Search Engine Optimization Marketing vs. Paid Search Engine Marketing

The distinction between these two terms is simple, but important. SEO is something you can do yourself, although the process is both complex and complicated, and usually takes at least six months to begin showing positive results. Paid Search Engine Marketing requires you to sign up with each search engine (usually Google and Yahoo) to pay for being listed prominently in their results.

That’s the comparison in its short form. Let’s explore each in a little more detail.

The “optimization” part of Search Engine Optimization refers to how a site’s content can be manipulated—or optimized—to appear relevant in relation to a specific set of keywords. Since all search engines sort by the apparent relevance of the websites they search, this process is extremely important in assuring that prospects are able to find your site.

Without optimization, your website is like operating a store without a sign in the window and without engaging in any form of advertising. True, it’s possible a prospect may stumble upon your door, but it would be highly unlikely and only by chance. Optimizing your site is analogous to installing a neon sign above your store and placing a large advertisement in both the Yellow Pages and the local newspaper. This enables people to locate your store more easily, and find what they’re shopping for efficiently.

What makes the process of optimizing both complex and complicated is that different search engines have different ways of determining relevance. It’s quite possible to be highly ranked by Google and practically ignored by Yahoo, or vice versa. In order to achieve the best results possible, optimization requires implementing three distinct steps.

The first step in optimizing a site for better search rankings is to research all the potential keywords someone could use when attempting to find the product or service you sell. Let’s say you own a business that offers pet sitting services, specializing in purebred dogs. Only when you understand what a typical prospect types into a search engine to find what you’re selling will you know which terms must be worked into the content of your website. These might include:

– Pet Sitters
– Dog Sitters
– Greyhound Sitters
– Purebred Dog Sitters

But if your prospects generally think of “pet sitting” in terms of “boarding,” then the term boarding must be included in your site’s text. Additionally, whether you think pet sitting and boarding mean the same thing isn’t as important as whether search engines consider them to be the same. And they don’t. Search engines can only search for those specific keywords your prospects would use. In this example, you could use the term pet sitting throughout your site in all its various permutations, but this would have no relevance when a prospective customer or a search engine is looking for boarding services or kennels. To assure you can reach the broadest possible universe of prospects, you could consider several more terms they might search for:

– Pet Boarding
– Pet Care
– Kennels
– Pet Hotels
– Doggie Day Care

(along with variations of the original terms: Dog Boarding, Greyhound Pet Care, Purebred Dog Kennels, etc.)

There are keyword databases (WordTracker and Keyword Discovery are two examples) that can help you determine how many searches each month are initiated for any particular set of keywords.

wordtracker software

wordtracker software

Once you’ve determined all the terms your prospects might search for, these keywords must be incorporated into the text of your site. And it won’t do to simply pepper these terms throughout each page. In fact, such repetition might get you banned by some search engines. This must be done in accordance with the way search engines process information displayed on web pages.

In fact, it may be necessary to include additional content throughout your site to allow all those relevant keywords to be included, in a strategically appropriate manner.

Adding a blog, or a series of articles or reports containing the desirable terms, can be a very effective solution. When the terms appear throughout your site in this “organic” fashion, search engines assume there is highly relevant content related to the keywords to be found there.

Once upon a time, it was possible to embed hundreds of terms into a website (by entering the content in white letters against a white background, for example), where these keywords could only be seen by search engines. While effective, this technique was short-lived, as search engines soon became too sophisticated to fall for this trick.

The final step in SEO is creating appropriate links with other websites within your industry. Your pet sitting service might have links with sites like pet food suppliers, veterinarians, groomers, spaying/neutering clinics, and providers of flea control products or pet toys. All these links share a thematic connection with your site’s content, which helps influence search engines to rank your site higher in their results.

That’s where Google’s PageRank algorithms come into play. This program assigns your site a rank from 0-10, based on the number of links or “backlinks” (other websites that reciprocally link to your site). If no other website is linked with yours, your PageRank score would be 0. In order to achieve a rank of 10, you’d need literally millions of links. Only the largest and most established online marketers have the time and resources to develop this level of linking. An average score of 5 can be accomplished with a reasonable number of links.

Now that we’ve covered the complicated and complex process of SEO, let’s turn our attention to the relatively easy, yet potentially expensive, process of Paid Search Engine Marketing.

