Issue #20

What is paid search? How SEO and SEM work for you

Advertising Website Optimization
11 min read

How many times a day do you search for an answer on Google?

It’s become such a normal reaction that we hardly notice we’re doing it.

If you have a question, chances are Google has the answer.

Not only that, but it will pair you with the best, most accurate answer while giving you access to thousands of other results. Knowing this causes us to trust Google and come back to its search engine again and again.

Since we are commonly searching for products, services, and information on Google, we know other people in our audience are doing the same.

What is SEM?

Understanding how search engines work is one of the best investments we can make in our business because many purchases start with a simple search.

What is SEM (search engine marketing)?

When a user comes to Google, they type their search query into the search bar. This is usually a line of keywords or a question that describes what they’re looking for. Google also offers potential search results as the user types their search query so they can get to their results even faster.

By optimizing your SEM (search engine marketing) strategy, you’re able to capture the attention of people who already are interested in what you offer.

Naturally, it’s easier to persuade someone who already has some interest in what we do to buy something than someone who is browsing for other things. This is why search engine marketing is so powerful. By understanding the person’s search intent, Google is able to pair its users with websites (like yours) that will provide relevant answers.

Google primarily does this in two key ways. It uses SEO (search engine optimization) to help us produce organic, unpaid traffic and PPC (pay-per-click) advertising to produce paid, targeted traffic.


Instead of asking yourself if you should use SEO or PPC marketing tactics, you can utilize both in your strategy. They work best when they’re able to work together to accomplish your bigger search engine marketing goals.

Your first decision is to determine how much effort you want to put into each one. Let’s walk through what’s involved in each SEM tactic so you know how to use them to your advantage.

Why online entrepreneurs should care about SEO

As digital business owners, most of us do the bulk of our marketing and selling online. Optimizing our websites with healthy SEO tactics is one of the best things we can do to build long-term success for our business.

The hard thing about SEO is that your website won’t pop up to the first page of Google overnight. That’s what we’re all shooting for since 75% of visitors choose a result from the first page, but as new entrepreneurs, we can’t expect to publish our website and rank well the next day.

Depending on the competition of the keywords you’re using, meaning how many people are trying to rank on Google for the same terms, it can take years or even decades to build your website to a place where you reach the top of the first page. But don’t let that deter you from focusing on SEO!

That’s why we want to stress how important it is to approach SEO from a long-term perspective. While you may have a long road ahead of you before you pop up as a preferred result, there are simple tweaks you can make today to improve your SEO.

The first place to start is by optimizing the headlines, titles, meta descriptions, and image alt tags on your website. This allows you place relevant keywords throughout your website and optimize specific website pages for your intended audience. You can learn more about how to do this inside our in-depth SEO-friendly content article.

Once you’ve optimized your on-page SEO, you can focus on what we call off-page SEO. On-page SEO is characterized by the things you can change on your own website. Off-page SEO, however, is determined by how your website works in relation to other websites.

One of the best ways to start building good off-page SEO is by link building. When you create valuable blog content on your website, other website creators may be interested in linking to your content within their blog posts.

SEM link building trust
This tells Google that your website is a more trusted source on the topic because other high-quality websites are linking to your website. You can learn more about off-page SEO techniques here.

SEO is a long-term process in itself, so instead of feeling like you have to optimize everything all at once, focus on a few factors at a time so you can see how it affects your search performance. Then you can easily set SEO goals and track them within Google Analytics.

When online businesses should invest in PPC advertising

We’ve talked a lot about SEO so far but what about PPC advertising? You might be wondering why you’d want to pay for traffic with PPC ads when you could generate free, organic traffic through SEO.

Remember that SEO is a long-game optimization tactic, so if you’re interested in generating quick sales and gaining customer feedback, PPC ads could be a great option. Also, people who click on PPC ads are more likely to convert and buy from you than people who visit your site organically, so it’s worth looking into.

Even if you’ve never heard of PPC ads before, you’ve definitely seen them on Google. They are usually displayed above the organic search results at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Google will usually show up to four ads at the top with a green “Ad” box by the URL.

SEM investing in PPC advertisingCompanies of virtually any size (yes, even solo entrepreneurs!) can use PPC ads to sell their products, services, or convert visitors into email subscribers.

Before you create a PPC ad campaign, it’s important to set a central goal for what you are hoping to accomplish. Then you can make sure that your one CTA strongly relates with your goal so your visitors are perfectly primed for what you are selling.

Keep in mind that when you decide which keywords to use in your targeted ad, some are more expensive than others. Why is this? Some searches are considered more competitive.

Professionals like insurance agents and attorneys have to shell out more cash for their PPC ads than entrepreneurs in other industries do because there’s so much more competition. You can make your ads less competitive by being specific about your location, audience demographics, and including more specific keywords, but you still might be charged more than on other platforms.

