I have had a few clients now start our conversation by saying, "I'm not interested in SEO because I don't want to pay Google for Adwords." And so now I am writing this post. Because SEO and Google Adwords are not the same thing.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a combination of content and web design that makes your page attractive to search algorithms and therefore makes you visible within more organic search results.
SEM, or search engine marketing, is when you pay a service such as Google Adwords to advertise your website on a search page.
SEO simply ties in with content marketing and inbound marketing. It's about gearing your web presence towards the questions your target market is asking and the solutions they are trying to find. It usually requires blogging, content that is of high enough quality that it gets shared or linked to by others, easy to navigate and effective landing pages, solid keywords and a site map. SEO requires a budget that covers your time if you're doing it yourself, or else the fee of an online marketing consultant (On average in Vancouver this will run between $700 - $5000 per month or between $75 - $150 per hour. This can also be commission based as cost-per click, mille or conversion depending on your agreement.)
SEM requires a knowledge of advertising platforms like Google Adwords and its networks. In this day and age, you should also have a good grasp of what an effective infographic is vs. an ineffective infographic, and also a solid understanding of mobile, in-app and video advertisements. SEM requires a monthly advertising budget that will be entered in to your advertising platform. Each keyword you choose to trigger your ads will be given a value that you can then bid on to have your ad show up under that keyword. These services can be offered as pay-per-click (you pay when someone clicks your ad link), pay-per-mille (you pay for every 1000 impressions of your ad), or pay-per-conversion (you pay whenever someone clicks through your ad and completes a specific action). This would normally start at around $200 - $400 minimum per month if you are doing it yourself, and will otherwise be comparable with SEO costs if you are hiring someone with keyword and demographic expertise.
I personally prefer SEO. I rarely click on ads that are within my search results, and in fact most people will click on an organic result before they ever skim the ads to the side of the page. Realistically though, the one that's best for you in determined by your business goals. For instance, if you have a weekly webinar that has proven itself to be very effective in LEAD generation with your YouTube followers, it may be a worthwhile investment to pay for video ads on other blogs and sites related to your business. If you have a free e-book that you are using to get more clients for your life coaching business, it may help you to advertise this on websites offering self-help resources and blogs about creating a happier life. If you are wanting to run a branding campaign differentiating your business from your competition, pay-per-mille ensures that your business is seen by a maximized and (hopefully) interested audience.
If you are just starting your business, or are yet to have a strong web presence, I would highly recommend focusing on SEO first. Unless your SEO is up to par, your web content and landing pages are not going to be good enough to encourage anyone clicking your ads to contact you regardless. If you are new to the online scene it may also take you a while to determine the search terms your clientele is using, during what times of day they are online and what other content sources they are interested in - Are they searching for certain services directly (search advertising), or are they spending all of their evening hours playing Angry Birds (in-app and mobile advertising)? Perhaps you should be advertising on YouTube through a podcast that directly references the products you sell (video advertising)? You can lose big ROI in the months it takes you to observe this. Be sure to do adequate A/B testing and data collection before investing in doing your SEM yourself.
If you hire someone to do SEM or SEO for you, their fee should include data collection and analytics reports. Don't pay for someone who says they can't track results, or who doesn't feel these results need to be shared with you. If this is something you want to invest in, take some courses so you can go into it yourself or via a professional confidently. Google offers free courses in both AdWords and Analytics. Watch some of the videos and read some of the content even if you don't care to go through ALL of it. At least then you'll be able to talk with your marketing consultant in a more educated way, and prevent being vulnerable to someone dishonest or who simply doesn't understand your goals.
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