Back to Basics: Search Engine Marketing, SEO and Paid Search

January 10, 2014

Basic definition of Search engine marketing and how it is related to Search engine optimization (SEO) and PPC campaigns and why it should matter for small business owners.

Search Marketing has become a popular buzzword and I will try to explain what exactly does it mean and how it relates to both Search and Internet Marketing.
Search Marketing can also be referred to Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
It is a part of online marketing efforts that are targeted at increasing traffic to the website from the search engines in organic or paid way. It is also closely related with web analytics and conversion rates. By increasing search engine rankings (the position of your website in organic search results for targeted keywords that people searching for) businesses gain more online visibility and targeted visitors to their website.

For example, if you are going to buy a snowboard, you would go to the search engine such as Google or Bing and type “snowboard” or “buy snowboard” in the search field. Google would list, in this case, 3.7 million results. If you sell snowboards or offer any related rental or repair services, your website may be listed among these 3.7 million results. That’s where Search Engine Marketing comes in and everything depends on the position you are able achieve in the organic search engine rankings. Visibility means a lot here and as the latest researches have shown 80% of the clicks go to the first 5 rankings and only 20% of the visitors click through to the second result page. So you can see how crucial search engine visibility is for any small or large business.

Search Engine Marketing consists of two related, but yet separate techniques:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • PPC or so called pay-per-click and paid advertising

Too often I have seen small business owners tempted with the instant results that PPC advertising can deliver. However you must be careful when putting together your SEM strategy and ideally there should be a fine balance between PPC and SEO.

So if someone asks me what is the best Search Engine Strategy: PPC or SEO? – The answer is both.

An other common mistake is to think that organic SEO rankings are free. While it might be true for completely non competitive keywords, usually it is not the case and in order to achieve first page rankings you will need to put quite an effort in terms of technical design, content development, SEO copywriting, link building, on-page and off-page SEO, social media, and all the other small things that make SEO work. When it seams like too much work, the results from a fine SEO strategy are often outstanding. Plus the SEO traffic is cheaper and delivers better conversion rates, so you should never solely put your business in the hands of a paid advertising. Just think what might happen if your ad budget runs out – your business will stop, so like I’ve mentioned before keep the balance in the force.


PPC (Pay-Per-Click) on the other hand is completely different. You need a month, two or sometimes even longer in order to start getting traffic and instant viable business results. What you need to get started – is to know how to do a keyword research, setup your advertising campaign and your ad will be displayed within search results. Keep in mind, that while it will be displayed within search results, users are aware that this is a sponsored listing and might ignore it altogether because of trusting the organic search engine results better. The PPC implies that you will be charged for every click, but don’t worry as all of the major advertisers offer flexible ways to control your daily budgets, bids and other advanced PPC management options.

In order to receive the maximum performance of your online marketing efforts, you need to master both methods. Only when used together you will achieve the maximum search engine visibility. What is even more important when talking about SEO, we usually talk in terms of amount of traffic we receive, but when we deal with Search Engine Marketing campaigns – the conversion rates are what matters. More and more business already understand that it is not the traffic that matters, but the quality of it, and how convertible it is. Conversion optimization is a very interesting topic and I’ll share my expert opinion about that later. Because the conversion rates matter more than the search engine ranking, you can have lower rank, but if your conversion rates are higher than your competitors you’ll be outperforming them in terms of revenues.

There are three important methods employed by Search Engine Marketing – Search Engine Optimization (organic search engine rankings), PPC Management (paid search engine listings) and web analytics.

SEO – on page and off page optimization techniques, sometimes requires technical optimization that makes your website optimized and crawlable for search engine spiders. Most of the modern search engines consider link popularity a major ranking factor, though if the keyword or phrase is not a competitive one, the on-page optimization might be enough to rank for your business’ critical search terms.

PPC Management – probably you are already familiar with Google Adwords, the advertising network based on a pay-per-click pricing model. For the majority of small businesses this is the only means to survive. It’s because you get visitors to your website instantly, while SEO might take a couple of months to get slowly rolling. Within PPC a lot of effort is paid on keywords research and analysis on what works best for your business, which keyword provides the best ROI. While PPC provides an instant flow of targeted quality traffic to your website, it should not be forgotten that this traffic is a paid one and the minute you’ll run out of your advertising budget, the same minute you’ll stop receiving new prospects. Ideally you would spread your efforts between SEO and PPC as 60% vs 40%.

Web Analytics – know your visitors, that is exactly what the web analytics tools do. They gather and help you analyze all the information about your visitors, how they find your site, what they do, where they go, how well one or an another traffic source converts. Without web analytics you can not figure out how to judge the performance of your PPC campaigns or conversion rates or how you can optimize them. Modern and popular analytics tools like Google Analytics for the more advanced usage even allows you to track eCommerce transactions, segment your visitors and create sales funnels. Of course you are not limited to Google Analytics. There are quite a few Google analytics alternatives available out there.

I hope that now it is much easier to understand that SEM is much more than simply getting the visitors to your website or increasing search engine visibility, because ultimately it all leads to conversions. A good internet marketing strategy besides SEM should involve conversion optimization and I will talk about conversion rate optimization in my next blog post.

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