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Six Big Reasons to Balance Paid Search With Your SEO Strategy

Balancing SEO and SEM

In 2019, when people want to find an answer to a pressing question, scout for a product that they’re curious about, or connect with a local business, they turn to search engines, such as Google or Bing. 

Reaching this audience of eager search engine users has long been one of the single most important things you can do to attract traffic to your site and capture new leads for your brand. For some time now, there have been two primary methods for reaching this engaged and extensive audience of searchers: SEO, and SEM

SEO, or search engine optimization, is about creating content that ranks highly on search engines, allowing you to bring in organic traffic. SEM, or search engine marketing, refers to paid search campaigns, wherein you place bids with Google or another search engine to elevate your links to the top of the search pile. 

These two methods of appealing to audiences with search engines both offer some remarkable benefits to your brand - and can be even more effective at generating traffic and helping you capture leads when you combine their unique capabilities.  

The Benefits of SEO: What Optimizing for Organic Search Can Mean for Your Brand 

As we’ve mentioned, SEO is a shorthand term for search engine optimization. SEO is a big concept with a lot of moving parts. To keep it simple, we like to think of it as the art and science behind getting your website, and individual pages on your site, to rank highly on search engine results pages (SERPs). 

The practice of SEO is all about working with search engines like Google and Bing, ensuring that all of the elements of your site work within their guidelines. The more you can cater your digital content to fit what search engine algorithms and tools - and, even more importantly, human internet users - are looking for, the higher your pages will rank on SERPs, and the more traffic your brand will see.

Achieving SEO success is about putting multiple disciplines to work all at once. It’s about making sure your website is responsive, quick to load, easy to navigate, and seamless to use. It’s about making sure your site’s metadata is optimized, for the sake of both search engine “crawlers” and human users. It’s about building “off-page SEO,” by obtaining backlinks from reputable sources. It’s about ensuring that your site is optimized for local searches from nearby users. And above all, it’s about creating high quality, valuable content - the sort of multimedia content that helps searchers achieve their goals and want to work with your brand, and which search engines would be proud to have displayed at the top of their results pages.

For businesses, the benefits of an SEO campaign can be enormous:

  • SEO can be a massive driver of traffic and conversions. According to a study cited by Forbes, the first five organic results on a SERP receive 67.6% of clicks. It’s hard to overstate how valuable it can be to appear at the top of coveted searches for your industry. The higher you rank for relevant, high volume search terms, the more high quality traffic your brand will see. And if your site is properly designed to leverage leads, these higher rates of traffic, from prospective clients who are already warmed up, can lead to a better lead capture conversion rate for your brand. 
  • SEO is often less expensive than other forms of digital marketing. SEO is often called “inbound marketing,” because it’s about getting your next customers to come to you, and not the other way around. With paid digital advertising, you’re often paying per click or impression. With SEO, your only costs are what you spend on content creation and website design and maintenance. Over time, traffic and leads stemming from your high quality work come to you, without you continually having to open up your pocketbook. 
  • SEO helps you plan for the long game. SEO is a way to continually help your brand reach new audiences, without having to pay for each and every individual lead. At the same time, studies - and our own results - have demonstrated that SEO compounds and grows geometrically over time. In other words? Your digital marketing efforts can have real, long-term legs, without you having to consistently pay out of pocket or spend hours working on new marketing materials. In other, other words? If you build it, they will come. 
  • Great content helps pull leads further down the conversion funnel. SEO is about making sure all of the elements of your site work in harmony, and it’s about presenting audiences with the best content possible. Once users click through to your site, the same written and visual content you use to appeal to search engine algorithms can help inform, inspire, and convert these curious visitors into committed leads. After all, users are far more likely to engage with content that they enjoy, rather than copy and visuals they can clearly distinguish as an ad. 
  • Excellent content can be leveraged on other platforms. SEO is powered by high quality content. It’s the engine that powers the whole concept. After all, you won’t rank on search engines if you don’t have content worth ranking in the first place. The better news? Once you’ve created this excellent, informative, and appealing branded content, you can leverage these same materials via email and social media, allowing you to expand your audience and get more eyes on your creative, constructive work. 
  • SEO can help expand your brand’s reach and name recognition. When executed successfully, SEO can help amplify your reach beyond the “results” sections of the SERP. Implementing effective SEO strategies can help you land on listing sites and review pages, appear in image searches, and dominate the highlighted elements of SERPs, like Knowledge Panels, Featured Snippets, and local map results. 

