SEO vs PPC – a successful Search Engine Marketing campaign for SMEs (Part I)

Written by Tomas Sulzickis

Every business needs exposure. Nowadays, internet marketing can promptly satisfy this need. However, for small or medium-sized business marketing in all online channels is be too expensive. Therefore, I advise to put all company’s online advertising budget into Search Engine Marketing (SEM).

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine expert Danny Sullivan describes Search Engine Marketing as a term that “encompasses many things: optimizing for crawlers, managing paid listings, submitting to directories” (Sullivan, 2001). This definition involves various activities connected to search engines and making a company visible online.

There are various search engines (for example Google, Yahoo, Bing, Yandex etc.) available online. Different web marketing techniques have to be used in order to maximize visibility in each of them. However, recent research shows that across all digital platforms, Google in the biggest player worldwide collecting one third of the total online revenues (eMarketer, 2013). Therefore, I recommend putting all marketing efforts into in Google search.

There are several ways of promoting your company’s website in Google search. You can choose from performing an SEO or using PPC (CPC) to achieve results. The purpose of the following article is to compare these techniques and explain how to combine them for an effective Search Engine Marketing strategy for SMEs.

SEO, PPC, CPC... What does it mean?

In order to understand what acronyms SEO, PPC, CPC mean, it is important to have a basic knowledge how Google search works. For this reason, I made a search query using a keyword “sliding wardrobes” in Swedish localized version of Google search. You can see the search results below.

Fig 1 Paid Adwords search vs. Organic search results

As you can see in the example, we can divide Google search engine results into two categories:

  • Organic search results that are “a free listing in Google Search that appears because it's relevant to someone's search terms” (Google, 2015b). No one pays for them to be shown and these results are the main reason why people use search engines. In order to appear on top of these listings, a successful company website’s Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) has to be performed.

  • Paid Adwords search results listings where advertisers are charged for each link click. This method of advertising is called Cost-Per-Click (CPC) or Pay-Per-Click (PPC).

The following procedures describe how to be visible in either of the search engine categories. There is a clear distinction between actions involved in attracting organic and paid visits.

Search engine optimization (SEO) according to Wikipedia is “the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine's "natural" or un-paid ("organic") search results” (Wikipedia, 2015). According to Malaga, SEO can be divided into several categories (Malaga, 2008):

  • Keyword research identification of the terms that potential customers may be using while performing search. It is important to assess how competitive the terms are and how frequently they are used (Malaga, 2008). The best tool for identifying keywords is called Google AdWords: Keyword Planner, check Keyword Planner tutorial for beginners.

  • Website indexing by search engines involves submitting website to search engines if it is not shown in the search results at all (Malaga, 2008).

  • On-page optimization can be described as doing a lot of small changes to different to fragments of the website. These changes may seem to be small when looking at them separately, but joint together can have a substantial impact to potential customer experiences and results in organic search results (Google, 2010).

  • Off-page optimization a phase when links are built on third party websites to attract search engine and increase the importance of the website (Malaga, 2008).

    Cost-Per-Click (CPC) or Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising allows to list your website in paid result category by paying per every ad click. Placement click fee depends on competition between the advertisers (Weinstein, 2014). All paid advertisements have to be placed in online advertising service Google Adwords that includes paid search results for Google search. Check out a tutorial for beginners on how to create a Google Adwords account.

    SEO Tips for Your Website

    Even if you consider hiring a SEO consultant to take care of your company’s website, you should know basic Search Engine Optimization aspects that will help you to hire the right person. I will present the main guidelines for on-page and off-page optimization that have to be used in you company’s web page. Tips for keyword research can be found in the tutorial above while web page submission for website indexing is done only once and therefore does not require exclusive attention.

    Let’s start from on-page optimization and the visible results it provides as shown in the figure below.

  • Fig 2 SEO tips for on-page optimization

    The main on-page website optimisation tips:

  • Mark page title with <title> tags page title name is visible in search results and is displayed in the first line of the results section (marked No. 1 in the figure above). Tags have to be unique for every web page. Relevant keywords are written in bold and more visible for potential customer (Google, 2010). The title is used by Google to understand the page contents and influence page appearance in organic search. Moreover, research by Zhang and Dimitroff shows that when the amount of duplicated keyword in the title tags do not exceed three, this lead to increase in search engine result visibility (Zhang & Dimitroff, 2005).

  • Make a page summary in the <meta> description tag Google may use this summary in the search results to describe page contents. Description in Meta tags ensures that a relevant summary is used. Otherwise Google can choose any text within the page that may not reveal actual content. It is important to use unique page descriptions in every page and avoid placing only keywords in this Meta tag (Google, 2010). Meta description placement is marked No. 3 in the figure above.

  • Use simple-to-understand URL URL with relevant keywords makes it easier for Google to understand the content inside the webpage and may therefore lead to better search results (Google, 2010). In addition, this URL is also shown in the search results (marked No. 2 in the figure above) therefore if the search query matches the keywords, results will be bolded thus attracting more potential customers.

  • Create quality content unique and easy-to-read quality content is required for a good webpage. It has to include organized content, paragraphs and header tags. This will help Google to figure out the most important information within the text (Google, 2010). The content has to be updated regularly and be attractive to reader (Gandour & Regolini, 2011). Moreover, title keyword in the text allows to achieve better content visibility.

Remember, there are no difference in plural or adjectival changes therefore use keywords naturally (Zhang & Dimitroff, 2005).

  • Choose descriptive anchor text when linking web pages, provide at least the core idea about the page you are linking to. Try to make it short and concise. Do not forget to make links distinguishable from surrounding text (Google, 2010). This will allow Google to understand what the most important content is in the linked page.

  • Provide “alt” attribute to images – this attribute provide information about the image and simplifies the understanding of the webpage for Google. In addition, it is good to give a descriptive filename to the image for even better results (Google, 2010).

    Contrary to on-page optimization, off-page optimization is not visible and harder to measure when evaluating SEO consultant’s result quality.

    The main off-page website optimisation tips:

    • Have many different external links to your website amount of links and source page popularity will increase web site’s indexing rank (Gandour & Regolini, 2011).

    • Be active in Social Media social engagement metrics correlate with high rankings in the search results. If you want to be seen in Google, provide activity in Google+ (Schmitz, 2013).

    • Provide and promote quality content devote time and develop quality content which can be shared in social media. Build trust by providing long-term quality content (Schmitz, 2013).

      Quality Search Engine Optimization can substantially increase website’s position right after changes are done but result will decrease in the following weeks. In order to keep the long-term effect, optimization shall be a constant and long- term oriented. Otherwise, webpage visibility will decrease over time (Gandour & Regolini, 2011).

      It is important to keep in mind that Search Engine Optimization results can be “White hat” (takes time to appear but harmless to your website) and “Black hat” (rapid, surprisingly good but only short-time and leading to a life-time ban from search engine) therefore references are a must when choosing a suitable SEO consultant for this procedure (Malaga, 2008).

      In the second part of the article I will continue by explaining how Adwords paid search works and showing how to combine SEO and PPC for a successful Search Engine Marketing campaign. Stay tuned!