Making your site more visible in the search engines – getting it to rank high on the first page of the results for a given keyword (search term) – is a goal of most of the website owners I talk to. That’s because 90% of searchers never go past the 1st page of the search engine results.
A few fortunate website owners are savvy enough, and persistent enough, to get their site to rank without any help.
For the rest of us, hiring someone to help with SEO or SEM assumes greater importance. I’ll describe briefly, the pros/cons of each.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. “Optimizing” your site’s content and structure to make it more appealing (relevant) to Google and the other search engines is one way to get it to rank.
The other key to SEO is backlinks – getting other sites to link back to yours, so that the search engines see your site as a popular resource for those given terms. Sites that rank well this way show up in the natural or organic results – in the main body of the page. You do NOT pay Google or any other search engine for these rankings.
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. THESE are what you pay for – such as the Sponsored Ads on the top and right side of the search results pages. Through programs such as Google Adwords, you create small ads and pay every time someone clicks on the ad. (That’s why they’re called pay-per-click or PPC ads.) The more you pay, the higher on the page your ad shows, generally speaking. Some really popular, competitive keywords can cost more than $50 per click!
The advantage of SEO is that it’s cumulative, usually long-term – as you improve your site and get more and more backlinks, your site’s rank steadily improves. And once you get it to rank, it’s easier to get it to STAY there. Also, the vast majority of web surfers click on the natural/organic results – NOT the ads – because we don’t trust advertising. But it can take a while for SEO efforts to get results.
The advantage of PPC is that it is immediate – you can place an ad and have it show up the same day. It’s also a good way to test pages and offers – you can use an ad to direct traffic to something new and analyze how people respond. But when you stop paying – your site disappears. That’s the huge disadvantage – there is no cumulative benefit.
For most of my clients, I recommend PPC only until we get the rankings we want through SEO. After that, PPC is only for occasional testing, or perhaps when a new product is introduced.