SEM vs SEO: Friend or Foe?

By: Emily Williams


SEM and SEO are two common tactics for increasing your website’s visibility online. The most common question we get about the two are “Can I just pick one tool? Can I just pay to increase my visibility through SEM and ignore SEO?”

The answer?


They aren’t foes.

SEM and SEO have to work together for the tools to be successful.

Here are 5 reasons why:

Before we get started, remember that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is paid advertising that enables listings to appear at the top of a results page. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are enhancements made to websites that allow sites to show in the organic listings below the paid ads.


  1. Some people hate ads.

Plenty of people click on ads in Google. But some people won’t click on a paid ad. Ever. They know it’s paid, so they skip straight to organic results. Do you really want to miss all of these users? We both know the answer to that.

  1. Why pay if you don’t have to?

SEM is a great tool for paying to increase visibility of a website if you aren’t ranking on the first page organically. However, do you really want to pay for this visibility forever if you don’t have to? Let’s say there are no competitors bidding on paid space in your region, but your organic listing is on page 2 or 3… or even below the scroll on page 1… Start enhancing your SEO now and only pay for SEM until your site hits the top organically. With no competition in the paid space, your organic listing will be the first thing people see. For free.

  1. If your SEO stinks, your SEM might stink too.

If your SEO is poor, SEM may not help. For example, an underlying reason for why a page may rank low organically is if Google deems the content of your page to be irrelevant to the user. Well, guess what? There is an SEM auction that determines whether or not your ad will appear – and just as important as the amount you are willing to pay is the relevancy to the consumer. If Google thinks your landing page is irrelevant, your ad won’t appear. You can’t just pay for visibility. You need the content to back it up.

(Pro Tip: One way that Google will deem an SEM ad as irrelevant is if people in the target area keep searching for your keywords but don’t click on the ad. This is why we recommend that you never search your own keywords just to see if your ad shows up! This actually hurts your campaign if you don’t click through. And if you do click through… you pay for that click! Your SEM account manager can help you understand the visibility of your ads without having to perform searches yourself.)

  1. SEO takes time. SEM is instant gratification.

Once you optimize a webpage organically, Google can take up to three months to re-crawl your site to register the new enhancements. An SEM campaign can begin immediately! Of course, well-run SEM campaigns take time and energy to optimize over the life of the campaign, but ads can start showing the minute you start paying.

  1. More data. More results.

The data you will gain from both SEM and SEO will help you optimize the other. For example, if you notice a high click-through rate on a specific keyword in your SEM campaign, you can use that word in your SEO tactics to optimize things like page titles, meta descriptions and overall content. The more data you have regarding your online activity, the greater the potential you have to optimize your overall digital marketing strategy.

SEM and SEO aren’t replacements. Or foes. Or enemies.

They work together. Use them as complements to help increase your visibility online.

Natural Language Search and SEO Impact

By: Glenn Judah

Each person has their own unique style of communicating from particular word choice to sentence phrasing. When you tell a story or talk in conversation, it feels natural. Communicating with a search engine on the other hand, can feel forced.  We are used to performing keyword-based searches to find information on the web.

This is changing.

According to Search Engine Watch, natural language search “is an attempt to make searching faster and more effective by understanding searcher intent and more complex, multi-part queries.”

Google wants to answer our questions based on how we would ask a real living person. Computers and technology has made major improvements to process natural language and respond appropriately. Google made advances to understanding and answering questions with voice search in 2008, and the Knowledge Graph in 2012.

The search engine giant says “the Google app is starting to truly understand the meaning of what you’re asking.” This allows Google to understand the semantics and intent for each search query.

How does this work?

Search Engine Land reports Google is improving at handling superlatives, times and other complicated questions. Examples include:

  • What are the largest cities in Texas?
  • What songs did Taylor Swift record in 2014?
  • Who was the U.S. President when the Angels won the World Series?


What impact does natural language search have on SEO?

Google and other search engines have been moving away from the importance keyword targeting for delivering relevant search results. Natural language search is the next step in this process for evaluating page content beyond keywords and looking at overall quality, related topics and searcher intent.

Google wants digital marketers, content writers and webmasters to create content that is for the user, not the search engine. If you speak the language of your consumer, then the correct keywords will naturally come through the content.

How Google’s New Paid Ad Layout Impacts Organic Search

By: Chris McCarthy

Google recently changed the layout of their search engine result pages (SERPs) to make more room for paid search ads at the top of a results page, which has many wondering about an organic search and advertising ripple effect.

