Like snake oil salesmen from days past, claiming to have the cure for anything that ails you, many website developers and website management firms are claiming to have the cure to making your website generate lots of money with monthly Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  While SEO is an extremely important aspect of internet marketing, all too many website firms are using it to create cash flow for their businesses when it may not be the right solution for their clients.

SEO can be very complicated, but it is an undeniably important form of marketing for reasons that you may know, such as appearing high on search engines and helping the right people find your website.  But if you are paying a monthly fee for SEO, do you really know what you are getting, or if you really need it? We see all too many businesses paying monthly fees when it is not necessary.

Let’s first determine what kind of SEO we are talking about.  There are generally two types of SEO Marketing. One is Organic, and the other is Paid.  Organic SEO is the art of designing, and maintaining a website so it accomplishes the marketing objectives mentioned above without paying the search engines.  SEM (short for Search Engine Marketing) is used to augment your organic SEO, or in some cases be your only SEO if you, or your web developer do not take the time, or have the expertise to do Organic SEO. SEM managed sites appear as links in strategically advantageous areas on the search engine pages such as the areas at the very top of the page with a slightly darker background. These links are also considered ads because you have some control over what is seen in the bold heading and text below the heading

A well-designed website should include SEO during the initial design process. This can take some time and expertise. However, when done well, most businesses, especially ones targeting smaller and less competitive markets, should not have to go back and re-optimize their site very often.  Many of our clients can go for years without having to re-optimize their site, and continue staying high on search engines while achieving very low bounce rates (the percentage of visits that end on the first page the visitor sees) and high average time on the site. However, some businesses use SEM to enhance their Organic SEO.

From a cost perspective, the difference may be paying more up front for Organic SEO during the development stage.  But the website will appear high on the search engines without having to pay the search engines for it, which over time can save a ton of money.  Using tools such as Google Analytics can tell you if and when you need to re-optimize your site by looking at factors such as bounce rate and the average time spent on the site among other factors.  Not only can organic SEO save money, it often can perform much better than SEM.

The Positive and Negative of Organic SEO and Paid SEM

  • Organic SEO Positives – Organic SEO can better create low bounce rates and higher average time on the site.  If you are not in a highly competitive market where many competitors are trying to reach the same customers in the same geographic area, you probably do not have to re-optimize your site very often, or if you do, you may not have to make many changes to get a big improvement in performance, which can save you money.
  • Organic SEO Negatives – You may need to pay a little more when initially building the site.  If you are in a competitive market, it could become costly paying to re-optimize your site to stay ahead of competitors.
  • SEM Positives – SEM may generate more traffic to your site over time as you focus in on the right keywords and improve your ad information. In very competitive markets, it could be cheaper and easier to stay ahead of competitors with SEM.
  • SEM Negatives – While you may get a lot of traffic using SEM, you often get very high bounce rates and low time spent on the site.  Many people can tell your link is paid for and will avoid clicking on it because very often, when they click on paid links, they do not find the content they are looking for. Unless you learn how to do your own SEM, you have to pay a website manager as well as the search engine company, which can become costly.

How Do You Know When To Use Organic SEO or Paid SEM?

There are no simple or definitive answers. But a possible strategy may be to first make sure your website is organically optimized to perform as well as it can without using paid SEM. Then let your site run for a while and observe the key statistics.  After that, start buying keywords and testing the ads that appear on the search pages. If after a few months you see increased traffic but higher bounce rates and less time spent on the site, you may not be getting any real advantage with paid SEM. If you see increased traffic and the same or better bounce rates, you may decide the Paid SEM enhancing your Organic SEO.

If you have always used Paid SEM, try stopping for a while and see how the site performs organically.  If you do not see lower Bounce Rates or higher Bounce Rates, it is possible your site was not organically optimized.  This could also mean your SEM is enhancing, or even out performing your Organic optimization, although the later is rare with respect to stats such as Bounce Rate or time on the site.

In conclusion, consider the cost to performance ratio.  Whatever you do, whether it is Paid or Organic optimization, consider how much improvement you get compared to what it costs for that improvement.  If you are an independent, stand-alone furniture store for example, and can get an increase of 5% improvement in performance, is the cost to get a 5% improvement in performance going to increase your sales enough to justify the effort? But if you were a national chain, what would a 5% increase in performance be worth?

But wait a minute…what is involved in actually doing SEO and SEM? What am I really paying for?

It’s a good question.  And if you stay tuned you will soon find out.  It’s not all smoke and mirrors like many would suggest. In our next newsletter, we will pull back the curtains and show you an example of basic SEO, and we will take the additional step to source the process so you know that when we perform SEO, it’s to industry standards.