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20.01.2009
SEO vs SEM - What's right for me?
By Media Garden,

I have worked in the internet sector for over ten years now. By most industry standards, I’m still a baby but in relative terms, that’s a fair amount of time considering the internet is still a developing platform, even today.

Websites have gone through various trends and buzzwords over the years. "New media” was once the en-vogue expression, now regarded passé - Web 2.0 had a brief stint last year only to confuse the unsuspecting public into thinking a new magical internet had surfaced and v1.0 had somehow disappeared.

But through all the ages and trends, one aspect has always remained prominent and especially interested me – search engine ranking.

Now trust me when I say this, that I am by no means a techie type. In fact, I can actually get quite offended if referred to one. Snobbery? No, just a simple admission that my strengths aren’t in development of applications but more so in the design and delivery of results. And let’s face it, that’s what everyone expects when they create a website, otherwise what’s the point?

What you regard as getting results is entirely down to your own objectives but in most cases, good old fashioned “money making” is the most likely answer however, how you achieve those results is another matter.

As we’re talking about the internet, it’s safe to assume that “results” in internet terms means traffic followed by conversions. Conversions into sales, enquiries or sign ups – whichever applies to you.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have tried many routes to achieve results from a personal and professional perspective. Printed advertising, directories, viral marketing, link exchanges, link building, paid-for inclusions and finally the obvious one - search engines. That’s a pretty extensive list but only one stands out as being truly cost effective. Can you guess which one? Of course, you don’t need me to tell you - it’s clearly “search engines”. But the way in which we use search engines has become far more complex and diverse.

On a daily basis, my inbox gets flooded with emails from so-called experts in SEO and SEM who promise instant results in increasing ranking and traffic to your website. I simply laugh at them (and hit the "Delete" key soon after!). Having spent many years trying and admittedly failing to get results on search engines, I can hold my hands up and honestly say that I know the hurdles and pitfalls in achieving results on the likes of Google and Yahoo!

Getting results is not done by a quick fix and it’s not easy. Whether you are talking about SEO or SEM – but hang on, what’s the difference? Let’s tackle this first…

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a rather broad term. It's everything that can be done to utilize the technology of search engines with the goal of promoting a web site and increasing its traffic and, in the case of sites that promote a business (or are a business) increase profits. This could mean utilizing tools such as traditional banner ads, paid inclusions, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising or even viral campaigns.

On the surface of things, SEM may seem like an instant recipe for success but there are major pitfalls. Yes you’ve guessed it – cost. Take the most common form of SEM – Pay-Per-Click Campaigns. Instant results yet if managed badly could mean instant debts!

On average a PPC campaign can cost in the region of £500-£1000 per month. To quantify that kind of investment over a longer period of time would have to result in a large conversion rate into sales that would effectively cover these expenses. So is SEM for you? The questions you have to naturally ask yourself are “Can I afford to do this?” and “Are the risks involved worth the possible rewards?”

Granted, SEM can get you instant traffic but is it the right kind of traffic and is it costly traffic? If carried out correctly, it could be an instant winner however, from my experience and in most cases, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should always be your first consideration.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about optimizing your website or product at the source – hmm… sounds better already doesn’t it? However, before you get too excited it must be emphasized that SEO is a far more lengthy process and getting results can take months rather than weeks. However to balance the scales, the costs can be far more easier to swallow. Relief all round. As the old saying goes, “the best things come to those who wait…” and nothing could be truer than for SEO.

What excites me the most about SEO is the longevity of the results you can achieve.

Put it this way, there have been many techniques used over the years to try to aggressively optimize websites for the “natural listings” on crawlers such as Google. Foolishly I have used these in the past, only to see my short-term success falter quickly and leave me looking rather stupid. Cheats never prosper especially when it comes to the search engines.

Good SEO requires planning even before the building stages of your website, so that the structure can be tailored to your desired key search terms. If carried out correctly, you could see your website high on Google’s natural results for years, not just weeks or months.

If a self-professed SEO expert offers to optimize your site after it’s built, you should seriously question them why!


Optimisation should happen at the start – the building blocks of your site structure, code, URL paths, file names, meta tags and page titles all contribute to the success of your natural listings. If poorly conceived, they will reflect in a poor ranking. It’s very easy to fall into the old trap of trying to cover all bases.

How many times have you been tempted into flooding your website with keywords, search terms and meta tags that are literally hundreds of lines long? Did you get good results? I seriously doubt it!

Understanding good search engine optimization means firstly understanding your audience and where your business fits in. Ask yourself how you would try to find your website on Google or Yahoo! What would you search for? Where would you look? Good SEO requires good common sense using a targeted, minimalist approach and that’s where we come in.

In these more difficult economic times, we can all appreciate the need to spend wisely. It is my feeling that SEO is a wise investment because it doesn’t follow a “boom and bust” approach (where have we heard that before?) and it doesn’t cost the earth. SEO enables us to further utilize the tools and resources we already have and maximize their potential. So get yourself found and get yourself new business is my message. If you would like our help to achieve this, I’d be more than happy to discuss it with you.

And if you already have a website built, don’t despair. A simple overhaul or restructure can overcome the short-term problems and give you longer-term results.

Call me today on 0845 388 5085 and let’s talk about it.


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