SEM or SEO? Which is right for your business?

by Jeff Miller
June 8, 2017

We are often asked by business owners, “Should I do SEM (pay-per-click) or should I spend my money on SEO (search engine optimization). The answer? Both.

Let’s think about a search results page for a minute. There are typically only two types of listings: Paid (SEM/pay-per-click) and Organic (SEO.) (There are other types as well, shopping, image, etc. but for this purpose of this conversation we will address only the paid and organic listings). If the page is full, there are usually seven paid ads and ten organic listings (in the middle of the page between the paid ads).

Now, let’s think about how consumers behave on a search results page. There are 4 common ways most consumers interact with search results:

Organic Only

There are some people that never click on the paid ads. They know that those listings are ads (the word AD is a pretty good giveaway) and they just won’t click them. They ALWAYS click on the organic links. For those consumers, it is imperative that you are represented in the organic listings. If not, you have a 0% chance of getting their business. (It is important to note that for those consumers, presence in the paid listings costs you nothing. No click, no charge, no harm.)

Ads Only

There are some people that never lick on the organic listings. They always click on the paid ads. For those consumers, it is imperative that you are represented in the paid ads. If not, it is fair to say that you have a 0% chance of getting their business.

Both – Willingly

Then there are people intentionally that do both, which I think is somewhat typical. I fall into this category. If I am goofing around, doing research, or educating myself on a certain topic, I NEVER click on the paid ads, I always click on an organic listing (for me, it is more of an ethical action. I know that the businesses advertising in the paid ads aren’t going to get any of my money so I don’t want to cost them any of their money). However, if I am going to be making a purchase, or hiring a professional, I ALWAYS click on the paid ads. I know that they are ads, and I know that they are typically going to be more relevant to what I am trying to accomplish than the organic listings. For this type of consumer, not being present in both places significantly reduces your chance to win their business.

Both – Unaware

And finally, there are some consumers that just don’t know the difference between the two and click on whatever interests them.

Think of SEM and SEO as part of a broader “buy it” and “build it” strategy. With SEM, we create your campaign, turn it on, and you are present in the paid listings. You will start getting clicks and calls immediately. That is the “buy it” strategy. With SEO, we spend time both onsite and offsite, optimizing your web presence for increased discovery. Because Google doesn’t update the organic index as often as the paid listings, SEO is the longer term “build it’ strategy.

Finally, when it comes to consumer choice, more chances to be selected is always better. With a solid SEM and SEO strategy, you have the opportunity for at least two bites at the apple, which is always better than one bite.

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