The Benefits of SEM: How Paid Search Ads Can Help Your Business 

Think back through the history of advertising - or, at least, picture the show Mad Men. Conventional advertising products have always been focused on paying to reach audiences in the biggest “public squares” of the day. At various points, that has meant roadside billboards and television ads. Flashforward to today, and reaching audiences where they want to be means reaching them online - and, specifically, on search engine results pages. 

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is about using SERPs as platforms to host relevant ads, which lead users to your brand’s site. Whereas SEO is about figuring out what search engines want and creating content within those parameters, SEM is about paying to work with search engines, to have them elevate your messaging for a fee. Generally speaking, SEM campaigns can also be leveraged as display ads on third party sites using Google’s network of advertising partners. 

In most cases, SEM is about paying to target either keywords or users. With an SEM strategy, you create ad copy and creative, and then use the search engine’s paid bidding platform to get it in front of audiences. There are different methods for making payments and monitoring your results, including paying per click (PPC), paying per set of impressions, or paying when a user takes an action on your site, like submitting a form. 

Implementing an SEM strategy can offer several unique advantages to businesses: 

  • SEM can help generate results fast. Whereas SEO can help your brand increase leads using a sustained, long-term approach, paid search can help increase traffic substantially in a short time frame, particularly if you have a budget to spend on extremely high volume, high action keywords. 
  • SEM can help you reach other parts of the SERP. Paid search ads take the top and bottom of the SERP, placing above organic search results. This is prime real estate, and many motivated searchers will be eager to click on the very first result they see, rather than continuing down into the organic results. 
  • SEM can get your brand in front of high quality leads. With paid search, you are targeting the specific searches and key terms you want to appear for. There is very little guesswork involved. As a result, paying for prime search placement helps ensure that you’re reaching users who are already more likely to convert into leads, searching actively to connect with a brand like yours. 
  • SEM can help you gather more analytics data. When running a paid search campaign, you can leverage Google’s reporting tools to get a detailed look at who is engaging with your ads and when they’re finding you. Putting these detailed paid analytics to work with other tools can allow you to create more effective customer profiles and fine-tune other elements of your marketing strategy, beyond paid search. 

The Power of Two: The Advantages of Putting a Combined SEO and SEM Strategy to Work

Ultimately, the right fit for your brand may be leveraging both paid and organic search opportunities, by implementing SEO and SEM strategies that supplement and reinforce each other! Combining the advantages of SEO and SEM can allow your brand to: 

