Competition Between SEO and SEM

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Sometimes search engine optimization and search engine marketing are at odds with each other.  Actually, sometimes the two types of campaigns aren’t even in communication with each other if you happen to farm out SEO and SEM work to different companies – or you’re doing it yourself and you’re not aware of possible conflicts.  If you’re not careful SEO can negate the effectiveness of your SEM campaign and vice versa.

First, a short primer if you’re unclear on the difference.  Search engine marketing is paying to have good search engine placement, through pay per click, or PPC.  Search engine optimization is the attempt to rank organically through the use of keyword-driven content.  You’ll show up high in the Google ranks without having to pay for the privilege.  There’s more to it than that, but that’s the basic difference: paid vs. not.  Here’s how PPC and SEO can actually compete with each other:

Suppose you are ranking organically for a particular keyphrase due to good on-site web content.  Good news, this is what you’re after.  Suppose that you’re also using PPC to rank for the same highly-competitive keyphrase.  On the one hand, you might think that this increases the likelihood that someone will click your link: after all, the link is in two places in search results, both within organic results and sponsored results.

SEO and SEM Conversion Rates

Sounds ideal, but there are other considerations you have to make.  The main thing you have to look at is conversion rate.  Are web clicks converting more from the organic link or from PPC traffic?  Generally, it’s assumed that PPC traffic converts better because these surfers are looking for a product, rather than information.  However, this isn’t always the case.  And even if it were so: a purchase-driven web surfer might be less willing to buy something if he clicks on the organic search result in a page that has side-by-side SEO and SEM results.  The result is your SEO campaign is draining potential conversions from your SEM campaign.  It’s annoying because you’ve spent time creating all that quality content, but it’s an issue.

This is not always the case, though.  Sometimes organic search results can convert equally well to PPC, or even better.  If this is the case, it makes sense to divert your resources towards another PPC effort.  Why bother spending extra money on PPC when your organic ranking is doing fine: you can put this money towards another keyphrase that is not currently ranking well organically.

OK, now imagine having to organize this for dozens of vital keyphrases, if not hundreds.  It’s a lot to manage: rule one why website owners hire a search engine marketer to manage this potential headache.  I’d recommend getting your SEO and SEM from the same firm – or at the very least inform each of what the other is doing – or you’re not going to get the most out your traffic and conversions.  If you’re doing it yourself, pay very close attention to the analytics of your SEO and SEM results to see if there’s any conflict of interest.

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