Remember that you pay for every click, not every sale. Google doesn’t charge you for showing your ad at the top of the screen but just because a user clicks on your ad doesn’t mean they are going to buy from you. This is why you need a bigger SEM strategy so you are spending advertising dollars wisely.

SEO and SEM paid online advertising
How does SEO and SEM work?

Speaking of your SEM strategy, this is the first place we will start. Instead of treating your PPC and SEO marketing strategies differently, you’ll want to create them together to enhance your overall marketing plan. (Google recommends a holistic approach to SEM marketing too!)

Your SEM strategy needs to define…

Your SEM goals:

Your goals will be influenced by:

  • How new your website and domain name is
  • What your budget spend looks like
  • How often you want to optimize your website and run ads

If you just launched your website, you may rely more heavily on PPC ads to grow your email list or product sales while you build foundational SEO tactics.

If your paid acquisition budget fluctuates, you may want to experiment with PPC ads and other social media ad platforms to see which yields the best return.

Your SEM metrics:

Before you create a PPC ad or put hours into your SEO efforts, you’ll want to determine the best way to measure your success. Without metrics, you won’t know what tactics are the best use of your time. Since time is our most valuable resource, we want to use it wisely.

Knowing what tools you want to use to track your PPC and SEO progress is a great first step in understand which SEM metrics will be most beneficial to your business.

Your CTA for PPC ads:

Once you have a primary goal and metrics in mind, you can create a call-to-action that is clear, concise, and resonates with your audience.

If your main goal is to attract more email subscribers, then your PPC ad CTA should be centered around signing up for a lead magnet. If you’d rather get more people to join your waitlist for a new coaching program or apply to be considered, then the CTA should be to click on the link and sign up on the landing page.

Once you’ve gone through and defined your SEM strategy, you can put it into action by implementing the goals you’ve set for yourself. Since you’re building from a solid foundation, you’ll be ready to focus on executing.

SEO and SEM optimize your websiteOptimize your own website

We talked about this when explaining the basics of on-page SEO, but let’s go beyond optimizing titles and meta descriptions with some additional recommendations. These actions can include:

  • Using logical website architecture with user-friendly navigation
  • Creating understandable sitemaps for users and search engines
  • Including an easy-to-use search functionality for users
  • Checking for broken links within your own website
  • Assessing how well your website loads on all devices
  • Including concise but descriptive page links with relevant keywords
  • Internal linking to relevant pages within your own website
  • Making sure every website page has a direct CTA
  • Creating a custom 404 page to direct users to another part of your website
  • Great user interface (UI) and user experience (UX)

You can use this as a checklist and take these tasks one at a time. Even if you took a weekend to optimize each of the areas, you’d be well on your way to creating a more valuable, SEO-friendly website in a few short months.

SEO and SEM keyword researchDo keyword research

Keywords, although sometimes highly competitive, can be one of the most crucial ways to optimize your website and paid ads. When you niche down your products and services, it becomes easier to find keywords that are a fit for your target audience.

You can start doing keyword research and implementing them into your website pages and blog posts. If you decide to do PPC advertising, you’ll also want to use these keywords in your ad copy and let them influence your ad targeting options.

SEO and SEM- create valuabe contentCreate valuable content

The more engaging your content is, the more likely visitors will be to stick around. This will lower your bounce rate, which refers to the amount of people who leave your website after viewing only one page. Google prioritizes websites with low bounce rates because it shows that the content the website creator produces is valuable enough to their audience for them to stay.

A great way to start creating valuable content is by writing long-form blog posts or embedding video content into your blog posts. Create content around topics your audience is interested in and or email questions that pour in through social media and your inbox. This is sure to help your SEO ranking.

SEO and SEM Google business servicesLook into more business services on Google

Google-based SEM goes well beyond SEO and PPC advertising. It also offers other features that help you track your performance and get your brand in front of new eyes.

Google My Business can be used to help local visitors find your website. Even if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar store, you can still use a Google My Business page to collect Google Reviews and help you pop up quicker on the first page of Google for long tail keywords. It’s easy to sign up and anyone with a registered business can utilize this tool.

Google also released their Google Merchant Center which allows retailers and brands to get their products in front of all kinds of buyers. It’s another online marketplace option that may help you increase your product sales. You can simply create a Google Adwords campaign and create a Google Merchant based ad that shows a photo thumbnail of your product with a buy now actionHow to Create an SEM Strategy

Get started with your SEO and SEM strategy today!

How do you envision your PPC and SEO strategies working together? What are you putting a bigger emphasis on right now?

Kayla Hollatz

Kayla Hollatz is a copywriter and content creator for creative entrepreneurs who want their words to connect and convert. Few things make her happier than ghostwriting for clients in her studio, aka her four-season porch with a lake view. She can frequently be found fighting Minnesota winters with a mug of hot chocolate in hand.

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