Your website is the first contact many potential clients will have with your business. Consider these stats:
- 89% of B2B researchers use the internet to gather information about purchases.
- 81% of B2B purchase cycles start with a web search.
So, your B2B website must be discoverable. But how do you achieve this? This is where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) come into play. They are two paths that will help you drive potential customers to your website.
The main difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO focuses on driving traffic from organic search results while SEM focuses on paid strategies. To see this in action, look at the Google Search Results page. It is divided into two main categories: paid search results and organic search results.
With SEO, the goal is to rank your website as high as possible in the organic search results. In comparison, SEM is where you use paid methods to get your website listed at the top of the search results page.
SEO vs. SEM: Understanding the Differences
Before you can start planning out your approach to improving your website’s visibility, you need to understand the key differences and terminology regarding SEO and SEM.
SEO is the technique and strategy used to get search engines like Google and Bing to recommend your website to their users as the best solution.
There are four main areas of concentration when it comes to SEO:
Technical SEO – This is where you make sure that Google and other search engines can crawl and index all of the pages on your website. Technical SEO also includes improving site speed, mobile friendliness, crawlability, structured data and security.
On-page SEO – This is where you optimize your website around keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases that your customers use when searching for your products or services. These optimizations help search engines understand the content of your website. A best practice is to include keywords in your title tags, meta descriptions, image alt tags and webpage URLs.
Content – This is one of Google’s primary ranking factors. Without content that matches the search intent of your users, your website will never rank at the top of the search results. This isn’t just about copywriting, but understanding your potential customers’ needs and giving them clear solutions.
Off-page SEO – This is where you focus on positioning your website as an authority using link building and other tactics. The goal is to focus on improving the trustworthiness and authority of your website by connecting it to other high authority and relevant websites. When Google and other Search Engines see that users trust your website, they will be more likely to award it a top position. Authority and trust generally come from link building, public relations (PR) and social media postings.
To ensure that your SEO strategy is successful, a combination of all of these areas is required. And that often means working with a specialist to create a solid plan that accelerates success.
Search Engine Marketing uses paid techniques to gain visibility on search engines. It is also known as pay-per-click (PPC). This strategy uses PPC advertising platforms like Google Ads to reach your target audiences.
SEM campaigns begin with comprehensive keyword research and competitor insights to create targeted campaigns that place your B2B products or services in front of potential customers.
These campaigns include:
- Text Search Ads
- Shopping Ads
- Display Ads
- Gmail Ads
- YouTube Ads
When users search for specific terms that you are running ads for, they will see the corresponding ad, usually at the top of the search engine results page. Every time the ad is clicked, you pay based on your bid.
With SEO, it can often take months or even years to see results. With SEM, you can start driving clicks in a short period of time.
With SEM, you can have complete control over when ads show and who they show to. This makes it the perfect channel for testing out new strategies, driving traffic to specific products, or improving traffic during quieter periods.
SEO vs. SEM: Understanding the Similarities
While it might seem that SEO and SEM are two very different strategies, they do share some common ground. Both strategies:
- Improve the visibility of your B2B website on search engines like Google and Bing.
- Drive a higher amount of quality traffic to your website.
- Help you gain a more comprehensive understanding of your audience.
- Use keyword research to discover and target new and relevant keywords.
- Require ongoing testing and optimization.
SEO vs. SEM: Which Should You Use
When deciding between SEO and SEM, it depends on your particular situation.
Factors to consider:
- What is your current goal? SEM is your best choice if you are looking to drive quick traffic to a sale to test a new offer. If you are looking to drive long-term growth, SEO may be preferable.
- Your Current performance. If your B2B website already has strong organic visibility, SEM could be a great way to compliment this with additional traffic.
- Your Margins. In some cases, once you consider high-click costs and low-product margins, it doesn’t make sense to run SEM. In cases like this, SEO is likely the channel to drive much more substantial returns.
The truth is that, for most B2Bs, a successful strategy should use both SEO and SEM. Together, these two marketing channels will open a wealth of opportunities to drive growth from potential customers searching for businesses just like yours.
It is easy to think of SEO and SEM and two completely different strategies that can’t be used together. To get the most out of them, you must understand the purpose of each as they relate to your broader marketing strategy. Then you can figure out how to use both in conjunction to drive high-quality potential customers to your website.