What Is SEO (and SEM)…And Do I Need It For My Site?

In 2013 America, more and more brands, businesses and companies of all shapes and sizes are asking the following question:

“Do I really need to do SEO for my site?”

The answer, in a nutshell, is a resounding…


At least if you want people to discover you online. And purchase your products and/or services. And help you grow.

In a recent blog post on digital marketing industry insider MarketingVOX’s sister site MarketingCharts, the importance of solid SEO was spelled out in bold, clear numbers via 2012 research data from Forrester Research.

In the Forrester Research survey, 30,978 U.S. and 2,032 Canadian participants aged 18-88 were asked how they typically found websites they had visited in the previous month. The primary answer?

A whopping 54% said “search”…and that robust figure was up from 50% the previous year.

Second to “organic search” on the list of responses was “social networking sites,” clocking in at 32% in 2012 – up from 25% in 2011.

Another big increase came in the form of “sponsored search engine results,” also known in digital marketing circles as “paid search.” This answer was given by 18% of survey respondents – a sizable increase from 8% in 2011.

But what is the difference between “organic search” and “paid search” – other than that sizable gap between 54% and 18% among Forrester Research survey respondents?

Well, allow us to take a few moments here at the official blog of Amplitude Digital to explain…

What is known as “organic search” is at the very heart of SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization. Among many other things, SEO is the process of acquiring traffic to your site from “organic,” “editorial,” “natural” or “free” listings on search engines, primarily Google, Yahoo and Bing. All these major search engines have such search results, where web pages and other content like videos or local listings are displayed and ranked according to what the search engine deems most relevant to users. Unlike “paid search,” payment is not involved with “organic search” – unless, of course, you hire a digital marketing and advertising firm like Amplitude Digital to perform your SEO duties for you (and we certainly won’t discourage you from doing so).

“Paid search advertising,” or PSA, on the other hand, is far from “natural” or “organic.” Instead, “paid search” involves paying a search engine like Google, Yahoo or Bing to achieve better placement in search results for specific keywords. What is termed “paid search” is also often termed PPC (pay-per-click) or CPC (cost-per-click) marketing, because most search ads have traditionally been sold on a PPC/CPC basis.

When paired together, traditional SEO such as “organic search” and “paid search advertising,” or PSA, are known as SEM, which is short for Search Engine Marketing. Many people mistakenly believe that SEM involves only “paid search advertising,” but this is simply not the case.

Next, let’s take a look at the distinction as it exists on Google, which is still by far and away the 900-pound gorilla of not just search and SEO, but of everything online.

When it comes to Google, “organic search” results are those that appear on the left side of the page following a Google search. Google themselves claim that their users click “organic search” results more often than ads. The term “organic search” was first put into play by Internet theorist John Kilroy in a 2004 article on paid search marketing.

“Paid search” (or “sponsored search engine”) results, on the other hand, show up on the right side of the page following a Google search. Because so few ordinary Internet users (38% according to Pew Research Center) realized that many of the highest-placed results on search engine results pages were actually ads, it became necessary within the SEO industry to make distinctions between “organic search” and “paid search.” Paid search on Google also includes Google AdWords traffic.

The good folks at WordStream also had an interesting and eye-catching (if not overwhelming) graphical breakdown on the distinctions between “organic search” and “paid search” on Google.

And Google themselves of course offer a wide variety of resources covering all aspects of SEO, including their “Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.” Go ahead and dig in to learn more about the many staples of SEO, per pioneers and innovators Google.

You can also learn more via Google Analytics’ official “Search Overview” page at your convenience. This helpful page from Google also includes the following smart piece of advice:

“Look at the different search engines (sources) that drive traffic to your site to determine where you want to invest your resources. For example, if you’re getting an overwhelming amount of visitors and revenue from a particular search engine, that’s an obvious source of profitable traffic and an area in which you might want to make further investment; but you might also find another search engine that delivers only a few visitors, but ones who represent a very high Per Visit Value. In this latter case, you might want to increase your spend in that area to drive more of those high-value visitors to your site.”

In your case, that might mean that Yahoo and/or Bing are better options than Google. Each brand, business, industry and endeavor possesses its own unique and distinct qualities, and it’s no different when it comes to SEO and SEM.

We hope that this primer was helpful in putting you on the right path to taking ownership of SEO and SEM duties for your site. To find out more about how we can help you optimize results and build your brand, contact us for a free consultation.

And feel free to leave any feedback or questions in the comments section below this blog post. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

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