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SEM, SEO, PPC: What Are They? Which Should You Spend Money On?


When you’re dying to bring in more leads and increase exposure for your services or products, sometimes you’re willing to do (or spend) whatever it takes to make that happen. If you’re wanting to amp up your online presence in terms of better search results, you’ve probably heard the following words more than once: SEM, SEO, and/or PPC. So what the heck do all these mean? And which ones are worth spending money on? We’ll lay it all out for you so can better understand which one is best for your business.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. SEM refers to the various strategies we use to market your website on search engines. This is an umbrella term that encompasses both PPC and SEO.

What is PPC?

PPC, or pay-per-click marketing, is an SEM strategy wherein you place links or ads on a search engine (or social media platform) and you pay a certain amount anytime someone clicks on it.

PPC is great in many respects, especially if you have the marketing dollars to spend on it. It’s also incredibly effective if you want to make a push during a particular time of year or buying season (say, Mother’s Day) or if you’re launching your business online for the first time.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It refers to the steps you take to ensure that your website is attractive to search engines, such as loads of quality content, strategic keywords, cross-linking, meta data, and the like. You can absolutely practice good SEO without having to shell out a ton of money. One of the key ways of doing this—one we’ve stressed multiple times on this blog—is producing high quality content (primarily blog articles and website service pages) on a regular basis.

SEO is “free” in the sense that if you practice it, Google will give you good search results without you having to pay for it. These are considered “organic” search results. Now, you may choose to pay a company like RSM Marketing to implement SEO on your site on your behalf, in which case you will pay for those SEO services.

Why PPC is Good—And Where It Falls Short

When you choose to go the paid advertising route—investing in a Google AdWords campaign, for example—you will have fairly immediate results. Depending on how much you spend, the keywords you choose, and how long you want the campaign to last, you’ll sit at the top of the search results (with a nice little “Ad” sign next to it). You’ll most likely see an influx of traffic and a boost in sales. Mission accomplished, right? But what happens when you stop paying for your paid search campaign? It’s simple: all of that stops. PPC only works for as long as you’re willing to pay for it. And pay for it you will.

PPC campaigns can cost you anywhere from a few pennies to a couple of dollars per click. Plus it requires someone to manage it, which is why many businesses will hire out a firm to do it for them. When done correctly, SEM can get expensive fast.

SEO Will Always Go the Distance

Hands-down, the No. 1 reason why we stress organic SEO over and over again is because content never stops working for you. It is a proven method of improving your search results, your domain authority, and your trust with both Google and your audience.

Your content doesn’t go away if you were to suddenly stop producing it. Google continues to crawl it and match it with search terms even after you’ve forgotten that it existed—which is why someone could stumble upon it years later. And that’s just with one article. Imagine if you published 48 articles a year!

The more unique, authoritative content you produce, the more it will work will for you, providing users with results for their searches many years down the line. With a consistent effort in place (and a killer content strategy at work), you’ll start to see results over time, with some being more immediate than others. Unlike paid search, which will remove your listing as soon as you stop paying for it, organic SEO efforts will never go away (unless you delete them, of course).

We’ve witnessed time and time again that when businesses invest the time and energy into producing a lot of quality content that puts the needs of the user first, they’ll have an incredible online presence that will be hard to beat.

Which Will You Choose?

PPC and SEO are valuable tools you can use to get your business noticed online. Organic SEO will require more patience and effort—and someone to create the content itself. PPC will reap you immediate benefits—but only for as long as you’re willing to pay for it.

Keep in mind that you can do both. Both PPC and organic SEO can work together to create a robust SEM strategy that will get you the results you desire. But when it comes to choosing between the two, investing in SEO will always serve you better and more successfully in the long run.

Let us know in the comments below what has worked best for you—PPC or SEO? Or both?

Scott has a passion for growing companies using marketing and consulting with businesses to make their processes better. As a speaker and author, Scott loves to share knowledge and ideas. Scott is the President of RSM Marketing.

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