  • Dominate the SERP. With paid and organic search campaigns in place, your brand can get the chance to “double dip” on important keywords, securing the top paid spot and a prime organic placement. Similarly, implementing both strategies effectively can allow your paid promotion to secure a coveted advertising slot, while your SEO efforts allow you to stand out on “position zero” locations on the SERP, like Featured Snippets, Knowledge Graphs, and Knowledge Panels.
  • Create Short-Term and Long-Term Campaigns. The tortoise or the hare? With paid search and SEO campaigns working together, your brand can be both the tortoise and the hare. SEM can allow you to get your content in front of a larger audience initially, while your SEO efforts can allow you to sustain and increase your reach on SERPs as the effects of your work compound and amplify over time. Using these strategies in tandem, you can be more strategic with how you create and execute search marketing plans. For instance, you may be able to step down your spend for a certain high value keyword as your organic search rankings for that same term increase in time. In a similar vein, you can pay to elevate seasonally relevant content with an SEM campaign, while allowing more general evergreen content to power your SEO campaigns. 
  • Maximize the Impact of Your Research and Reporting. SEO and SEM both benefit from the same analytics reports and keyword research. When running the two strategies concurrently, you can leverage the same research and reporting as you look at your past results and create plans for the future. At the same time, getting a handle on the data and results generated by SEO and SEM can allow you to have a more all-encompassing and holistic view of every aspect of your brand’s digital presence, allowing you to get a sense of how user behavior, keyword targeting, ad spend and budget, web development, and other elements are all working together
  • Target Both the Big Picture Searches, and the Long-Tail Results. With paid search, it can cost a lot to target the most useful (and most valuable) keywords for your brand. When you’re using both SEO and SEM strategies, you can be more efficient and effective at finding a strategy to get to those “big ticket” keywords, while also reaching the more niche and narrow “long-tail” search terms that can also lead to high value leads for your brand. 
  • Appeal to Audiences With Different Intentions. Some users are going to turn to a search engine knowing exactly what they want. They want new shoes, and they need them now. In this case, a paid search ad can get your shoe store in their vision, ahead of your competitors. On the other hand? Sometimes, users will hit search engines with more conversational and general queries. Maybe they’re curious about shoe trends. Maybe they want to compare two different shoe brands. Perhaps they’re curious about how certain types of athletic shoes can impact running times. These are all searches perfect for SEO campaigns, allowing you to draw in a curious user and keep your brand top of mind the next time they do urgently need a new pair of sneakers. 
  • Ensure a Smooth Path Down the Conversion Funnel. As we’ve said before: “clicks are one thing; content is everything else.” Paid search is one way to drive users to your site. But if your landing pages and forms aren’t functional and well-designed, your content isn’t informative and engaging, and your brand’s voice and message aren’t coming through loud and clear? Well, those same users could bounce away from your site in no time, without sticking around to learn more about your business - let alone move further down the conversion funnel. Thinking and acting like an SEO means creating sites that work and content that people want to engage with, helping generate meaningful results from both your paid and organic search efforts. 

Want to Talk SEO and SEM With the Geeks? 

At Geek Chicago, our mission is to help enrich your brand. Our talented team can help you create high quality content that allows your business to truly stand out -- while also honing a strategy for placing that incredible content in front of exactly the right audience, at precisely the right time. 

We take a full service and forward-thinking approach to content marketing, offering web design and development, SEO, reputation management, email marketing, and social media services all in-house. 

Curious about what sets our approach to digital marketing apart? Want to discuss SEO and SEM strategies in even more depth? Eager to start getting more traffic and conversions for your brand, but not sure where to start? Drop us a line today to keep the conversation going! 

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Jason Finn

Founder & Chief Geek

Jason has nearly 20 years of consulting experience, predominantly in the technology space. Most recently he was the COO and Director of Technology for Rich Casto & Company, a national training and consulting organization in the real estate industry.
As a consultant for IBM, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Envision Consulting Group (now IMS Health), Jason has served clients of all sizes, including Big Pharma, Fortune 500, and Global 1000 companies:

  • Allstate Insurance Company
  • AOL (America Online)
  • Astellas Pharmaceuticals
  • Eli Lilly and Company
  • Ford Motor Credit
  • Wockhardt USA (formerly Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals)
  • Norwich Union
  • PNC Bank
  • Reynolds and Reynolds

Sarunas Budrikas

Creative Director

Sarunas is a web design and development expert with hundreds of successful projects in his portfolio. He is passionate about delivering extraordinary user experiences for every client and consistently goes above and beyond everyone’s expectations. As an SEO expert and strategist, he can optimize your website, or app, to get the most out of it, day in and day out. Sarunas holds a degree in Electrical Engineering from Kaunas Technology University, in Lithuania. Sarunas now lives in Chicago, and calls it home.

Alexandra Olsavsky

Client Experience Specialist

Alex specializes in content generation and social media promotion for Geek | Chicago clients, helping to solidify their presence in the online community. This includes blog writing, graphic design, co-ordination and design of weekly newsletters, and active engagement on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. Outside of Geek, Alex is a classically-trained soprano who professionally performs around the city of Chicago (most recently with the Chicago Baroque Band, and with the Rolling Stones for their "50 and Counting" tour).