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Online Marketing - The New Frontier
CMO's Guide to SEO vs. SEM

Linda Kimeisa
Linda Kimeisa
Master in Marketing & Public Relations

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of redesigning/re-editing your website (code + content) and promoting your web pages online to rank your website higher on the search engine result pages (SERPs). Once you achieve a higher ranking, your customer traffic, brand and revenues will increase exponentially. The following figure illustrates the SEO ranking results for one of our clients as compared to their competitors:

Note: The search phrase "US Economy Risks" is one of the most valuable online media phrases in 2007-2008 for the business and finance sectors. The client's site ranks among the top 10 of more than 17 Million competing pages from leading global media and universities.
There are 2 benefits from being ranked on the top of the results

  1. Increased visitors = increased leads = increased revenues

  2. Increased brand awareness worldwide

  3. Increase media, public relations and journalists visibility

SEO: SEO Expert provides Top Ranking SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as an alternative to Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEO Vs. SEM

What is the difference between search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM)?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a form of paid search engine listing (see the figure above). SEM is an advertising program, in which you bid against your competitors to rent the Advertising space. Depending on your industry and how competitive your market is, the cost can be as high as $50 per click! The more competitive your market is, the higher the advertising rate (lead acquisition cost).

On the other hand, search engine optimization (SEO) is a form of online public relations and technical wizardry, where you are ranked as the most relevant site when potential customers search for a product or a service using related keywords. It is also called natural SEO or Organic SEO. Achieving a higher ranking in such a globally competitive market requires exceptional technology expertise, marketing knowledge and creative skills. The SEO cost is fixed, so after the initial investment is set, all your traffic is free. The best part is that your traffic can grow exponentially (no limit) without having to pay for each click. Your customer base grows while your online marketing budget remains the same. The key challenge for all companies is that SEO technology and online marketing is very difficult to master and the internet websites keeps growing and content keeps changing, so very few companies have the necessary expertise to rank your website higher and maintain its ranking.

Can a company guarantee first place ranking for all my keywords?

No company can guarantee first ranking for all your keywords. Google, MSN, and Yahoo spend tens of millions of dollars to develop and protect their ranking algorithms. A company that advertises such guarantees will face huge trouble with the search engines. Additionally search engines keep changing their algorithms every few months in order to protect against reverse engineering efforts. On the other hand, an expert SEO firm will have enough track record to show consistently higher ranking for their clients (for example top 10 results).

What does SEO involve?

As an online marketing strategy for increasing the ranking of your website on search engines, SEO experts consider how search engine algorithms work, how your clients search for relevant products and services, and how your website is designed to meet the search ranking criteria. The SEO  process involves internal and external optimization efforts. Internal optimization takes into consideration the website design, including the content, the code, the navigation structure and many other factors. The external optimization involves the promotion of your website on the Internet to increase your credibility. From our experience a successful ethical SEO project requires the fine tuning of more than a 100 parameters, each with a varying weight. A simple change in one or more parameters in relation to the other parameters can result in altering your ranking significantly.

Advanced SEO efforts involve the analysis of online customer behavior, website content, HTML coding, information architecture, site usability, page presentation, structure, menus, content management systems, meta elements and XML sitemaps, as well as fixing problems that could prevent search engine fully indexing your site. A SEO project may also involve off-site (external) optimization and promotion efforts like social media optimization, relevant link exchange and ethical back links. Other complementary efforts may include adding unique content to a website, ensuring that the content is easily indexed by search engine robots, or making the site more appealing to users.

Without a doubt, an ethical SEO project requires a combination of technical and marketing genius along with a dedicated online promotion team. Technology or marketing experts alone will not be able to provide you with the best results.

Which one is better for my company, SEO or SEM?

The combination of SEM and SEO can be very effective in lead generation and customer acquisition. However, if you have a limited budget or must choose one over the other, here is one way to make a decision:

Comparison of cost/benefits between SEO and SEM:

  • Let's say your monthly online marketing budget is $2,000 and the SEM cost of "pay per click" (PPC) bid is $1. For an SEM budget of $2000, you can expect to have 2000 clicks.

  • If your SEO company can guarantee more than 2,000 clicks per month for $2000, then it is better to go with a SEO project. If not, then SEM is a better choice.

In general, if your market is highly competitive, then SEO is a much better investment. 

SEM and The Problem of Click-Fraud

Based on our experience, customers have been more satisfied with SEO than SEM due to the rising costs of Pay per click (PPC) and the Click-Fraud issue. There are many stories of wasted SEM budgets that generate a lot of clicks but do not deliver any qualified leads or clients. The term "Click-Fraud" describes some unethical SEO marketing firms that use automated software to click on SEM Ads or use some pay-to-surf schemes to have users click on your Ads, although they are not interested in buying from you. This is done to generate income by the advertising websites. Even if there is no financial gain, your competitors can use automated software programs to click on your ads to increase your cost. You have to be careful when investing in SEM. We recommend using web analytics to continuously measure the traffic, the conversion rate and ROI whenever you pay for SEM campaigns. Since SEO projects are fixed cost projects, they do not have the same problem as SEM because you do not pay per click.

What is Ethical SEO?

Ethical SEO is the practice of designing and promoting your website to rank you higher without misleading or tricking the search engines by using illegitimate techniques such as paid link farms, keyword stuffing or hidden text. Ethical SEO takes more effort and expertise to achieve results, but at the same time it is very difficult to beat (it provides a sustainable competitive advantage). Any webmaster or SEO firm that promises you quick results (or short cuts) for cheap budgets is simply using illegitimate search engine spamming techniques (Blackhat SEO). Such techniques may rank you high for a week or so, but your website will be easily discovered, penalized and possibly even banned from all the search engines. Google, MSN and Yahoo continue to refine their advanced search engine spamming detection algorithms. More recently, Google has allowed other webmasters to report any sites that use paid links or similar unethical SEO techniques. So your competition is on the lookout for any unethical practices by your webmaster or hired SEO firm. Like all fraudulent schemes, the end result is a loss of time, effort, investment and reputation.


Online Marketing Pro
To Learn More contact Linda Kimeisa at contact(at)onlinemarketingpro.org

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