Back to Basics: The Key Differences Between SEM, SEO & PPC

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    In the digital realm of online marketing and Google Ads, there is a myriad of industry-specific terminology and acronyms – which is a language within itself. 301 redirects, sitemaps, algorithms, meta tags, CRO, CTR, CPA, CPC, CPM, SERPS… the list is endless. As experts in our field, we understand the meaning of this jargon, but we also understand just how confusing it can be; it can cause one heck of a headache for anyone outside of our industry.

    Most business owners and marketers don’t need to know the more technical jargon, but there are 3 fundamental terms that everyone should understand. So let’s get back to basics; SEM, SEO and PPC – what are they and what is the difference between them?

    PPC – Pay-Per-Click Advertising

    PPC (pay-per-click) is an online advertising model which enables you to show Google search ads on search engines when a user searches for a product, service or information relevant to your business. It is a unique model in that it costs you nothing to display your ad; you only pay for each click your ads receive – hence the name ‘pay-per-click.’

    When you type a search query into a search engine – such as Google, Bing or Yahoo – a list of results will appear. At the very top of the search engine results page (SERP) you will find the paid ads which are identified with an ‘Ad’ label and will direct users to your website when clicked upon:


    PPC provides instant visibility on search engines and you are essentially paying to appear in the search results with every ad click you receive. Google Ads is the most common form of pay-per-click advertising, accounting for circa 90% of all PPC advertising dollars spent globally.

    The most popular form of Google Ads advertising is search (text only) ads which appear in Google’s search results, however display ads (which include an image, graphic or logo) and video ads are becoming increasingly popular and can be accessed across the whole Google Display Network (GDN). The GDN is a group of over 2 million websites, videos and mobile apps, including Google Shopping, Gmail and the YouTube Network – giving you enormous potential get your business in front of your target audience and sky-rocket your brand awareness.

    The AdWords platform facilitates a highly targeted approach to advertising and works as a bidding system, based on the amount you are willing to pay for each keyword search.

    What Are the Benefits of Using AdWords?

      • Instant Visibility on Google
        • Google Ads gives your website instant visibility on Google.
        • Based on your budget (bid amount) and quality score (a Google score based on your ad relevance to your keywords, landing page content and click-through-rate), you can even achieve Page 1 visibility right away.
        • More so, you can even dominate the top 3 slots on Page 1.
      • Targeted Advertising
        • Your Google Ads campaigns can be extremely targeted.
        • You can customise the audience for your ads based on:
          • Keywords
          • Location
          • Language
          • Device
          • User interests
          • Previous website visits
      • Transparency
        • Unlike traditional forms of advertising, such as newspaper ads, Google Ads offers complete transparency – you can see exactly how many times your ads have appeared, how many clicks they have received, what you paid for each click and the cost per conversion.
      • Flexibility
        • Google Ads offers complete flexibility.
        • You can make adjustments to your campaign – based on detailed performance reports / data provided by Google Ads – and they will take effect immediately.
        • You can turn off and on different keywords and ads, adjust budgets and edit ads – all with immediate effect.

    And the Drawbacks?

      • Ads Have Less Credibility
        • Ads are deemed to be less credible and trustworthy than organic search listings, as they are based on a $ bid, as opposed to merit.
      • Lower Click-Through and Conversion Rates
        • As a result, the click-through and conversion rates tend to be lower for AdWords than for the organic search results.
        • Most users opt to click on the more credible organic listings – and convert.
      • Lower Return On Investment
        • The long-term ROI tends to be lower with Google Ads, as the conversion rate is lower.
        • Also, in a competitive online market, the cost per click can be high. With a small budget and a high cost per click, it can be difficult to compete – so you might not achieve page 1 ad rankings.
      • It’s a $ Game and can be Expensive
        • Your rankings are largely based on your budget and keyword bid, so your competitors can simply outbid you to rank higher than you.
        • You will always have to pay for every click which can be expensive.
      • It’s Temporary – your rankings do not last
        • With Google Ads, as soon as you stop paying for advertising on Google, your website’s visibility for your keywords is likely to be very poor (unless you’ve been doing SEO).
        • As soon as your ads stop, your web traffic and leads will plummet.