The strategy is simple: working with search engine companies, you bid on the specific terms you want. Each time a search is initiated for those keywords, your listing will appear within the “sponsored” or paid results (usually above or alongside the main search results). If a prospect clicks on your listing, you are billed a predetermined fee. You also set a limit on the price you’re willing to pay for each click-through.

How the fees are determined, and the availability of specific keywords, are based on many factors, most of them unique to each PPC provider. If many website owners are bidding on the same terms, the price can get very high (but the results may be worth the cost, if they deliver a qualified prospect to the website). The amount of your bid may also influence where your site shows up in the results. Like many areas of business, the website owner with the highest bid winds up at the top of the list.

It’s worth saying that what you don’t know about keywords can cost you—a lot. The most popular search terms are usually the most expensive, but they may not be the ones that can deliver the most qualified prospects. If we revisit the Pet Sitting example one more time, let’s say you specialize in sitting (or boarding) purebred dogs. You might not want to bid on “Pet Sitters” (which would deliver people looking for someone to watch over dogs, cats, hamsters, birds and snakes). You might also decide to skip “Dog Sitters” (there are lots of less-than-purebred dogs out there).

In the end, you may get fewer, but far more qualified, prospects by bidding on the relatively unpopular and, hence, less expensive “Purebred Dog Sitting.” While this example may be flawed, its purpose is sound. The better you know your customers—and what they’re looking for—the better you can decide which search terms are worth the price.

OK. We know what SEO and Paid Search Engine Marketing can accomplish. We know how they differ from each other. But what are the key things you should consider when determining which approach you should take in planning your own online marketing program? There are several factors to consider:

  1. How many prospects can you reach?

Statistics show that a smaller percentage of searchers click through on paid search engine results. That means you can usually reach more potential customers through Search Engine Optimization, which gets you higher in the rankings, but not in the #1 (sponsored) position.

  1. How fast do you want to reach them?

SEO, by virtue of being “organic” (as opposed to being paid for), can require six months or more before search engines determine your site’s relevance and favorable results become apparent in your site’s rankings. Since Paid Search Engine Marketing is a purchased service, it can create an immediate improvement in your rankings. It can also be turned on or off at will (or based on budgets).

  1. How assured do you want to be about your rankings?

As long as you’re willing to pay the bill, Paid Search Engine Marketing will keep you at the top of the rankings. But as soon as you cancel the service, your ranking will nosedive. On the other hand, SEO can’t really give you a guarantee of success (since much depends on the way various search engines function). But if it works, it will keep on working.

Given the time requirements of implementing a Search Engine Optimization program, many online marketers take advantage of Paid Search Engine Marketing to cover that “ramp-up” period. For those who can afford it, Paid Search Engine Marketing allows newer websites to get immediate results within a reasonable budget.

There’s one more consideration: with keywords that are general in nature, it’s difficult for SEO to accomplish high rankings, since so many online marketers—even in completely different business sectors—are attempting to accomplish the same objective. General keywords can be effective as part of a strategically planned Paid Search Engine Marketing campaign, while more specific terms lend themselves better to SEO efforts. For these reasons, most experienced online marketers use a combination of both approaches to get the best possible results.

Paid Search Engine Marketing

Today’s search engines sort results by relevance—in other words, which pages out there have the most significant relationship to the search terms or keywords supplied? This process can be, as the British say, a “sticky wicket,” since each search engine has its own method for determining relevance. A site with a top-ranked position on Google may not even show up in another search engine’s results.

So how do you get your site recognized by all search engines, all the time? This is a tall order—sort of the “Holy Grail” of online marketing. And it requires a great deal of research and preparation (and, truth be told, a lot of work!).

This is where the “optimization” part of Search Engine Optimization comes into play. You’ll learn more about this in the next chapter: “Search Engine Optimization Marketing vs. Paid Search Engine Marketing.”

The second approach to accomplishing higher rankings is through Paid Search Engine Marketing. When this strategy is implemented, the owner of a website agrees to pay search engines like Google and Yahoo a fee for the privilege of being “attached” to certain keywords (this is usually done through a bidding process). When a prospect searches for those specific keywords, the website owner’s listing appears above (or alongside) regular search results. Every time a prospect clicks that listing, the website’s owner is billed a predetermined amount, which can range from ten cents to several dollars, depending on the popularity of those search terms.

