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SEM and SEO: Understanding the Difference and When to Employ Each Digital Marketing Tactic

As the owner of a digital marketing agency whose primary focus is to serve as an SEO company (a firm that helps organizations be found on Google and rank as high as possible in search engine results listings for desirable terms in appropriate geographies), I have a great passion for helping both for-profits and non-profits determine when they need to employ SEO tactics, when they need to employ SEM tactics, and when they need to employ both.

What is SEO?

So what is SEO? SEO is the acronym for “search engine optimization.” In general, when someone employs the term SEO, they are referring to non-paid-advertising tactics that are executed to support a listing with a link to an organization’s website appearing on the first two pages of Google or other search engine results for search terms that are relevant to the products, services, and solutions to problems that their organization offers. Sometimes, SEO will be modified by the terms “organic” or “technical” to indicate a large variety and number of tactics that can be implemented to support an organization ranking well “organically” in search engine results. These include, but are not limited to:

  • incorporation of high-volume search terms, known as keywords, in website content and behind-the-scenes website tags, known as meta tags
  • establishment of a Google My Business profile to support ranking well in “local search”
  • saving image/photos with file names relevant to an organization’s products, services and solutions that Google or other search engines can crawl/index

While SEO does not involve paying for advertising, there are manpower costs related to implementing one-time and ongoing organic/technical tactics, and depending on your organization’s staffing level and digital marketing expertise, you may need to hire an SEO agency, such as Results Communications & Research.

What is SEM?

SEM is the acronym for “search engine marketing” and refers to ads such as the one below that appear in the top or bottom four spots on a search engine results listing page, in Google Shopping Ads, or on other Google properties or marketing opportunities. Sometimes, you’ll hear the following terms used in lieu of SEM:

  • paid search
  • paid SEO
  • online advertising
  • search advertising
  • Google Ads or Google Search Ads (this is advertising bought related to ranking well specifically in Google’s search engine for relevant terms; you can also purchase such ads from Bing and Yahoo)
  • search text ads
  • text ads
  • PPC (pay-per-click) advertising

Organizations often employ search ads/paid search when:

  • They are in a very competitive environment, i.e., other organizations are running paid ads – causing up to four ads to appear in search engine results for desirable terms before organic search/unpaid results listings
  • They’ve only recently implemented tactics on their entire website or on a specific page of their site to rank well organically for relevant terms, and can’t wait for such tactics to impact ranking results
  • Their website or specific site pages aren’t optimized to rank well in search engine results
  • Competitor sites or other pages of an organization’s own website rank above the site page that an organization wishes to rank well for certain terms

Are There Times When It Doesn’t Make Sense to Invest in SEO or SEM?

In general, implementing technical/organic SEO tactics is a best practice. That said, the only way to know if an organization’s target audiences are actively searching to identify someone offering the services, products, and solutions that the organization offers is to conduct keyword research.

If keyword research reveals that, at least for the time-being, individuals are NOT conducting searches, relevant to an organization, then less time and money should be spent in optimizing a website to rank well organically in search results. And, it wouldn’t make any sense to invest in paid search advertising/SEM since there wouldn’t be many appropriate searchers to whom to serve up ads. In the aforementioned case, you’ll want to employ marketing tactics, such as Google Display advertising or social media advertising where you put the idea in target audiences’ heads vs. waiting for them to search for someone like you. We discussed this aforementioned strategy of creating awareness of the benefits and features of a particular product, service, or solution, known as push marketing, in our blog post “Why Keyword Research Informs So Much More Than SEO.”

As Greater Boston SEO experts, we are always here to help you identify whether SEO, SEM, or both, are the right marketing tactics for your particular organization. We assist clients in making these decisions regularly, so that they maximize marketing budgets, as well as internal marketing team’s time. And, while we never guarantee results since there are so many variables at play, we’ve helped clients, throughout the U.S., who’ve engaged our SEO agency for SEO services, appear in the top two pages of Google Search results for certain terms — when they previously hadn’t — or move from page 1 to page 2 through both SEO and SEM tactics. So, please reach out for a complimentary discussion if you need help capitalizing on SEO and SEM opportunities.

COVID-19 marketing, fundraising/development, Google Ads, Google Nonprofit Ad Grant, landing page, online advertising, paid search, pandemic marketing, Post-COVID-19 Marketing, pull marketing, sales, SEM, Uncategorized

Should You Be Running Google Ads Search Advertising During Our Pandemic?

The answer to the headline above is “it all depends.”

Based on the current Google Ads campaigns I’m running for clients, it appears that average cost-per-clicks, in general, have decreased a fair amount during our pandemic. That means the price an advertiser will pay each time someone clicks on their ad and arrives at their website landing page is less than what it would have been pre-pandemic. So, who should be investing in Google Ads (also known as paid search, pay-per-click (PPC), or search engine marketing (SEM)) right now?

Organizations should be investing in Google Ads right now if:

  1. non-extravagant consumer goods products that can be shipped/delivered
  2. moderately priced services that can be accessed virtually/online, such as the ability to take a class or be coached virtually
  3. services and products that are a necessity, despite their cost. Examples of this would be services to repair a plumbing issue or a leaky roof or a new washing machine to replace one that broke
  • you offer a product or service that has a lengthy sales lead time, i.e., target audiences — whether they be business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) — tend to conduct a lot of research and take a number of weeks or months to make a decision to make a purchase of said product or service. Many individuals have more free time on their hands right now because of freed-up work commuting time and a significantly reduced number of social engagements. So, if they have a large future purchase in mind, it’s highly likely they are gathering information related to their probable purchase now. Examples of purchases with long lead time could be project management software or systems to be used by an employer or elective surgery to replace a hip.
  • you’re a nonprofit seeking donations to support your efforts to adapt or continue to offer services during COVID-19. Whether you have a Google Nonprofit Ad Grant under which you can execute such advertising, or you’ll need to pay for your own advertising, with the lower average cost-per-click we’re witnessing, Google Ads may be a very cost-effective fundraising tactic.

Be forewarned that the price of Google Ads and other forms of pay-per-click advertising, such as social media advertising, is expected to rise again — and perhaps rapidly — post-pandemic because of pent-up demand by organizations to promote their products or services. That’s why if you meet one of the requirements above and you’ve always wanted to test the “paid search” waters but believed the media (advertising buy) cost would be prohibitive, you might want to consider implementing a Google Ads campaign as soon as possible vs. waiting until things seem back to normal (or as close to normal as is achievable in 2020).

We are trying to “give back” as much as possible during these challenging times. We are glad to help any non-profit organization apply for a Google Nonprofit Ad Grant for free. We’re also offering the following special. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to discuss your pandemic or post-pandemic marketing challenges and opportunities. It’s never to early to start planning!