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Search engines are continuously evolving to provide the best information on the topic searched. It’s critical for a health care practice to gain optimal exposure in search engine results. Two areas in which to invest time in 2018 are search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM).

Both seek to gain greater exposure in search engine results but there are distinct differences in the approach and outcomes.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
What is it? Process of improving your website, or a web page’s visibility in a search engine’s unpaid (organic) search results Also known as pay-per-click (PPC), SEM is the process of purchasing placement in search engine results in the paid ads area
Comparison:
Search results placement Organic results: typically under paid ads and map pack Paid ”ad” results: top of 1st page (positions 1-4) & base of 1st page
Ranking factors Over 200 technical factors with your website (coding, content & usability) Ad spend budget and competitiveness of search terms in your local market
Primary purpose Long-term exposure and traffic from organic search results Instant visibility and traffic from paid search ads
Visibility Ongoing While paid ads are run
Link destination Relevant content within your website Dedicated landing page for targeted search terms (lead focused content)

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

There are a number of ways to improve a ranking for a web page’s search result. Most involve the content that exists on your website (whether it’s visible or in the code) and its relevance to a search result.

Search engines try to determine which pages to display in the search engine results page (SERP) based on relevance to the search query. Search engines use algorithms to sort out all the content available on the internet to determine how to rank the results and deliver the most relevant links.

SEO: long-term investment

Remember, Google wants to provide the most relevant and current information to people’s search queries – that’s the service they provide.

There’s a technique to “tuning” your website for search engines by making sure your content and code structure are formatted correctly. Search engines will start to reward you for corrections and recognize new content as you build authority on the web.

Providing new content (that’s properly structured and optimized) builds authority on the internet. New content, which can be as simple as posting a blog once or twice a month, builds trust with search engines in the sense that your website is adding to the conversation on the internet. Each new piece of content that you provide further helps to build that trust, a crucial component in setting your site apart from others.

When changes are made to your website for optimization, improved search results won’t show up immediately. It may take up to a year to see sustained results, though in some markets results will be seen more quickly – often in six months or less.

The good news is, once you get your website indexed by search engines and start to make gains in rankings, those advances are typically sustained. There will still be some fluctuation as other sites work to improve their rankings too. SEO campaigns are constantly trying to figure out the signals search engines reward for rankings.

Unlike SEM, where you pay to play…

What is search engine marketing (SEM)?

An SEM strategy purchases advertising space on the search engine results page (SERP) based on targeted search terms. The benefit of SEM is that a practice may obtain additional real estate and gain immediate exposure. Paid ads can be run per individual campaign or may be ongoing.

Search engines charge a fee for each click an ad receives. The fee will vary based on the competitiveness and size of your market and the popularity of the keyword or search phrase you are bidding on.

SEM: instant gratification

If you want your ad to appear in the top results, you will pay for it. How long you want your ad to rank on top depends on your budget and the intended length of the campaign.

Outside of money, there are a few other important factors to consider when running an SEM campaign. These include:

  • Determine the keywords or search phrases that you want to target so search engines know when to display your ads.
  • Choose your target market. You may target the city/county where you’re located or a designated radius surrounding you.
  • Age is another demographic you may choose to target.

Once you launch, you will begin to have instant visibility and traffic. We recommend leading your paid traffic to targeted landing pages.

Landing pages: capitalize on lead generation

You may select where to drive traffic from your paid search ads. A logical choice would be to direct it toward your website. Your homepage would require the visitor to dig for the information searched. Interior pages may not capitalize on the lead potential.

Using a landing page designed to capture a lead from your ad is important. When you send paid traffic to a landing page, you are able to simplify the message to be congruent to the ad. Using a call tracking number and contact forms, the visitor is more likely to inquire with your practice.

If ads direct traffic to a page on your website, people may get distracted exploring the rest of your site rather than contacting you for their initial search query.

SEO and SEM work together

Instead of trying to decide which strategy to choose, think of them as being two sides of the same coin: search.

SEO and SEM are inherently different; SEO is a long-term investment, while SEM provides instant visibility. Despite these differences, there are ways they complement each other for a better overall search strategy.

  1. Improved visibility and authority

    Utilizing both SEO and SEM strategies provides added exposure in search engine results. The top two or three results on most search results pages are paid ads. They are denoted by the “Ad” icon. Organic results run below the paid ads.

    Being in both the top paid and organic search results gives the impression that you’re an authority in your market.

  2. Shared keyword data

    Both marketing channels are based on the premise of showing up for a specific keyword, search phrase or topic when a person uses a search engine to find information. Keyword research is essential to search-based marketing; both SEO and SEM campaigns are guided by industry keywords.

  3. Use SEM wins to guide SEO strategy

    Because SEM and SEO are keyword and search phrase targeted, the additional data you may receive from paid advertising will provide insight for your SEO strategy.

  4. Social media visibility

    Paid ads aren’t just for search engines. Social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube (a Google property) also provide paid advertising, often to a more targeted (focused) demographic.

Key takeaways

If you have a website that represents your practice and the services you provide, capitalize on the potential to be a resource to prospective patients seeking information about the services you offer. Consider SEO for your website.

Whether you are a new practice looking to build your digital presence or an established business yearning for greater online exposure, consider paid search advertising (SEM). It’s an additional touchpoint for potential patients and will likely generate more online leads.

Additional questions regarding SEO or SEM? Contact Fuel’s digital team today.