Search engine marketing involves click costs. Search engine optimization works through free traffic. Those two facts are the basis of a popular myth: that it’s easier to get good ROI through SEO than it is to get the same ROI through SEM.

There are many reasons why that myth isn’t true. But today, we’ll deal with just one difference: the landing page difference.

In SEM, you decide the landing page your visitors see. In SEO, a search engine spider decides on the landing page visitors see. That’s a difference in control, and that difference makes all the difference.

Searchers, after all, are people with itchy back-button fingers. If they come to a site and don’t think it’s the best site for them, they’ll return to the search engine results page – and click on your competitors’ links – in a matter of seconds.

But if your landing page is optimized for the keywords the searchers choose, and the ad copy the searchers see, then you’re able to tell a new visitor, right away, that she’s come to the right place. And no matter how amazing your site is, that’s a message that visitors need to hear. Because people don’t just want to see a good landing page, They want to see a relevant landing page.

But only a good SEM firm can optimize your landing page. A search spider won’t.

In both SEO and SEM, you only hit ROI if your searchers convert. An SEM firm might require a higher initial investment than an SEO firm does (because SEM requires the management cost, plus the PPC cost; while SEO only costs the price of management alone) – but you’re also likely to get better conversions through SEM, because you’re likely to get better landing pages through SEM. And it’s only conversions that will get you ROI.

Are we saying that getting the best SEO possible isn’t worthwhile? Absolutely not. Top-ranking organic results are like front-page newspaper stories: you may not be able to control everything your market sees, but it can still makes your brand look great. Plus, the more real estate you take up in the search engine results page, the better: if searchers don’t click on your search ad, they can get to your site through the organic link.

So good SEO is absolutely vital to strong internet marketing. But saying that SEO will get better ROI than SEM – because organic traffic is free – ignores the most important element of SEM: control. And it’s control that makes all the difference between getting traffic, and getting traffic that converts.

And that makes a huge difference when it comes to ROI.

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