SEO, PPC, OMG! Which digital strategy is most important to my business?
To the average business person, digital marketing may at times seem like a mishmash of meaningless acronyms: SEO, SEM, PPC, ROI, CTR… the list goes on. The question you may be asking is, “Which digital strategy is most important to my business?”
When a so-called digital marketing “expert” starts tossing those acronyms at you, it may not be completely clear just what the heck they’re talking about. And, yes, sometimes that’s completely intentional – especially when it comes from someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing. You see, anyone can call themselves an expert when it comes to search engine optimization, pay-per-click, or even social media or content creation. If you’re confused, they can hide the fact that they may be as well. However, if they know what they’re doing, they should be able to clearly explain to you what each one consists of and how they will help your company – without the jargon.
First let’s look at the three strategies you may hear the most about when it comes to internet marketing:
SEO stand for search engine optimization. What that’s all about is getting your website to rank high organically (free) in search engine results pages (you may hear them called SERPs). The way to do that is to make your pages as Google-friendly and as discoverable as possible by including words (keywords) and phrases (long-tail keywords) that people frequently search for.
Now, in the old days (actually just a few years ago, a lifetime on the internet), there were a lot of SEO experts who knew how to game the system to get pages to rank higher in search results. The emphasis was on quantity – lots of low-quality content stuffed with keywords that would trick people into going to a site whether what was on that site was relevant to what they searched for or not. Great for businesses; not so great for consumers.
Since then Google has made a bunch of changes to its algorithm – the complex formulas used to determine what a searcher is shown on search engine results pages. The new algorithms favor quality over quantity; no longer can you stuff content full of keywords to rank higher in search engines. There’s no one “magic bullet” to fool these algorithms:
“Google’s algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals or “clues” that make it possible to guess what you might really be looking for. These signals include things like the terms on websites, the freshness of content, your region and PageRank” (which measures the authority of a webpage).
Google wants to see quality, relevant content; that other reputable websites link to your site; that your site is optimized for a mobile experience; that your pages load quickly; that there’s legitimate traffic to your site; and much more. In other words, the better your site is for the user, and the more people visit it, the better chance you have of ranking higher in search engine results.
Remember, this is organic traffic; that is, traffic that doesn’t come from paid advertising on Google (known as pay-per-click or PPC).
Here’s the thing: SEO is the long game. It can take several months or longer to see any results on organic search. In addition, if Google makes changes to its algorithm (which it does on occasion), your rank could take a hit that could take a while to come back from.
While it’s important to always consider organic search and SEO when creating content or building web pages, there’s a quicker, easier way to get traffic to your website – if you’re willing to spend a little money.
Pay-per-click, or PPC, most often refers to the use of paid ads on Google via Google AdWords. Bing also offers PPC , but in the US, Google dominates the search engine market with an almost 70% share.
One of the most important things to remember is that people searching the internet are not really interested in putting a ton of effort into their searches and they’re easily distracted. In fact, a study has shown that peoples’ average attention span is eight seconds, less than that of a goldfish. So you want them to find you fast – or better yet, first – when they do a web search.
Let’s look at a typical Google search engine results page for a keyword search of “phoenix attorney:”
Notice how the PPC ads take up the top four positions on the page? The first organic listing is at the bottom, almost “below the fold.” Think of it like a newspaper: When you see a newspaper on the stand, it’s usually folded in half – you only see the top front. Everything else on Page 1 is “below the fold.”
Sometimes map listings come under the paid listings. Check out the results for “Phoenix lawyer:”
To recap: the main advantage of PPC over SEO is rank in SERPs and faster results. In addition because you only pay when someone clicks on your ads, with PPC you can see the return on your investment (ROI) in traffic to your website and increases in leads and sales.
Finally SEM – or search engine marketing – which is simply the process of attracting web traffic (and ultimately customers) via paid search engine ads. There are two ways to do this: By yourself or by hiring someone else.
Have someone else do it
SEM takes a good amount of time – even after the initial learning curve. If you’re tackling PPC yourself, that’s time that takes you away from running your business – your most important task. If you have the staff to do it, that’s great, but you might benefit by hiring a contractor or an agency to do the work for you. They will set up, monitor and do the reporting for your campaigns and they have the training to see opportunities and challenges for which they can make changes on the fly.
Do it yourself
We’re not going to try to tell you that SEM is rocket science. It’s not. But it does take a certain understanding of search, marketing and keywords. If you want to tackle it yourself, there are plenty of good resources out there: Perry Marshall has some good books and resources; there are websites, such as Search Engine Land that have handy information; and of course, there’s Google itself, which has tutorials and certifications.
How much does it cost?
Google AdWords costs as much as you want to pay. Depending on what you want to accomplish and how much you have for a budget, you can spend $10 a day or $100. Or $1,000. In addition, if you hire someone to handle you SEM for you, they will likely charge a fee for managing your account, making necessary changes, and monitoring and reporting results. A freelancer may charge an hourly fee, while an agency may charge a flat monthly fee.
The bottom line is that concentrating on PPC over SEO will bring you traffic and leads more quickly. But remember: You must have a quality website with relevant content to get people to stay once they land on your site, and you must update the content to get them to return. That involves SEO, which is a longer-term investment. Your website is your lead magnet and PPC and SEO are two strategies that help make it work.