SEM vs. SEO: Two Sides of the Digital Marketing Coin

Mudd Advertising explains the difference and benefits of SEM and SEO. The world of digital marketing is more dynamic than ever, especially to automotive dealers. With Google updating its algorithm daily and thousands of new dealers entering the marketplace each week, it’s often difficult for professional marketers, much less everyday businesspeople, to navigate the online marketing landscape. But as far as your profits are concerned, search rankings cannot be ignored. When your business ranks highly, it’s seen by more people, who are then more likely to become your customers. Before entering a dealership, 87% of auto consumers do online research, so it’s vital to stake a claim at the top of search results. When looking into using digital marketing to grow your profits, you might be overwhelmed by the glut of esoteric terms, strategies, and acronyms. When it comes to terms acronyms and digital marketing, there are two terms you absolutely need to know: Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO).

Search Engine Marketing – Conquering Your Search Results

Search engine marketing (SEM)is all about using advertising and paid search to get your business to the top of search engines such as Google and Bing. SEM utilizes Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, where ads are purchased on search engines. Businesses pay for each click that takes someone to the site, whether or not that person becomes a customer. These ads will feature prominently on search results, meaning a business can greatly increase its profile on search engines. Users are targeted through a variety of criteria, including keywords searched, geographic location, and online behavior. Competition for the coveted first page of search engines such as Google can be fierce. This sometimes leads to unrealistic expectations. For example, say a car dealership hopes to rank for “cars” on Google, so that when people search for that word they are served an ad for that dealership. The problem is that the keyword “cars” would face stiff competition from larger sites such as Cars.com, as well as other local dealerships attempting to rank for that keyword. This competition drives up the keyword’s bid, resulting in a high cost per click (CPC). Advertising for “cars” would quickly deplete one’s marketing budget and result in only limited traffic. But there’s good news. Although broad terms such as “cars” might be out of reach for a small business, there’s plenty of room to rank highly for more specific terms. If the aforementioned car dealership were located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, they could easily rank at the top of a Google search for terms such as “Milwaukee cars,” “used cars Wisconsin,” or “Chevy Milwaukee.” You could narrow the search even further by getting more specific, such as taking a keyword like “Silverado” and targeting “2018 Silverado 1500.” Finding and exploiting these narrower search terms can take a business to the next level of success.

Search Engine Optimization – Cementing Your Search Dominance

Search Engine Optimization, or “SEO,” does not include any form of paid advertising. SEO utilizes a wide variety of methods to make a website more appealing to the algorithms that power search engines, which in turn increase a site’s search ranking. SEO is dedicated to organic search engine results, which means getting a high-ranking result without paid advertising. This means that while SEO falls under and is just as important part as SEM, the terms aren’t used interchangeably. SEO work typically involves creating new content and optimizing what already exists. This includes using keywords, which are pertinent terms that are frequently searched. This is done to make a site appealing to search engines. It also can include adding sites to online directories or getting external links from other sites. Perhaps most importantly, SEO involves optimizing a site’s metadata, which is the information Google sees when looking at a webpage, as well as what people see when Google shows search results. Proper SEO is vital to ensuring a business’ site is seen when 75% of users never look past the first page of search results. While SEO can take time to implement, it yields permanent effects that boost a site’s search value.

Let’s Review These Key Terms:

  • Involves Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising where the buyer pays for each click
  • Results are instantaneous as ads can be used immediately
  • Involves harnessing quality content, keywords, and links to climb search engine ranks
  • Results often take time, but provide the foundation to be ranked at the top of search without paid ads
Those are the differences between SEM and SEO. Both are essential to a proper digital marketing campaign, and both can yield huge results. Although either strategy can be effective on its own, it's only when SEM and SEO are used together that an auto dealership can reach its true digital marketing potential.