It is well-known that in order to get a good return on investment in terms of marketing, online retailers need to be constantly in front of their customers. However, with the rise of online users, it is important these retailers adopt a multichannel approach.

Despite being similar in that SEM and SEO both aim to improve visibility through rankings on search engines, they do have significant differences.

SEM is a pay-per-click (PPC) service, while SEO improves ranking organically and does not involve paying for search results.

However, with Adobe’s recent Q4 Digital Advertising Report explaining that not only are CPCs in decline in Europe, but click-through rates are on the rise, all signs are pointing to a Paid Search orientated strategy.

Are retailers better off investing their money in SEM or their time in SEO? Let’s explore the arguments for each technique.

Why should ecommerce retailers use SEM?

Quick results

With SEM, results can be achieved relatively quickly. Of course, you will be required to make changes in the AdWords interface, however once this has been done, you can see results almost instantly.

With SEO on the other hand, you will need to implement a longer-term strategy and it can take time to reap the rewards of your efforts.

Better conversion rates

According to New Media Campaigns, PPC holds a slight edge in conversion rates as paid search results are 1.5 times more likely to convert click-throughs from the search engine.

Direct control over your visibility

Even with a significant amount of time invested into SEO, there is no guarantee that you will ever appear in the top spots on search results pages. While the same can almost be said for PPC, bidding plays a huge role in paid search campaigns and increasing your budget can take (Read more...) so far in improving your visibility on search engines.

Few website optimisations

Although good website structure helps to improve your PPC ranking, it is not incremental to do so to achieve good paid search results. SEO on the other hand, requires that your website’s structure and content are optimised to achieve good results

Why use SEO as well as SEM?

While there are many arguments that may convince online retailers to rely on Paid Search, there are also many benefits to using SEO as well as SEM in their multi-channel strategies.

No direct additional costs

Besides your time and effort, SEO allows you to achieve results without any direct additional costs. SEM on the other hand, can obviously require a significant amount of investment, particularly for competitive keywords.

Organic results more likely to be clicked on

According to the same study by New Media Campaigns, organic results are 8.5 times more likely to be clicked on than paid search results!

Improve brand awareness

With organic results more likely to be clicked on, it is a no-brainer to invest in an SEO strategy. However, another added benefit is the possibility to improve brand awareness.

Presuming that you are able to successfully place your ads in paid search results, also appearing in organic results will help to reinforce your message and improve the visibility of your brand. Over time, the more your brand awareness increases, the more likely consumers are to trust your brand name.

A long-term strategy

It will take time and effort to properly optimise your website for search engines, but in the long term it will help bring you continuous website traffic for free.

Of course, you will need to be sure to keep up-to-date with the latest guidelines to ensure that you are not penalised and your efforts don’t end up going down the drain.

As you can see, there are many advantages to both SEO and SEM, however what is important to take away is that they are complementary techniques. Online retailers are generally encouraged to start by adopting both strategies.

For newly-launched businesses, SEM will accelerate brand awareness, as users start to recognise and trust your brand name. As a first step, it is wise to invest more into SEM while your SEO efforts get off the ground. You can then balance your investments once your organic visibility increases.

Mark Haupt is UK Sales Director at Twenga Solutions and a contributor to Search Engine Watch.

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