Synergy in search engine marketing: how to find the right SEO-SEA mix

The main goal of every commercial website is to achieve the highest possible ranking on search engine result pages. The reason for this is simple: the higher and more prominent a website’s subpage is ranked in a search engine result page (shortened to SERP), the higher the chances are that more visitors will reach this website.

Better visibility on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, can be influenced through search engine marketing techniques (SEM) such as search engine advertising (SEA) and search engine optimisation (SEO).

Purchasing advertisements in a search engine as well as specifically optimising a homepage for organic web searches help website operators generate clicks and conversions. In other words: a thoughtfully executed SEM campaign can turn the interest of a visitor into a concrete sale. SEO and SEA function differently as online marketing instruments. A comprehensive SEM strategy should always seek to incorporate synergy in search engine marketing by striking the right balance between SEO and SEA.

SEA vs. SEO: the difference is in the content

The effects of successful search engine marketing are reflected directly in the SERPs. When a user searches for a term on Google, Bing, or Yahoo, the respective search engine compiles both a natural listing (organic search results) as well as a selection of appropriate ads (inorganic search results) depending on which keywords the user searched for.

With paid ads, businesses are able to secure a position in the inorganic search results for certain keywords they have selected. This method falls under the category of search engine advertising (SEA).

When no ads are placed, the deciding factor for a higher ranking on a search engine is the relevance of a website’s content with respect to the words the user has searched for. Varying mathematical algorithms are what determine placement in this case. 

A solid ranking for organic web searches requires optimising a given website in accordance with search engine-relevant criteria. This is where the different instruments of search engine optimisation (SEO) come into play.

Both techniques, SEA and SEO, have clear differences regarding costs, goals, measurability, and sustainability. 

What is search engine advertising (SEA)?

The goal of placing an ad in a search engine is to increase web traffic and to create brand awareness. The position in paid search results is determined by a host of criteria: the amount of the bid, the optimisation of the text display, and the relevance of the content for the searcher. Search engine advertising scores high with its predictable success, high transparency, and ability on the part of the user to control advertising tactics. Depending on budget size, SEA can be used as part of a limited marketing campaign or be incorporated into a more permanent ad placement strategy. The high costs associated with SEA are offset by the quick high rate of return. Access to different tools offers users multiple possibilities for targeting and retargeting.

  • SEA is ideal for projects and advertising campaigns that need to be quickly implemented and demand fast and measurable success
  • SEA tactics are largely shaped by transactional goals. The primary benchmark for success is increasing the conversion of website visitors

What is search engine optimisation?

SEO encompasses both on page and off page tactics that are designed to increase a website’s visibility in organic rankings. While off page SEO aims to optimise the backlink profiles of a website, on page SEO seeks to align a website’s content and structure more harmoniously to search engine behavior; this helps to achieve a higher SERP ranking. Together both off page and on page SEO help ensure a good ranking in the SERPs. However, there is no way of guaranteeing that such measures will lead to an increased ranking. In contrast to SEA, SEO does not entail any fixed costs, but it is also not as transparent and cannot be tailored to specific needs as favourably as its aforementioned counterpart. And despite their time-consuming nature, SEO tactics are characterised by sustainable successes. The latter aspect also lends itself especially well to increasing brand awareness.   

  • SEO is a good choice for long-term and permanent website optimisation
  • In addition to the conversions, there is a larger focus on a more permanently improved visibility

Search engine marketing: finding the right mix

Despite their differences, SEO and SEA both ensure that websites become more visible in SERPs. Additionally, the higher the frequency and prominence of a website, the higher the chances are that a user will visit the website. Certain circumstances warrant a combination of SEO and SEA. Website operators profit from the right mix of SEO and SEA, which is sometimes referred to as a synergy effect in search engine optimisation. This concept is composed of the following points:

  • shared data use
  • overlaps in keyword strategy
  • SEA-supported website optimisation
  • multi-listing strategies 

Extended database by linking performance data

Special SEM tools deliver measurable data to website operators that simplify the planning and implementation process of SEM tactics. As of January 2017, Google is by far the most popular search engine in the UK with over 88% of the market share. The tools associated with it have very familiar names like Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and Google Webmaster Tools. While Google Analytics delivers performance data to both SEM channels, Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) provides information as to which keywords influence a homepage’s ranking in organic searches and how much traffic comes as a result these keywords.

Although GWT analyses deliver performance-based information down to each individual click, it does not supply any information on conversion data. Connecting the Webmaster Tool with Google Analytics and AdWords is therefore recommended as it retrieves organic performance data and compares it to SEA tactics. This function helps website operators better understand click chains and follow the path of the customer to their final purchase decision (customer journey). Additional touch points can further be determined and later used to identify additional SEM tactics.

Interactive keyword strategies in SEO and SEA

Both SEO and SEA incorporate keyword-supported tactics. Keywords determine both the structure of a search engine-optimised website as well as the composition of ad campaigns for search engines. Given how common occurrence of keyword overlaps for frequently searched terms in short-tail and mid-tail texts are, it is best to perform an SEO keyword analysis. The results of this should be the basis of an SEA campaign. Long-tail combinations should be completed separately since they are most often not collected during SEO analysis. Further details on search volume and keyword trends are found in Google AdWords’ Keyword Planner. When AdWords campaigns are booked for specific search items, the planner provides details as to what extent, if at all, these keywords lead to conversions. This option is especially useful for determining which high-performance search words should be used for SEO tactics.

Search engine advertising on Google is accounted for through the CPC (cost per click) method and for this reason frequently searched keywords with high click costs are best covered through SEO tactics in order to reduce long-term costs. SEA does, however, offer affordable, long-term solutions for long-tail terms with low search volume. New web projects that are not yet highly ranked in organic searches should focus on carefully targeted advertisements to improve their positioning. These efforts can be scaled down at a later point once a good organic ranking has been achieved.

SEA-supported search engine optimisation

AdWords campaigns offer a wide range of insights for optimising websites according to search engine-relevant criteria. In order to achieve the highest possible number of clicks, search engine advertising relies on a process of continually improving text displays and landing pages. A/B testing is the crux of this process and tests two different ads that use the same keyword to work out which performs better. Findings from these test runs can be used to optimise ads and are also useful for drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of different SEO tactics. This is due to the fact that snippets, which are composed of titles and descriptions, have a strong influence on click rates. Successful tactics can also be transferred to SEO landing pages and other corresponding meta- elements this way.

SEO/SEA mix: more visibility through multi-listing strategies

A multi listing is a website whose search results appear in both organic as well as paid advertising result pages. This strategy’s dominance in the SERPs translates into increased visibility and better branding opportunities. Multi-listing secures trust in a brand. The use of this strategy depends greatly on the available advertising budget. Furthermore, a good position in organic rankings is furthermore a prerequisite for such marketing measures. Additional starting points for multi-listing strategies comprise of fade-in shopping images that can also feature other info boxes such as the Knowledge Graph. Google sometimes includes these in the SERPs.


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