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SEM, PPC, SEO- What’s the Difference?

SEM, SEO, PPC, XYZ, PDQ- what do all these acronyms mean, and can they help your business?

SEM = Search Engine Marketing

When people say, “SEM” they can refer to two different things. Sometimes they mean any marketing that occurs through a search engine- whether through paid search (PPC) or natural search (SEO). Other times, people use “SEM” as a synonym with PPC advertising.

In this example of a Google search engine listing for "engineering consulting" the paid search listings are in yellow and the natural search listings are in green.

In this example of a Google search engine listing for “engineering consulting” the paid search listings are in yellow and the natural search listings are in green.

PPC = Pay Per Click (Marketing)

This marketing channel uses a platform such as Google’s AdWords or Bing’s AdCenter (and sometimes PPC platforms on the social networks- but that’s a different blog post) to appear in the ads at the top of the search engine results page. When I say, “top”, I don’t mean that you can pay a search engine to be #1 in the search result- but appear in the paid search section of a search result, usually distinguished by the explicit statement that this link is an ad. To be even more clear, some paid search ads also appear to the right of the search engine listings.

How do you appear in PPC ads?

To oversimplify:

  1. You choose a series of keywords for which you’d like a link to your website to appear.
  2. You write the ad to entice people to click on this link.
  3. You set a bidding price on how much you’d be willing to spend on a click.
  4. The search engine then uses this information to decide where your ad will appear (which place? on the top or right? even on which page of the search result).

Does anyone ever click on PPC ads?

Yes. Many do. And no, it’s not just people who don’t understand the difference between PPC and SEO (Google is not making billions by taking advantage of ignorant search engine users- they’re making billions by taking advantage of ignorant business owners who bid way too much for these ads).

Still not convinced? Why not give it a try? You only pay Google if someone clicks on your ad. If you know that you’d want someone who entered that query into a search engine to visit your website, wouldn’t you be willing to pay for it? If you can optimize your PPC campaign for even greater success (more clear keywords to show up for more queries, better and enticing ads to attract the right customer and very specific bidding to make sure you don’t spend too much for a lead) it can be a very profitable channel to market your business online.

SEO = Search Engine Optimization (Marketing)

This is also known as “natural search” or “organic search” because the website owner is not paying for placement- the search engine is deciding who gets served-up in these results based upon the merit of their website.

There are a lot of factors that go into where Google, or the other search engines, decides to serve a website in response to a searcher’s query.

This is also “free.” Why the quotes? Because it can sometimes take a lot of expenses to get a website to grow in the organic searches. Not only does your website need to be setup properly, so the search engines can read it, but you need to make sure you have content on your website that answers questions people are asking about the services you offer. In addition to the expenses of a good web developer and a good copywriter you’ll also need to encourage other websites to link to yours. That means you’ll need someone doing outreach. All these services are combined into one practice, an SEO consultant. You can hire a cheap SEO consultant but I wouldn’t recommend that (cheap SEOs get their clients websites banned from Google!).

SEO and PPC together forever = SEM

While these two marketing channels might be very different, they work really well together.

  • When a search engine user sees a PPC ad and then an organic listing for the same website, they are more likely to click on the organic listing than the same organic listing without a paid ad. Part of this is a credibility factor- it makes the business look more legit. Some of this is also simple repetition- I’ve heard of them before, must be a good place (even if they just heard about it at the top of the page).
  • PPC is great at delivering results and data very quickly. SEO takes time to develop. If you are gathering data through PPC you can learn where to put that effort into your SEO campaign and begin to get those same clicks for free.

Can a SEM Consultant Help Your Business?

  • Do people know your service or product exists? Search marketing responds to people who are already looking for what you have to offer. If you offer something new, completely unique or very niche, search marketing might not work for you.
  • Do you have a large enough marketing budget? PPC can be expensive- especially if not managed well. Thankfully there are SEM consultants who know how to effectively manage PPC campaigns. Unfortunately they have to pay their mortgage and put dinner on their table every day- so you have to pay them for their services. Even if you don’t want to pay for the clicks, be sure you don’t cut corners when paying for your SEO services either. The clicks from organic search might be free, but the people providing SEO consulting can’t live on clicks alone.

 

What is your experience with SEM? What did you wish you knew before you hired an SEM consultant? Leave your experiences in the comments, below.

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Reliable Acorn, LLC

Internet marketing consulting specializing in search engine optimization.

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