SEO vs SEM: The Battle for Web Traffic

By Amber Foster

When it comes to building a strong online presence for your brand, being first place on search engine results should be one of the main goals of the digital marketing team. Brands generally leverage two basic strategies to get in front of target audiences and increase website traffic from search engine listings. 

1) organic searchuses search engine optimization (SEO) to increase your page rankings on search engine listings

2) paid search – uses a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) model to display your website listing at the top of the search results based on the keywords you bid for

Search engines will display a mix of organic and paid search results, with the paid listings in the top four positions and bottom two positions of the page. When done right, building content that is optimized for organic listings while allocating a budget for paid search will likely improve your rankings and increase traffic both immediately and over time.

But which of these techniques should your inbound strategy implement to give you the BEST chance that your web pages will be listed at the top of search engine results?

SEO and Organic Search

As I mentioned before, organic search listings are the result of using good SEO techniques. Optimizing your website to improve your page rankings requires content, and lots of it.

The content that you publish on your website won’t get you to number one based on QUANTITY alone. Optimizing your content means that you are also offering information of the highest QUALITY.

A search engine’s job is to find and deliver pages that meet the expectations of searchers, and searchers want the most relevant, authoritative and expert content at the top of the search results. Therefore, your web pages need to be optimized to demonstrate your expertise for both man and machine.

In order for a search engine to find and deliver your web pages at the top of the results, you need to code all of your content so that search engines understand and match your pages to the searcher’s keywords. To learn more about using keywords check out our Keyword Worksheet.

When it comes to SEO efforts, companies often leave out some of the necessary details for building authoritative, optimized content that will effectively reach the target audience. If your website content is not properly optimized, all the efforts put into building that content may not yield a worthwhile return.

More than a decade ago, Google PageRank measured a website’s rank for search engine results. Using a scale ranging from 0-10, Google PageRank would calculate a website’s authority in the areas of content richness, keywords and other SEO elements. Since that time, Google’s algorithms have evolved into far more complex systems.

SEM and Paid Search 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to  paid online marketing techniques brands use to create a strong web presence on search engines results. When you are first launching a company website, paid search can be the best way to generate traffic to your pages and build brand awareness. Paid Search advertising works by purchasing keywords that your prospect is likely to type into the search bar when looking for your products and services.

When a prospect types your keywords into the search bar, your ads are placed near the top of search engine results. These text ads will often appear right above or just below organic results.

With PPC, you pay a set fee only when your listing is clicked on by someone surfing the web. With the right paid search campaign, you can get cost-effective advertising to help you build your brand on a small budget.

There are many paid search advertising services that you can purchase for your search engine marketing campaigns.

Some common PPC advertising services offered by paid advertising companies include:

  • Daily keyword optimization that determines what keywords are top performers, and then allocates your budget to only the most cost-effective conversions.
  • Precise targeting to prospects within a specific geographical area.
  • Targeting to searchers based on buying behaviors.
  • Different versions of copy based on the media or device type (mobile, pc) searchers are using to surf the web.
  • Digital marketing strategies that place your display and banner ads in the right places and across the best networks.
  • E-commerce campaigns that help bring traffic to your online shopping cart and promote product sales (also called product listing ads, or PLAs).
  • Re-targeting/re-marketing capabilities that use tracking cookies to display your ad to the same prospects over time. Re-targeting helps to reinforce your brand in the mind of the tracked prospect and increase the likelihood that they will buy from you.

Who wins the battle for web traffic?

The Bottom Line: If you have a new website, product or service then PPC advertising can help you increase your web presence as you build the foundation for your inbound strategy, nurture leads and engage with visitors, but it should never replace your SEO efforts.

Online studies and expert opinions across the board agree that long-term SEO efforts will yield the highest returns, conversion rates, and the most qualified leads in comparison to paid search results.

While a significant increase in traffic from your SEO efforts might not happen overnight, it will be worth it over the long term.

Need to check if your content is properly optimized for search? Our SEO Guide and Checklist can help you with SEO and show you opportunities to increase your chances of winning on search engine results.