Imagine if your company figured out how to create more customers than you could ever want: whether rain or shine, sleet or snow, these new clients just kept knocking on your door and asking if you’ll take their money.
While this may be a dream scenario for the majority of businesses, there is a small percentage of companies that have a seemingly endless supply of customers. And after working with a handful of businesses like these, there are a couple of things they have in common:
- They’re always focused on strategies that future-proof their business
- They invest in short & long-term client generation tactics
So I wanted to focus on two customer acquisition strategies that can produce tons of potential clients, actively looking for a business just like yours: Search engine optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM).
Which one is right for you?
Short answer: both. Long answer: keep reading.
What is SEO?
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website so that it shows up in organic search results, the “real” results that show up sandwiched between ads in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.
Essentially, organic results are the ones chosen by Google’s algorithm as quality information that is relevant to the searcher’s query and is deemed authoritative, or at the very least safe to view.
Doing SEO correctly requires optimizations to be made your your website (or on-site) and optimizations made outside of your website (or off-site) to improve your site’s trustworthiness, authority, readability, discoverability, and more.
Pros of SEO:
- Very cost-effective – You can rank for high-value keyphrases without paying a search engine for that kind of visibility.
- Provides long term results – Once you rank for certain key phrases, you can maintain that ranking for years to come if you stay on top of SEO best practices.
- Lets you showcase your authority – With SEO, you can involve employees, founders, and executives as subject matter experts who can share their insights and advice while helping the company website rank in search. Also, savvy searchers know that any company can pay for an ad click, but only the top companies will show up organically.
- Low competition in some industries and locations – While some keyphrases are very competitive, there’s still a ton of potential to rank quickly in industries and cities all over the US and even the world, if applicable.
Cons of SEO:
- Large investment – In low competition industries, just updating citations might be all you need to appear at the top of Google. But in competitive industries, you must invest time and resources in strategy (targeting the right key phrases based on your business and your competition), quality content writing, website optimizations, and guest posting on industry-related sites, and backlinking to and from other websites to increase your site’s authority.
- SEO can take 6+ months to get results – Even when you do everything right, it still takes time for search engines to decide to rank your content over another site, especially if you have a low domain authority score.
- Lots of competition for organic rankings – In many industries, page one of Google’s search results are crowded by big-name brands, news sites, and aggregator sites like Yelp which all have thousands of daily visitors. So knocking them off page one is very hard to do.
- Difficult to measure results – Oftentimes, companies will invest in creating quality content that targets specific key phrases, but they won’t set up Google Analytics tracking and goal metrics that help them measure results. You need an expert to help you attribute calls, contact form entries, video views, and other types of conversions from SEO.
What is SEM?
Everyone knows that if you’re not one page, you don’t exist to your potential customers. But since SEO takes time to solve this issue, SEM allows you to be at the top of any keyword search that’s relevant to your product or service. In addition to keywords, you can also narrow down who sees your ad by location, time of day, day of the week, and other factors.
For example, here’s what a search ad for a criminal defense attorney looks like:
You pay only for the clicks on your ad, not the number of people that see your ad. And the amount that you pay for each click varies widely, and is determined on an auction-based system. An organic nut company, for example, makes $1.50 in profit when they sell a bag of almonds for $8.00. So they feel comfortable spending up to $0.75 on a click. Their competition also makes about the same when they sell their almonds so they also bid about the same. This establishes the cost per click for this industry.
On the other hand, a personal injury attorney can average $10,000 per case, so they net about $5,000 per case. So many attorneys are comfortable spending $5,000+ on SEM ads because they just have to get one client to break even. So with this large of a budget, they’ve bid up many of their keywords to cost over $100 per click!
No matter the cost, SEM ads are often used to acquire new customers because there is no other more effective form of advertising that puts your product or service in front of your ideal target audience at their moment of need.
Pros of SEM:
- Fast results when done right – When you target the right keyphrases and your ads are clear and compelling, you can get results (phone calls, contact form submissions, new customers) that very same day.
- Easy to measure results – It’s easy to measure how much you are paying for each new lead or customer when they make a direct purchase, fill out a form, or even call the number from your ad by utilizing the Google Tag Manager and a call tracking platform like CallRail.
- Helps you test different messages and keyphrases – SEM can teach you a lot about your target audience. You can run tests to see what copy performs better, then carry those lessons over to your website or other client acquisition channels. You can also discover which key phrases are the most valuable and use those in future blog posts.
Cons of SEM:
- Can make you reliant – When you’ve got a cost-per-lead or cost-per-customer that you’re happy with, it’s easy to just put all your eggs in the SEM basket and not diversify.
- Costs can go up – You’re not in control of what you’re paying per click, meaning the cost can go up when more competitors are bidding on your top-performing keyphrases.
- Can be very competitive – In some industries, the cost per click can exceed the lifetime value of your client.
SEO vs SEM: why these strategies have been erroneously pitted against each other
People get fanatical about marketing. Have you noticed?
Some digital marketing agencies will tell you that SEO is better than SEM. They say it gives you better results at a lower cost and that it’s more effective.
Other experts will tell you the opposite. They’ll say that SEO takes too long and you need to get results now, which is why you should only invest in SEM because the ads appear in front of people searching for your product or service in real-time.
The issue is, what worked for these experts may not work for them again! So while it’s great to understand how they created a ton of customers for one of their clients, all of their tactics and best practices may not apply to your business.
That’s why you need both a short term (SEM) and a long term approach (SEO) when future-proofing your business.
How SEO and SEM work together
SEO and SEM work together by helping you prioritize short term and long term results, and by showing you which key phrases are attracting the majority of your new customers.
Your SEM and SEO strategist should communicate with each other regularly.
Why? Your SEM strategist will learn new keyphrase variations because they can see what searchers are actually typing in. They’ll also know what keyphrases convert higher and are a good fit to target with blog posts or webpages.
When researching content ideas, your SEO strategist might learn what keyphrases competitors are targeting or might find great new keyphrase variations that had been missed, which would be great data to apply to your SEM campaign.
Immediate results and long term investments
If you’re only implementing one of these strategies, then you’re likely pouring the majority of your marketing budget into it. Yet when you manage both SEO and SEM concurrently, they force you to allocate your budget in a more strategic way. Instead of only spending money on quick wins with SEM, you’ll also allocate some of your budgets to getting organic traffic in the future.
Similarly, instead of just putting your marketing budget towards getting organic traffic, you’ll also be getting immediate results from SEM that can help you increase revenue and stabilize business growth.
Not locked into one particular strategy
When you prioritize both SEM and SEO, you’re not locked into either one. Potentially, you can spend less on both strategies over time.
Here are some examples of how this plays out in many industries:
- Dial down SEM spends as SEO brings in more organic traffic.
- As SEO brings in more organic traffic in your existing market, use SEM to target a new market.
- Increase SEM spend for keyphrases or current markets where SEO is too competitive, but use SEO and dial down SEM in other niches or markets.
In most cases, you’ll want to decrease your reliance on SEM overtime, and possibly reallocate your SEM budget to go after new markets. Eventually, a strong foundation of SEO can support the majority of your needs for traffic, and paid advertising can be either reduced or phased out depending on your growth goals.
The question isn’t ‘Which tactic should I choose?’
The question is ‘How should I integrate both strategies to acquire new customers?’
SEO and SEM work together to future-proof your business by creating clients today and ensuring future customers will find you tomorrow.