    SEO – Search Engine Optimisation

    Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) refers to the process of generating relevant traffic to your website through organic, unpaid search engine results.

    Directly below the paid ads on a search engine results page (SERP) is what is known as the ‘organic,’ unpaid search results. In simplest terms, Perth SEO is about optimising your website in order to rank higher for relevant keywords in the organic part of a SERP.

    SEO is a complex and time-consuming technique, but your return on investment potential is huge. SEO is constantly evolving in response to Google’s ever-changing algorithms and encompasses a plethora of tasks, which include both technical and creative elements. However, broadly-speaking there are 2 main components to SEO which are constant: onsite and offsite work.  You can find out more about the intricacies of SEO here.

    What are the Benefits of SEO?

      • Credibility & Trust
        • Organic search listings tend to be more credible as they are based on merit.
        • They are determined by a number of Google’s SEO ranking factors, which include but are not limited to:
          • Relevant content
          • Quality content
          • Referring traffic from other relevant web pages (i.e. links from other websites)
          • Traffic volumes (the number of users visiting the site)
          • Overall user experience
          • Google’s technical recommendations (for the website)
          • Users perceive organic listings as more credible and trustworthy than paid ads.
      • Better Click-Through and Conversion Rates
        • The click-through and conversion rates are significantly higher for organic search results than for AdWords listings / ads.
        • Roughly 66% of users tend to click on the organic search results, as opposed to the ads.
        • This is largely due to the fact that users deem the organic listings to be more trustworthy.
      • Higher Return On Investment
        • SEO tends to generate a higher ROI than AdWords and other forms of online advertising.
        • While it can take several months to break even, once you reach the break-even point your ROI is likely to grow and grow.
      • Strategic Advantage
        • With best practice SEO, your competitors can’t simply buy their way in.
        • Your rankings are based on credibility, so your competitors will have to earn that credibility themselves if they want to compete with you – they can’t just pay more to rank higher than you.
      • More Sustainable – your rankings last longer
        • Once your rankings and domain authority (your website’s ‘credibility’ score) have improved, they can be more easily maintained.
        • Your organic traffic will not plummet the moment you stop doing SEO.
        • You should be able to maintain some degree of organic visibility even if your marketing budget is slashed.
      • It’s an investment.

    And the Drawbacks?

      • It’s a Long-term Strategy
        • SEO is a long-term strategy and can take up to 6 months to gain any traction at all.
        • The more competitive the online market is, the longer it will take to see results.
        • You might not see a positive ROI for several months.
      • It’s Complex and Time-Consuming
        • There are numerous elements to SEO – both technical and creative.
        • Best practice SEO is both complex and time-consuming.
      • It can be Expensive
        • Due to its’ complexity and the time it takes to manage, SEO can be expensive in the first 6 to 12 months – especially in a competitive market.

    SEM – Search Engine Marketing

    So, now we’ve established the differences between SEO and PPC, where does SEM fit in?

    SEO and SEM are two terms which are often used interchangeably without clear understanding of their key differences.

    Originally, SEM (search engine marketing) was coined as an umbrella term for online search marketing, encompassing both SEO and PPC. Over time, however, the common use and meaning of the term SEM has shifted.

    Today many industry experts, including industry leaders Google and Search Engine Land, regard SEM as paid advertising exclusively – just another term for ‘paid search’ or ‘PPC.’  That being said, however, it depends whom you speak to and different people still interpret SEM in different ways. One thing is for sure though: it can unleash huge sales potential for your business!

    For an online marketing strategy which is aligned with your business objectives and will give you the best chance of success online, contact our friendly team today.

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