Remember, Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is paid advertising that enables listings to appear at the top of a results page. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) are the organic listings that show below the paid ads.


Now that Google has changed their SERP layout, four paid search advertisements now occupy the top of the SERPs instead of the previous maximum of three (while removing the “right rail” of ads).


sem before


sem after

As you can see, paid ads get more real estate at the top of a SERP, bumping organic results further down the page.

Whenever a change like this occurs, website rankings shift, causing the digital marketing industry to react with different organic and paid search strategies. With Google serving as the prominent search engine choice for more than half of the world, it is important to monitor how this change may affect your organic search rankings and the traffic to your website.

Here is what you need to know about Google’s new ad display change:

Why Google Changed Display Ad Layout

Mobile search has grown exponentially. The new layout makes desktop results similar to the current mobile SERP.  The idea behind this is to provide users with a seamless experience and relevant search results. The overarching goal is to focus on user intent and providing answerable content.

What is the Impact on Organic Search?

With paid search growing in real estate, all organic search results move down the list. Now, more than ever, optimizing content to rank organically is crucial. As organic search results move further down the list, more visibility will be given to the advertisers holding the first four spots.

In order to grab a user’s attention, search engine marketers and search engine optimization specialists need to work together on a combined effort targeting high organic rankings and paid ads. For brick-and-mortar businesses, search engine optimization is vital to help rank in the local pack in organic search. A strategy to advertise, appear in local pack and rank high will provide the user with many opportunities to click.

Adapting to the New SERPs

Focus on the customer journey by creating content and ad campaigns with the user in mind. Bridge optimization between advertisements and content. By devoting time to become a trusted resource to users and search engines, your website will gain authority.

Google+: Does It Have an Impact on SEO? What’s Next?

By: Glenn Judah

When Google+ launched in June of 2011, the SEO industry stood up and took notice.


Google announced this new social network on its blog saying, “We’d like to bring the nuance and richness of real-life sharing to software. We want to make Google better by including you, your relationships, and your interests. And so begins the Google+ project.”

It made sense to invest time and energy creating content for this platform run by the largest search engine. Businesses and brands actively using Google+ saw improvements in search rankings. Google+ even developed features for authors to provide increased visibility in search results for their content.
But almost five years later, Google+ has not lived up to the hype leaving it to be stripped for parts.

Is it still worth spending effort on Google+ for SEO?


Success Magazine explains bluntly, “The platform will never have the amount of impact it was purported to one day achieve, and if you continue to invest time and money into Google+ as a major element of your SEO campaign, you will continue to see declining returns.”

Google shut down authorship in 2014, ending Google+’s main SEO impact.

What is next for Google+?

Google has not abandoned the social network. Instead, it is slicing up Google+’s best features and repacking them in new products. The Social Times believes Google+ “will live on in the form of better, more intuitive products.” Products such as Google My Business and Places do play an important role in SEO.

A new Google+ related product, tentatively named Google Posts, is currently being tested by select local businesses. Local search expert, Mike Blumenthal, states “Google appears to have a new post/stream oriented publishing platform waiting in the wings to replace Plus. Unlike Plus it is currently being given broad front page exposure on keyword searches.”

Google describes Posts as an experiment “with a new way for users to hear directly from select entities they’re searching for on Google….Creating content is fast and simple, and once published, posts will appear instantly in search results related to the publisher. Each post can also be shared on popular social networks.”

Google Posts is currently invite-only, but you can join the waiting list.

Will Google Posts be the new Google+? The only thing true is Google’s promise to test, experiment and improve its products.

4 SEO Tips From SMX West

By: Chris McCarthy

SMX West, the digital marketing conference for the “SEO and SEM obsessed”, took place in San Jose, California last week with presentations surrounding the present and future state of online search. Speakers and conference attendees came from all over the country to discuss everything from advanced keyword research to the latest Google innovations.