This process is also known as PPC or Pay Per Click” advertising. Through a bidding process, website owners choose the amount they are willing to pay to be connected to certain keywords. That amount is referred to as the CPC or “Cost Per Click.” A daily budget can be setup so you will have a good idea on how much you will spend for the month. No long term contracts are needed and you can cancel at any time without a cancellation fee. Test your market out for a week to a month to determine if this is a viable option for your site.

Remember, search engines can only make sense out of text. They can’t differentiate between an attractive site or a poor-looking site. What they want to see are places throughout your site where the specific search terms or keywords are used. These terms may be part of the text on a page, a caption on a picture, or in a blog or news release. Beyond the text, there’s another important factor search engines look for: links.

Links are connections, or referrals, between your website and other sites (whether owned by you or someone else) or external documents or web pages. Search engines like websites with large numbers of links to other sites because it suggests that people—other than the website’s owner—have found the material on that site to be valuable or relevant. The more links a site has, the more relevance it is given by search engines.

So how do you know where your site ranks among other results? Google has answered that question with a proprietary system it calls PageRank. Google’s promotional material describes how the system functions:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page Bas a vote, by page A, for page B. But Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves important weigh more heavily and help make other pages important.”

PageRank isn’t a perfect system, but if you want to play on Google’s turf, you have to play by Google’s rules.

That’s it for the terminology. Now we’ll move on to how these abbreviations, and the words they embrace, can be put to use to increase the effectiveness of your own online marketing program.

Search Engine Optimization Keywords

What search engines do is literally explore millions and millions of files on the Internet to see which ones most closely match your search terms or keywords (the words you type to signal what you’re looking for). If you were to type in “Pet Sitters,” you’d get a long list of providers of babysitting services for your pet (although you’ll also get results for each of those individual keywords: Pet Shops, Pet Food, Baby Sitters, Pole Sitters). This level of relevance is usually too broad, returning tens of thousands of possible results.

But what if you have a purebred greyhound, and you don’t want to leave it in just anybody’s hands? You’d narrow your search terms to Dog Sitters, or Greyhound Sitters, or Purebred Dog Sitters. Each permutation of your search terms will narrow—and hopefully target—exactly what you’re looking for.

You’re up against the same problem when you want people to find your product or service. How do you get your website in front of the greatest number of potential customers?

That leads us to Search Engine Optimization: This process involves a complete modification and possible enhancement of a website’s content, so search engines will determine it to be highly relevant, giving it a ranking usually falling within the top one to 2 pages for a predetermined list of search terms. Why is this important?

When people are looking for your product or service, it’s beneficial to have your site show up at (or near) the top of all the results a search engine retrieves. That’s because most buying decisions are made reactively. If someone sees what they want near the top of the list, they’re unlikely to continue searching through several pages of results before they make their decision.

Prior to the Internet, when the only place people searched was the Yellow Pages, many businesses took advantage of how listings were sorted by putting an A (or several A’s) in front of their business name. The reasons were the same then as they are today: if you needed a locksmith, would you peruse every name on the list, or would you decide one locksmith is probably just as good as another, and call the first name listed?

Since the Internet doesn’t list things alphabetically, getting seen by the greatest number of people (which, in practice, means being listed near the top of the results in a keyword search), has become a much more complicated issue. And it continues to grow in complexity as the online world itself becomes larger and more complex.

SEM Terminology for the Technologically Challenged

We’ve all been victims of acronym-ology: terms and abbreviations that make complete sense to those who understand them, but sound like gibberish to those who aren’t involved in their particular enterprise. From the inception of the Internet, through the dot-com boom and its inevitable bust, and continuing to this day, the people who actually make things work online routinely make use of terms that are indecipherable to anyone else.

It would be nice if it didn’t have to be this way. But for those who understand these acronyms and abbreviations, they do make work easier and faster. For the rest of us, who may be involved in hiring, managing or contracting with the technicians, it would be helpful to have some sort of English-Technish dictionary.

We’re not professors, reference librarians or professional lexicographers (those who compile or write dictionaries), so we won’t be too formal in the way this information is presented. Our objective is to provide simple definitions of the most important terms related to Search Engine Marketing, in plain English. These terms are presented in bold type throughout this chapter.

