This week, the news hit that Apple is entering the paid search business. Ads will begin launching in the App Store this Fall, though the Beta version is available now. Apple’s entre has reignited the debate all marketers must enter at some point: in the world of Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which is better for gaining more results, more clients, and better ROI?

But first, let’s establish exactly what SEM is: “SEM is a type of Internet marketing associated with the researching, submitting and positioning of a website within search engines to achieve maximum visibility and increase your share of paid and/or organic traffic referrals from search engines.” Are SEM and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) the same thing? Not exactly. SEO deals exclusively with improving organic search. Paid Search is a completely different animal, as it is simply paying a fee to a search engine provider to place your website at the top (or first 3) search results for certain keywords, often with a small “Ad” sign.

Since 81% of users find a business’s website through a search engine (according to Jupiter Research), rather than typing in an exact web address, businesses cannot afford to neglect SEM. Your business may make the best widgets available, but if no one knows about your company, you won’t sell many widgets and your business will quickly become unprofitable.

Organic Search

While organic search results are not fee-driven, it is by no means free. A good SEO program will have at least some cost, and a good bit of time investment as well. A business is much more likely to see a quality return on investment if they hire a professional marketing and SEO firm.

The great news about organic search is that it is perceived as much more trustworthy than paid ads. Many users will skip over paid ads altogether. Sites that rise to the top of the page organically have generally earned that high ranking and receive at least 5 times the number of clicks that a paid ad on the same page would receive.

The bad news about organic search is that an effective SEO plan can take a few months to really start paying off. Sometimes a  local start-up can’t wait that long to get their business website in front of search users.

Paid Search

Paid search is also called Pay-Per-Click, or PPC. PPC is quick and easy to set up and will get your website ranked at the top of page 1 within a day. But, beware, costs can add up quickly. Depending on the search terms you choose, each click can cost up to several dollars. Definitely use a keyword planner such as Google AdWords to determine the cost of certain keywords.

While paid search ads may not be perceived as trustworthy as organic search results, there is one statistic that can’t be ignored. The conversion rates for PPC users is one and a half times the rate of click-thrus on organic search! So a user who clicks on a PPC result is actually more likely to buy the product or engage the business in some way.

If you choose to fund a PPC campaign, it is more effective to direct users to a landing page designed specifically for that search term, not your generic (though fabulous) home page.

Both organic search and paid search are not do-it-yourself projects. Each type really requires the skills and management of a marketing and SEO expert. A great marketer will also work closely with you to match your budget. Ready to take the plunge? Call Mike Morris at Morris Marketing in Raleigh at 919-424-8314 .

What do you think? Is organic search or PPC a better choice for local businesses? Let us hear from you in the comments below.

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