SEO Tips

After attending almost all SEO presentations, and learning about how sophisticated optimization has become, here are four SEO-related highlights from the conference:

Keyword Research is still relevant, but exact keyword targeting and keyword stuffing is dead. Keyword research should be performed to compose quality content that satisfies user intent and answers questions. When performing keyword research focus on specific terms and phrases to generate easy to read content that is sharable and valuable. Some golden rules for curating valuable content include:

  • Answering why a user should be on your website
  • Appealing to emotions
  • Problem solving
  • A call-to-action

Website Audits can be performed for various reasons, but the most common is to diagnose traffic drops or search engine penalties. Oftentimes search engine bots locate backend issues during crawls that affect rankings, and an SEO breakdown will determine on-page and off-page SEO health. Some helpful site audit crawling tools include:

Customer Journey is incredibly important for building a long-term digital content strategy. As the search engines rollout more advanced ways to synthesize consumer needs with predictive and voice search, focusing on user intent is vital. Adapting SEO for applications like Amazon Echo and iPhone’s Siri requires more than keyword enriched content. Concentrating on consumer trends and search behavior can provide honest data to create answerable, unique content. Some helpful tools to help with this strategy include:

  • Amazon Predictive Search
  • Google Predictive Search
  • Google Trends

Link Building is another way to build website authority and establish credibility. However, link quality will always be superior to link quantity. Quality is determined by the authority of the host sites and the sites linking to them. When garnering links from websites with high domain authority (DA), a score determined by search engines based on credibility, is considered an endorsement. The best way to receive an “endorsement” is to establish your website or brand as an expert. This goes back to creating sought after content that answers user questions and provides valuable information.

Tag, You’re It! Which SEO Tags Should You Optimize First?

By: Glenn Judah

Let’s face it, search engine optimization can be both overly complicated and extremely simple at the same time. There are many different strategies, tools and approaches to optimizing your website to outrank your competitors. But where should you start?

If you have a solid bank of keywords, the next step should be tackling your tags. This can provide a good boost quickly if your website has many pages of content.

Start by optimizing your page title, meta-description and heading tags.


Page Title Tags

The page title describes the contents of an online document and is extremely important to SEO because it is one of the first stopping points for search engine crawlers and users. Not only does the crawler take a lot of signs about the subject matter of the page from the title, but it also uses the page title to make the title line displayed in the search engine. In most cases, it is a search user’s first exposure to your website. A page title also appears in browsers and links on external websites.

  • Page titles should be less than 60 characters
  • Readable first and contain strong keywords second
  • Make a strong first impression

Meta Description Tags

The meta description is a short paragraph designed to attract searchers to your content. The content in your meta description is used to populate the black text beneath the blue search listing in all major search engines. While the meta description plays no role in rankings according to Google, they are a valuable content piece as it’s the first in-depth exposure a user may have to your site. Each meta description should describe the contents of the page and work to entice the user to click through to the page.

  • Meta descriptions should be less than 155 characters
  • Use primary and secondary keywords
  • Be unique for each page of written content

Heading Tags

Heading tags (H1, H2, H3) should grab the user’s attention. The H1 tag is the largest text and usually the first words of content crawled by the search engine. The H1 tag should be different from the page title and act as a headline for your content. Other heading tags can be used as subheads to help break up the content into sections. You will want to use appropriate keywords within the heading tags, especially the H1 tag.

Remember, each tag should be unique and accurately describe your content.

How Reputation Management Affects SEO

By: Chris McCarthy


There is so much you can do to grow your online presence through search engine optimization. Curating custom content and utilizing SEO best practices will help you make strides in overall website health. However, maintaining trust with search engines goes beyond standard SEO practices.

Reputation management contributes to how Google and other search engines view a website’s credibility. For example, if an entity creates a Google+, Yelp or Glassdoor account, but doesn’t have the correct contact or location information, the entity’s website may be deemed as untrustworthy by the search engines. In addition, if social media accounts are not updated with correct information, it hurts the user experience. This may result in negative reviews or comments that appear due to outdated facility information. By establishing social media and business listing best practices you will create a seamless journey so that users can effortlessly find all the correct information your website has to offer.

When optimizing a site, start with SEO best practices. Then connect with the reputation management team to verify passwords haven’t expired, information is correct and that your business listing profiles are entirely filled out. It is important to not only fill out each social media account profile fully, but to optimize with consistent messaging and branded keywords. By creating a streamlined message, you will establish website authority and build website credibility.

While it is difficult to control customer service issues or specific interactions at the facility, it is possible to build SEO and a positive social media presence if negative reviews are to appear. By being up-to-date with all social media accounts, your website will be well guarded against any negative comments surrounding a negative online user experience.

Help establish a positive online reputation by creating and thoroughly updating your online profiles.