We all know how important paid advertisement is to e-commerce websites. Ranking high on Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), using Search Engine Marketing (SEM), a form of paid advertisement, for commercial intent keywords and search phrases has its monetary benefits.
“46% of clicks go to the top three paid ads on the SERP.” — Seotribunal.com
“People who click on ads are 50% more likely to make a purchase.” — Webfx.com
Between these two statistics, you might be thinking why bother with Search Engine Optimization (SEO), an approach to make a website rank higher organically. There is no denying the value of paid ads for selling online.
But if you are an e-commerce business at any level, you can benefit from using both, SEM and SEO. There really is no reason to rely solely on one. As you will see, using both in an integrated marketing strategy for your e-commerce webpages can take you further than if you were using only one.
Let’s take a deep dive and see what the specific benefits of SEO and SEM are for an e-commerce business.
It is important to make the distinction between terminologies clear here to avoid any confusion. SEM at times is considered to be the overarching term that includes both, paid and organic (SEO) methods of ranking websites. However, the usage of SEM as the paid method while SEO as the organic approach is far more prevalent now.
SEM VS. SEO FOR E-COMMERCE
When comparing SEO and SEM, there are two primary differences. SEO is a more cost-effective and long-term performance tool than SEM. Conversely, SEM draws in a highly targeted audience that does not need much convincing as they already have the intent to buy.
SEM Pay Per Click (PPC) can be cost-effective if what you are selling is much higher in value than the “cost” or “fee” you pay the publisher for each “click” or “visit” to your website through an ad and your conversion rate (how many people buy out of all who visit through the ad) is high enough. This sounds simple but is much harder to execute in practice. There is a lot that goes into making an effective SEM campaign, chief amongst which is your copy.
The reality is that SEM campaigns cost a lot nowadays. While paid ads bring in a highly targeted audience, the downside is that as big brands compete for business on the SERPs, they drive up the value of ads for high commercial intent keywords. This has made certain keywords extremely expensive, inhibiting new entrants and mid-tier e-commerce businesses from even competing in the PPC game.
Furthermore, it has become such a specialized field that mega corporations hire leading agencies to craft and manage their PPC campaigns for a competitive edge over their competition. This is more bad news for smaller businesses as they can’t stomach the hefty fees top agencies charge. The return on investment in most cases is still usually higher compared to selling through a physical brick-and-mortar store.
However, the case for SEO, as the most economical option becomes stronger if an e-commerce business is willing to wait for results. Businesses need to invest enough time and effort in learning how to write SEO content and develop the skill in-house. Alternatively, when sourcing content for their website, businesses should get content with SEO factored in by a specialist SEO content writer. Either way, it will be drastically cheaper than pay for ads in most product categories.
For the best results with SEO and SEM, divide your total spend and run some ads along with getting content written and published. This creates synergy. As users share your blogs ranked via SEO across the web and social media, this creates a significant number of backlinks (a major ranking factor for Google). Additionally, your webpages are present right at the top as ads for users to click and buy your products.
The results for SEM are much quicker than SEO. SEO is Google’s way to let the most valuable and useful-to-consumers content rank to the top. To this end, it takes time for quality content to rank as Google’s algorithm does extensive user testing amongst other things. This means it typically takes several months for SEO content to rank.
On the other hand, SEM is instantaneous. The minute you pay for an ad and it goes live, it will appear amongst the top three search results for the duration of the advertisement. This can be invaluable for a transactional business or businesses looking to grow their top line.
However, in a Google survey, it is stated that paid ads increase top-of-mind brand awareness by a whopping 80%. This is perhaps even more valuable for new businesses wanting to develop a relationship with their customer base or build a brand up. But no business can pay for ads indefinitely. Additionally, ad copies are usually thin — by design compared to SEO blog posts that can communicate a brand’s identity and philosophy much more effectively to build brand equity.
Hence, any e-commerce business serious about its brand needs to employ both, SEO and SEM for long-terms and short-term success.
Most e-commerce business owners underestimate the value of SEO. This is because measuring the performance of an SEO campaign is not as straightforward when compared to SEM. SEM is easily quantifiable in terms of dollars spent on ads and the resultant revenue made. In SEO you are improving the general quality of your websites’ content and aligning it with searched keywords and phrases to improve search ranking. The results of the work you put in SEO appear after several months.
Analytics can be created for both, SEO and SEM. Except that measuring SEO analytics for an e-commerce website does not work out that well. You can measure which format is driving more traffic but conversions through SEO are harder to measure. It may be that a user reads a blog post, becomes convinced about a product but does not follow the call-to-action in the post. Instead, the user could still want to compare prices, look for deals, read the return policy before buying, etc. In this case, the sale can not be credited to SEO, even if it is not going to SEM.
In 2020 and going forward, e-commerce platforms cannot ignore SEO and merely rely on SEM. An integrated strategy that utilizes both modes to make a web page rank is imperative for business success. This is evident from the fact that not only does SEO augment SEM, but it is gaining traction in its own right with hard, real-world results for e-commerce businesses. www.thinkengraved.com is an e-commerce business that does more than $120,000 in business every year. It almost exclusively drives all its traffic from blog posts. At the time of writing this article, they had slightly more than 100 blog posts. They have seen e-commerce success by keeping their cost limited to articles. But imagine if they were to run an ads campaign as well. This should be enough to make you appreciate the appeal of a holistic, multi-platform, omnichannel marketing approach when it comes to selling online.