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SEO vs SEM: What's the Difference?

An SEO strategy can put your company on page 1 of Google search results, which leads to more customers. The issue is, SEO strategies do not work overnight (they take patience and a decent budget). SEM ads (or Google Ads for example) are awesome because they can put your company on the top of Google, today. The issues are, once you receive your allotted amount of daily clicks, your ad turns off for the rest of the day. Google Ads can also be very expensive! So which strategy is better: SEO or SEM? Or a mix of both? This video tackles your options and gives you tactics you can implement today.

Video Transcriptions

Dave Martin (00:00):

What is the difference between SEO, search engine optimization, and SEM, search engine marketing? We're going to talk about that as well as ways to make them both work together to create a lot more clients for you.


So what's the difference between SEO and SEM? Search engine optimization is the process of making your website and your digital presence more Google friendly. It really is kind of a cat and mouse game with Google. You're trying to convince Google with an SEO campaign that you are a more relevant search result than your competition, regardless of what you do. Usually there's more than 10 to 15 competitors in your city or in your region. So that means with only 10 organic spots on page 1 of Google, it's very competitive to get on page 1. But we all know the benefits of being on page 1, because if you're not on page 1, you don't exist to potential clients looking for your product or service. So of course you could do Google Ads to get on page 1, and yeah, that's great. You could do that right away. But with SEO, by investing time and strategy, you could organically rank on page 1. And the beauty of something like that is you're not paying every time somebody clicks on your organic ranking when it's SEO. In other words, when you rank highly organically and you're not paying to do so. So that's a very general description of what SEO looks like.


So what exactly does an SEO campaign comprise of? Well, you want to make sure that your website is very Google friendly. So first, making sure that the load times, it loads quickly when somebody is downloading your site, they're trying to access your site. You want to make sure that it loads within one second or less. Other things though, are what kind of keywords are you targeting on your site? Are these the keywords that your potential clients use when searching for your product? Because oftentimes, many of our clients use their own buzzwords about their own products. And while that might make more sense even within the industry, in other words, a good example of this are air conditioning companies. Many air conditioning companies will use the term HVAC when describing an air conditioning unit. The problem with this is, while HVAC is probably the more correct term, all of their customers are searching air conditioning units in my city, air conditioning repair company close to me. They're not using the term HVAC. We see this a lot with our customers, is they have to make sure to have high quality keywords that their potential clients are actually using to search. So they want those on their site. There's also other ways of optimizing your website with alt image tags, even more rich content with blog posts. So that's more onsite SEO.


The other side of SEO is offsite. So what are things you could do to rank higher on Google, but that don't really have a lot to do with your own website? One of them is optimizing all of the online directories or citations. Of course, the big ones that everybody's heard of is the Yelp map, the Google Map, even things like or even things like Bing or Yahoo, they all have their own map and directories of businesses and where they're located within a map. So it makes sense to optimize your business information, not on just these handful. Believe it or not, there's over 500 online directories that you could optimize. We usually only focus on about 120 of them that are the most relevant. But this does two things. One, it makes sure that all of your business information, your address, your phone number, your website, is accurate across all of these different platforms. But number two, these online directories or citations have very high domain authorities. In other words, in Google's eyes, these are incredibly relevant websites. And if your web address is within your description, that means this very relevant website, this online directory is linking back to your website. That is what you would call a high quality back link. And so that is the other part of offsite SEO is high quality back links.


Another example would be Better Business Bureau. When you find your company on Better Business Bureau, if your web address is there, your domain, and they click on it and it goes to your site, well then that is Better Business Bureau, this national website pushing traffic back to your site. So that's one example. But for many of our clients, what we would do is reach out to many industry related blog writers and publications and try and write on behalf of our clients within those publications. And it's amazing. It does great for SEO because here are these nationally focused, let's say again, HVAC, nationally focused HVAC publication that we get to guest right on behalf of our client. And when our client's name is listed there, their domain is there as well and it's linked back to our client's website. That is a very high quality back link. And so if you Google, somebody Googles HVAC, and they see all of these very prominent websites linking back to this website, this HVAC company's website locally, it's going to catapult you up Google to be on page 1.


So that in a nutshell is an SEO approach, but that's SEO. What about SEM, search engine marketing? Well, search engine marketing simply refers to the text-based ads that appear on Google, Bing, and Yahoo. And so when you're using any of those search engines to find something, oftentimes in addition to the results that pop up, you're also going to see a handful of ads as well. And so those companies that are doing those ads have told Google, show an ad for my product or service. When somebody searches something very specific and they give Google their credit card and Google charges them every time somebody clicks on their ad.


So when you look at search engine marketing and compare it to SEO, search engine optimization, it might make more sense to say, well, forget ads. I don't click on a ton of ads myself, so I just want to focus on SEO. We have clients that do that, but it is a marathon approach to gaining more clients. Why? Because even if you do everything I've talked about with SEO and spend a ton of money on SEO, you're probably not going to see results for three, six months, even nine months out, depending on how competitive your industry is. On the other hand, if you launch a search engine marketing campaign with, say, Google Ads or Bing ads, your ads will appear on page 1 of Google immediately. Sure, you're going to be technically leasing space at the top of Google or on Google's page 1 versus SEO, that's where you earn that space organically.


So what we do with a lot of our clients is we lay out a path or a campaign for success that focuses on a SEO campaign. In addition to that, also does Google ads so that yes, it's going to take three, four plus months to start ranking on page 1 for many search terms, but in the meantime, we have these Google ads that are appearing on page 1 every single day so that it takes some of the heat off of that SEO campaign to perform immediately. Because I can't tell you how many times clients will say, "You know what? I just want to do SEO," and they're paying every month for it. And even though we tell them all the time, don't expect to be on page 1 anytime soon, and we can't even guarantee that you'll be on page 1.


Well after two or three months, some of them get a little antsy like, "Guys, what's going on? We thought that we'd see more." And it's like, "Well, yeah, you're in a competitive industry." Let's say if you're HVAC or an attorney or a bank, you're in a very competitive industry. These things take time. That's why it's very important. It's kind of a one-two punch. If the one punch is SEO, the two punch would be SEM, search engine marketing. By doing those ads to appear for the exact searches that you would love to organically appear for, you could get calls today with SEM, search engine marketing.


So to recap, it's not that SEO or SEM are better than each other. It's understanding where your clients are and what you're willing to do to get leads now and in the future. How much resources are you willing to invest now versus more marathon future kinds of campaigns and strategies? So when it comes to marketing your business, it's a great way to get clients now and in the future by investing in both SEM, search engine marketing, and SEO, search engine optimization.

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