Organic and Paid Search: A Beginner’s Guide to SEO and SEM
According to Internetlivestats, Google processes 1.2 trillion searches worldwide each year. Taking that yearly number, it averages out to 3.5 billion searches per day, around 146 million searches an hour and 40,000 searches every second.
Long story short, search is the go-to route for accessing information. In the world of digital marketing, marketers use strategies to find users via the search engine — the two largest being SEO and SEM.
This beginner’s guide will discuss the difference between organic and paid search by providing not only definitions of the two, but also examples that help clarify how results are displayed to searchers. And while stark differences exists between the steps leading to success for both of these channels, some of the key performance indicators of the two remain the same.
SEO in a Nutshell
While search engine optimization (SEO) has many technical and advanced concepts to it, vaguely speaking it refers to the visibility of web pages and websites in the unpaid section of a search engine’s results page. These are often referred to as organic results because the pages rank naturally without any advertising dollars behind them. One of the most common practices taken to ensure high-quality SEO is to practice inbound marketing.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Generally speaking, inbound marketing refers to creating content that’s based on terms that users are looking for when they are gathering information, according to Jeanne Hopkins of HubSpot. To get found, companies create educational and engaging content revolving around those searches—also known as keywords—that thoroughly informs users on the subject in which they are interested in learning.
Through its complex algorithms, Google ranks pages in its index that it believes are best suited to provide users with the information that they seek based on the queries that are searched. Because of the trust that Google gives these pages, there’s a good chance that they will address the users’ needs. It’s important to note that search engines are machines that provide answers to users who seek information, and that is why it’s so rare to have to browse to, say, the fifth and sixth pages of the results to find what you’re looking for.
As it relates to inbound marketing, it’s advantageous to a business to create content related to its brand because it’s an opportunity to strengthen brand authority as well as reach and drive interested readers to its website. The benefits of organic search are clear: Once Google trusts your website and the content that you publish, you can experience elevated rankings for an extended period of time—likely longer than outbound efforts and at a considerably lower cost. Having a presence in organic search results is especially important given the fact that 51% of overall traffic comes from organic search for B2B and B2C companies. It’s worth noting, though, that it takes time for Google to rank your content.
Considering the aforementioned points, it’s extremely critical to note the complexity of rankings. Rarely does a website publish content then immediately rank on the first page for terms related to their content’s topic. That can happen, but it’s also imperative to conduct successful outreach to writers, editors and bloggers so your content can gain backlinks from authoritative sites with a strong following.
Earning links can be in the form of getting linked to in one of their stories (because your educational content can help provide context to their readers), writing a summary of your article for their site and more. Also factored in is social media engagement, user engagement metrics and many other statistics that are better suited for another discussion.
But for now we’ll focus on outreach. Let’s say you just started a management consulting business and are interested in publishing articles related to your field, like pitching to angel investors, management strategies and more. Because your website is new, you likely have a low domain authority and will therefore have a tough time ranking since Google doesn’t view you as an authoritative voice.
Don’t lose hope, though! By gaining links and exposure from reputable sites who also write about management consulting, the search engines will recognize that trusted sources are recommending your content. View it as getting referred to a job opening. Hundreds of people apply, but because you know somebody who’s authoritative and trustworthy within the organization, the hiring manager will be more likely to contact you thus increasing your chances to get hired.
The key takeaway is that there are numerous applicants in our example, and there are countless web pages on the Internet, so it helps Google recognize your value when trusted sites say you’re worth their users’ time. In theory, this should help bump you up in line.
As you’ve read, you’ve noticed that we’ve talked about keywords in this post. To circle back, a keyword refers to the terms that users search on the search engine. Different keywords will have different search volume than others. For example, the term “gardening tools and supplies in Nevada” will likely have less monthly searches than the term “hotels in Las Vegas.” Nevada is a desert climate that isn’t the most conducive to gardening whereas Las Vegas has a worldwide reputation for hospitality and entertainment—especially high-end hotels.
Due to this, the stakes are much higher for a keyword related to the latter, especially considering the end goal of the business (in this instance, to get searchers to stay at their hotel by booking through a website). Due to the value that these keywords can have to a company, a business will likely spend money to gain visibility for searches that relate to these terms. This is where SEM and PPC factor in to the overall digital strategy.
SEM and PPC
Known as search engine marketing, SEM refers to buying advertising that displays on the results pages of search engines when specific terms are searched. Marketers often consider these terms to be high-converting keywords. But what is a high-converting keyword? These are terms with high search volumes that often lead to a purchase (which is what many companies would classify as a conversion). In our example, somebody who searches “hotels in Las Vegas” is likely interested in researching lodging options and eventually booking a reservation at a hotel in the city. Given the potential for hotels to make money from driving users to their sites from the search engine, competition is likely strong.
One of the most common types of SEM advertisements are pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Free to display, PPC accounts are charged when users click on the ad. As demand for keywords increase, Google can auction those terms at a higher cost than other phrases that lack demand—like the gardening example we previously mentioned.
It’s imperative to understand the payoff that successful SEM campaigns can have, however. While some cost-per-clicks can seem high, by driving the right customer to a website through targeted and data-driven search terms, it could result in hundreds or thousands of dollars for a business. Considering our example, think about the cost of a room, the average length of stay, as well as dining and entertainment options offered by hotels in Las Vegas.
Of course, just getting visitors to a website doesn’t guarantee anything, but it’s a start. After that, a business will need to optimize its site to ensure that visitors have a high-quality user experience and can quickly find all of the content that they need in order to make informed decisions.
As search engine usage climbs, businesses will need to develop various digital marketing strategies to gain visibility to potential customers. While one channel may be more successful for certain companies and industries than others, building an online presence is crucial for finding customers and increasing revenue.
About One Thing Marketing
Based in Louisville, KY, One Thing Marketing is an online marketing agency that provides tailored solutions for its clients.