SEM (or search engine marketing) is an umbrella term for SEO and PPC. A business can use both strategies to improve online visibility and increase traffic. While both strategies are similar, they also share some key differences. We cover the differences between SEO and PPC and how they can work together to help your business grow online.
What is SEO, and how does it work?
Search engine optimisation (or SEO) is one element of SEM and involves improving a website’s organic positioning in search results. An effective SEO strategy will incorporate many tactics to increase rankings in search engine results pages (SERPs).
SEO is a long-term process that can help increase the visibility of products, services, or information on topics you have expertise or experience in. Improving your ranking in the organic search results increases the potential for web visitors to click on your site and convert into leads.
Tactics you can use within your SEO strategy include optimising your web pages and content to provide value and meaningful information, and solutions to your customers’ pain points. This usually focuses on optimising for specific keywords.
SEO tactics can be split into three categories: on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. On-page SEO involves any SEO tactics on your site, such as optimising content, internal linking, metadata optimisation, and content marketing and optimisation.
Off-page SEO are tactics that take place externally from your site. Examples of this include link-building and social media marketing. Technical SEO involves tactics specifically for search engines and crawlers, such as addressing duplicate content and using a sitemap.
Many different ranking factors determine the positioning of websites in search results. While there is a definitive list of the ranking factors used by search engines, links, quality content, and mobile friendliness are considered the top 3.
The higher the experience, expertise, trust and authority of a domain, the greater its chance of ranking high in search results. Building a strong backlink profile, developing meaningful and helpful content, and ensuring your web site is responsive will significantly help.
What is PPC, and how does it work?
PPC (or pay-per-click) is another element of SEM and involves paid advertisements on search results pages. These typically show at the top of search results above organic searches. Ad placement in PPC depends on bidding for keywords.
Each time a user clicks on your ad, you pay a fee to the ad host, such as Google. These ads are above organic SEO results to gain high impressions and click-through rates.
PPC ads use an auction process, meaning there is no guarantee which position your ad will appear in the search results. In an auction, you compete against competitors for the ad space. The ads with a higher quality score and bid typically achieve a more prominent placement.
Ad space auctions are done based on the keywords you want your ad to appear for, for example, “Web Design Coventry”. You’ll also need to select a bidding strategy, such as cost-per-click, and how much you are willing to bid. Bids can be limited depending on a budget but may be insufficient to win a bid.
Quality score is a significant factor in PPC; the higher an ad’s quality score, the better. Several factors, including the quality of your landing page, ad copy, and keyword relevancy, determine the quality score. This is displayed on a scale of 1-10 (with ten being the highest).
You can use the quality score to measure how relevant the ad host, such as Google, think your ad is to searchers. The click-through rate, landing page UX and relevancy will determine the quality score.
Keyword research also plays a pivotal role in PPC campaigns. It is important to bid on the right keywords based on intent. You also need to choose keywords that have a high enough search volume. Otherwise, you’ll be bidding on ads that no one will see.
Different extensions are also available that help increase your ad value and size. Ad extensions, such as callout extensions, allow you to include additional info for your ad, such as low price or free delivery, to help improve your ad’s appeal.
How do SEO and PPC work together in SEM?
Any business can use SEO and PPC together for a successful SEM strategy. Both utilise keywords as the foundation of their strategy. In SEO, you create and optimise content on your site for the keywords you want to rank.
In PPC, you bid for the keywords you want your ads to appear for. In some cases, you can expand your visibility in search results by opting for PPC ads and organic SEO rankings. You can also use the data and results from a PPC campaign to inform your SEO strategy.
If a particular keyword or ad receives a high number of clicks, it could indicate a worthwhile keyword to develop and inform your content marketing strategy. You may also uncover some additional topics or questions to create content around.
PPC is also much more effective when a solid SEO strategy is used for a site. Websites that already implement Whitehat SEO practices to deliver a positive user experience and high-quality content are likelier to do well in their PPC efforts (especially where the quality score is concerned).
Both SEO and PPC will require extensive keyword research beforehand. Without the right keywords, your SEO and PPC strategies will fall flat. When choosing keywords, you should carefully consider the search intent, volume, and competitiveness (or keyword difficulty).
You’ll also need to set clear goals for both SEO and PPC. A goal gives you focus and allows you to measure the performance of your campaigns. Decide whether your aim is to grow your online visibility, web traffic, or leads and conversions, etc.
Once you have a clear SMART goal, you can choose suitable tactics that will help you achieve that goal. Monitoring and analysing the performance of both PPC and SEO is also crucial to the success. If you don’t monitor the results, you won’t know what works and what doesn’t.
You can waste valuable time and money chasing ranking positions or ad bids that don’t drive ROI. Any good digital marketer will know how to utilise PPC and SEO to support business growth in an SEM campaign. From gaining an immediate presence to gradually improving organic results, PPC and SEO should support one another.
How are SEO and PPC different in SEM?
The major difference between SEO and PPC is the duration for which the campaign will run. SEO is a long-term strategy that requires continual optimisation over a more extended period. Campaign results can take longer, sometimes up to 12 months, before ranking improvements.
PPC is a short-term strategy that is used for quick wins and to increase traffic. Due to the expense of some clicks, businesses may only choose to invest in PPC for the short term to increase brand awareness and visibility or promote special offers.
However, you do have control over your daily ad spend (provided you don’t opt for automatic bidding strategies). Optimising your ads based on results can help improve the effectiveness and return on investment.
Cost is another difference between the two. PPC and SEO have different costs, depending on the extent and length of a campaign. SEO campaigns that run for long periods can cost more than short-term PPC campaigns.
However, the better the results and higher the search results, the better the return on investment. Maintaining high rankings provides high visibility and web traffic at no extra charge. With PPC, you would still have to pay every time your ad is clicked – the more clicks, the higher the cost.
If an SEO campaign stops the results will worsen over time. This may see the visibility and rankings drop considerably, causing a significant drop in traffic. With PPC ads, the visibility is only around while the ad appears in search results.
Both SEO and PPC have benefits for business. Incorporating the two to work seamlessly together in a digital marketing campaign can help drive traffic and boost visibility. However, you should choose the best strategies for your business needs and budget.