SEO & SEM: Making Search Marketing’s Alphabet Soup More Digestible

Much like healthcare, digital marketing is rife with acronyms. Just within the world of search alone, there’s SEO and SEM, PPC, and SERP, among others. It’s no wonder people struggle to keep them all straight.

Given the complexity of search, it can be tempting to overlook it altogether when developing a digital marketing strategy. However, search has never been more important for marketers looking to connect directly with consumers. According to eMarketer, by the year 2020 there will be an estimated 243 million search users in the U.S. alone.

If you’re not a digital expert, or if you’ve used Google and wondered how it can work for you (but you don’t know anything about it), we’ve put together a primer on what’s what for search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO), and how they work together.

So, what is search marketing?

Search marketing is the process of increasing visibility and driving users to your website through both paid and organic efforts. SEO refers to earning organic traffic by increasing rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs). In contrast, SEM typically refers to driving traffic through paid search listings.

While SEO and SEM are closely related, the two serve vastly different purposes. To simplify, we’ve broken down their differences and explained how the two work in tandem within a search marketing program.

Search Engine Optimization

No matter the industry or organization, every digital marketing strategy should have a solid SEO component. With organic search driving over 50 percent of all web traffic, failing to implement an SEO strategy translates directly to lost opportunities from potential visitors to your website.

In addition to resolving any technical issues hindering organic search presence, a comprehensive SEO strategy identifies and produces content aligned with each step of the customer journey, giving potential consumers the right content at the right time.

Because over 75 percent of B2B purchasers prefer to do their own research before speaking with a salesperson, marketers must provide consumers with vital, accessible information to support them throughout their customer journey. Without SEO, consumers may struggle to find your content, turning to a competitor to supply the information they seek.

Search Engine Marketing

If SEO represents organic search efforts, then SEM represents paid efforts, or the process of buying premium space on SERPs through paid search listings. Advertisers are charged on a per-click basis for these listings, and paid search ads are often called PPC ads, or pay-per-click.

Paid search is an excellent way to drive interest in your brand or new product offerings by putting your message in front of consumers who may otherwise be unfamiliar with your organization. Companies are finding real value in paid search, and search ad spending is expected to climb to $56.08 billion by 2021, outpacing the growth rate of total digital ad spending over the same period of time.

Working Together

Most search marketing programs include elements of both paid and organic search, working together to drive website traffic and ultimately, conversions. The process is cyclical – SEO provides the necessary content to develop customized landing pages to support paid search; and SEM, in turn, offers an opportunity to test and refine new keywords for additional SEO efforts.

With 35 percent of marketing professionals citing keyword/phrase research as the most challenging aspect of SEO, SEM serves as an excellent proving ground for testing new keywords. While paid search allows you to gather performance data in near real-time, investing in SEO is a long-term endeavor that plays out over several months.

It takes time to generate measurable change in your website’s organic traffic – but with a smart search marketing strategy, you can immediately start driving traffic to your website while ensuring your SEO efforts are aligned around the right keywords. Whether you’re a health system looking to connect with patients or a health technology company in the B2B market, organic and paid search are both critical components to any well-rounded digital strategy.

June 22, 2017
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