a cost.

Then there’s SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) means tweaking the content and structure of your website to rank high on organic search results. Search engines poke around your site to see what it’s about, and match that to users’ search queries. Search engines love relevant and engaging content, which takes time and resources to produce.

Given the choice, SEM sounds like the clear winner. It’s the popular kid at the dance. I mean, who doesn’t want their ad smack on top of Google’s results? With less work and a measurable ROI? Using SEM, anyone can get there.

But if you’re stuck with a limited budget and need to drive traffic to your site, don’t just invest in Google – invest in content. Here’s why.

SEM & SEO Have Different Strengths

These two programs should work together, but they’re usually kept locked in different rooms.

SEM provides a quick boost to traffic and revenue, but grinds to a halt the second you stop shelling out cold hard cash. SEO is great for brand building and long-term awareness. You can pay a writer to create content for you, or do it yourself for free.

SEM without SEO is peanut butter without jelly. You can’t focus on conversions without brand building, or vice versa.

Great Content (SEO) is SEM’s Secret Sauce

With SEM, you bid against other advertisers for important keywords. But wait, there’s more.

Search engines also want to make sure your content is relevant, so users actually get what they came for. When it isn’t, users “bounce” – they shrug and head back to Google to find something more useful.

Based in part on your bounce rate, search engines assign your page a Quality Score. The lower the score, the lower you rank and the more you pay for keywords.

How do you lower bounce rate? By using smart SEO tactics:

  • Provide relevant content and simple navigation.
  • Add branding elements like contact info and a company bio.
  • Structure your HTML the way search engines like it.
  • Build inbound links from social media and reputable sites. (Don’t try to game the system, though – Google will nuke you.)

SEM is Your SEO Billboard

When your organic listings appear below your SEM ad, it adds credibility. People think, “Google really likes them, and Google is run by mutant geniuses who get this stuff.” It’s more exposure, too, and can mean more clicks.

Use complimentary keywords, and you have a good chance of getting paid and organic listings rubbing elbows on search engine results pages. Your SEO traffic takes the guesswork out of SEM by showing you which keywords already work.

In hundreds of SEM campaigns – often targeting hundreds of keywords – we continually see success for businesses that leverage the strength of their brand and its content.

Is that you?

Share your ideas on driving awareness. What works for you?