Search Engine Marketing (or SEM) as encompassing all the elements involved in using search engines as tools for online marketing.

So, let’s start with Search Engine: Even if you don’t know what a search engine is, you’ve used one. They are, in technical terms, “information retrieval systems” used to locate specific content on the Internet. In simpler terms, they are the websites you visit when you’re looking for something. Numerous search engines have been launched (, Excite, AltaVista, InfoSeek, Dogpile, AllTheWeb, Lycos,, Inktomi, Ask Jeeves), although only a handful really dominate the industry. Most online marketers focus their efforts at achieving higher rankings on these few “major players”: Google, Yahoo Search, and Microsoft’s (formerly MSN Search).

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search Engine Marketing (commonly abbreviated as SEM) is the term used to encompass all the elements involved in using search engines as tools for online marketing. The more often heard abbreviation, SEO, stands for Search Engine Optimization, which is a very effective tool used in online marketing. Coming in a close second in terms of effectiveness is Paid Search.

Both tools attempt to allow a particular website to be “found” easily by the most popular search engines, and rank highly in the search results. It stands to reason that when a prospect is searching for something your company sells, they aren’t going to look through dozens (or perhaps even hundreds) of pages of results. The most desirable place to be is at, or near, the top position in any given set of search results. That way, your prospect sees your website’s address above any number of competitors in the listings.

Search Engine Optimization attempts to accomplish this task “organically,” by manipulating the content of your site so search engines find it highly relevant in relation to specific search terms or keywords. Paid Search attempts to accomplish the same goal by paying for the privilege of being rated as highly relevant. With most search engines, the “sponsored” results (which is just a nicer way of saying “paid for”) are displayed most prominently, appearing above or alongside the main search results. How this is accomplished will be explained in a later chapter.

For now, it’s enough to know these three things:

Search Engine Marketing is a term for all the tools that allow a website to be found more effectively by search engines.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is usually the least expensive way of enabling a website to achieve higher rankings in search results, but it takes time.

Paid Search is the quickest and easiest way to become highly ranked by search engines, although it can be expensive.

Understanding Search Engine Marketing

How To Make Your Website Work Harder— And Smarter

There’s no shortage of information on the Internet about ways to improve your website’s search engine rankings, how to use various pay-per-click services, and so many other topics related to online marketing.

 Almost all these sources of information share two common problems: 

1)     They’re written by researchers, academicians or technically oriented people. They may understand these subjects, but they don’t know much about how to actually implement these tools. Or they know how to do it, but not how to explain it to someone else. 

2)     They want to sell you something: programs, plans, web hosting or technical services. Their material may promise to tell you how to do it yourself, but they’ll make it sound so complicated you won’t know where to start. And they’re hoping you’ll turn to them.

There’s nothing really wrong with these approaches; they’re just not too helpful. And they’re tainted with ulterior motives. After all, even companies who help other companies do Internet marketing need to market themselves.

 Here’s what’s going to be different about this blog: 

1)               We’ll explain everything in plain English, so you don’t need to be an MIT graduate to understand what we’re talking about. And, because this is a blog, you can absorb the information at your own pace, insert notes anywhere in the text, and come back for review whenever you want. 

2)               We are going to tell you how to do it yourself. But these tools are technical and time-consuming, and you may decide it’s not cost-effective to spend your time implementing the necessary changes. 

And yes, we do hope you’ll turn to us for help, if you need it. But we’re not going to try to bamboozle you from the start, just so you’ll give up and give us a call. 

One more thing: We’re not researchers or academicians. We are technically oriented, but we hope you won’t hold that against us. What we mean to say is, the stuff we’ll be explaining inside is the stuff we do all day, every day. We know it inside and out. So, if you decide you don’t have the time or the inclination to tackle these issues yourself, we hope what you read here will persuade you we’ve got the expertise to understand your business, analyze what needs fixing, and implement whatever changes are required.

Oh, and there’s still one more thing: We offer a promise no other supplier in the industry dares to make:

 We guarantee our services will increase the results of your online marketing.

Since 1998 we’ve delivered on that promise—time after time, for a broad range of clients, in a wide variety of industries. We’re willing to put that much on the line to make sure you’re more than satisfied with the work we do. So put us to the test. We’d be delighted to add you to our client list.