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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.

Being Found on Google, digital marketing agency, direct mail, Google Analytics, keywords, marketing consultant, Nonprofit Marketing & Communications, online advertising, organic SEO, paid search, pull marketing, push marketing, Results Analysis, Search Engine Optimization, search terms, SEM, SEO, target audiences, technical SEO, User experience, website

Why "If You Build It, They Will Come" Doesn't Always Hold True

Over the past six years, as a digital marketing agency owner and marketing consultant, I’ve had so many prospective clients approach me with a specific marketing tactic/activity that they’d like me to implement on their behalf. As I’ve repeatedly expressed on social media, in other blog posts, and in my website’s content, I never encourage clients to implement or continue with a marketing activity that doesn’t make sense for them. So, as part of discussing the particular tactic for which they’d like my help, I do a “preliminary check” to see if their website is “optimized for search,” and, therefore, likely to be found by individuals searching on relevant terms for the products, services, and solutions to problems the client in-question provides. Instead of a costly advertising campaign or direct mailer, the client might be better served investing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which could have longer-lasting impact.

You would be amazed by the number of organizations — both large and small — who have spent significant $$ and time to launch a comprehensive, user-friendly, informative website, but didn’t realize they needed to implement off-page (behind-the-scenes tags) and on-page (content) SEO tactics in order for their site to be found on Google. Some website developers and designers are well-versed in SEO, others aren’t, and don’t offer the service automatically, or as an add-on when launching a new site.

The above means that a for-profit or non-profit organization may have invested in a beautiful, effective website as far as design, user experience, functionality (interactive tools) and content goes, but they won’t likely benefit from it to the degree to which they could/should. Their site becomes like a pretty little unknown island that no-one knows is there, and therefore, no-one visits. In sum, building their new site, didn’t mean people would come.

Another factor related to lack of visitors may be this. If the products, services, or solutions to problems an organization offers are not ones that individuals are aware of, and therefore, aren’t actively searching on, even the most-optimized-for-search website isn’t going to get a lot of visits that stem from search engine inquiries. If your product or service is a brand new one — think something you’d see on Shark Tank — your target audience may not even realize a product or service like yours exists. Or, particularly, if you’re a B2B (business-to-business) organization, prospective clients may identify an organization like yours by asking one of their contacts or colleagues for a referral.

Both of the scenarios outlined in the paragraph above equate to your organization not being able to rely on “organic search” to drive traffic to your website. But, if you want and need to confirm that individuals aren’t actively searching to find an organization like yours, read our recent post that explains how keyword research can help you figure out whether or not individuals are searching to find an organization with your capabilities.

So, what are the takeaways from everything we’ve shared so far in this post, i.e., how do you ensure “if you build it they will come?

  1. Don’t assume that searchers are searching to find you and/or what you offer. Take the following steps to determine if they are searching to find you, and how.
    • use your Google Analytics data to see what percentage of your traffic is organic (comes to your site as the result of a visitor clicking on a search engine results listing)
    • use your Google Search Console data to see for what search terms, if any, Google is presenting a listing with a link to your website in search engine results, and the # of individuals who are clicking-thru to your site as a result of it being presented
    • conduct keyword research for the specific geographies you serve to determine whether or not a significant volume of individuals is searching to identify an organization likes yours
  2. If the above exercises reveal that the percentage of organic traffic to your site is low (less than 30%), and your website isn’t being presented in search engine results for relevant search terms (keywords), but keyword research indicates a large number of individuals in your geography are searching for the solutions, products and services you offer, then you should optimize your website for search, i.e., implement organic/technical SEO tactics
  3. If keyword research indicates that only a small number of individuals in your geography are searching for an organization with your capabilities, it’s time to consider “push” vs. “pull” marketing. Push marketing is all about putting the idea of your product/service in individuals’ heads and making them aware that a your solution to their problem exists. Display vs. search advertising is just one form of this and this blog post explains the push vs. pull dynamic, but there are many other forms of push marketing, such as an e-mail campaign, print or broadcast advertising, or a direct mail campaign.

Results Communications & Research is always here to make sure your website isn’t an island onto itself, so reach out to make sure it gets the admiring visitors it deserves.

Search Engine Optimization, SEM, SEO, social media, technical SEO, Uncategorized

Why SEO Is Not A One and Done Marketing Activity

Even if Google didn’t regularly change its algorithm that determines which organizations’ listings it serves up on the first two pages of search results, and even if new competitors haven’t entered your marketplace or existing competitors haven’t up’d their SEO game, your organization still needs to regularly revisit your SEO strategy and tactics. By regularly, I mean, at least quarterly.

My digital marketing agency is often engaged to implement activities related to keyword research and planning (such as employment of appropriate keywords in website content and behind-the-scenes website tags). While keyword research and planning is a large, complex, and time-consuming activity that doesn’t need to be revisited monthly or quarterly, there are a number of SEO review and audit type activities that should. I won’t repeat those activities in this post because I’ve already outlined them in the recent blog posts shared below, but I hope you’ll take the time to read or re-read these past posts. They outline easy tasks you can and should complete to make sure you are up-to-SEO-speed and that potential issues with your website aren’t impacting your SEO, or that tactics that you are or aren’t employing related to your social media presence, aren’t harming how your organization ranks in search engine results in some way.

Don’t have the time or capacity to complete the above monthly or quarterly SEO activities? My team is always here to help! E-mail or call us for information about the services we can provide related to quarterly SEO reviews.