The Inter­net is a fully stocked depart­ment store: within it are all the neces­si­ties a per­son would ever need. But the Inter­net, like a giant depart­ment store, is vast and hard to nav­i­gate. The same way depart­ment store shop­pers use aisles to find what they’re look­ing for in the store, Inter­net con­sumers use search to find what they’re look­ing for on the Web.

Search engines employ advanced algo­rithms to deliver exactly what con­sumers are search­ing for based on the searchers’ key­words. Search engines deliver two types of results based on the con­sumers’ key­words: SEO and SEM.

The Organic Market

Search engines deliver organic results based solely on sites’ con­tent. Search engines attempt to match SEO results as closely to the customer’s search terms as pos­si­ble. By ana­lyz­ing what peo­ple search for and click on, search engines com­pile data to deliver the results that peo­ple most want to see. But search results are wholly based on the searchers’ key­words. SEO results are lim­ited in this way. There is not much wig­gle room to stray from the key­words when results are strictly keyword-based.

For exam­ple, if a searcher types in the key­words “Honda Civic,” sites that fea­ture con­tent about Honda Civics will dom­i­nate the organic results page. The searcher receives results that directly cor­re­spond to these key­words. Like­wise, if a shop­per in a depart­ment store steps into the auto­mo­tive aisle, this shop­per will find all sorts of auto­mo­tive items. With SEO, the key­words yield directly cor­re­spond­ing results.

You Didn’t Know You Wanted This

SEM results, how­ever, do not always directly cor­re­spond to key­words. In fact, the smart SEM mar­keter tries to tar­get a type of cus­tomer and not that customer’s search terms. A good SEM mar­keter can show con­sumers some­thing they didn’t know they wanted. Search engine mar­ket­ing is like the check­out counter at the gro­cery store. Filled with bat­ter­ies, candy, and other assorted accou­ter­ments, it reminds shop­pers of extra things they could always use.

But SEM results work much bet­ter than those impulse-buy items at the check­out counter because search engines cus­tomize SEM results. Based on searchers’ key­words, search his­to­ries, and other data search engines can deliver tai­lored results to each searcher. If a searcher enters the key­words “Honda Civic,” he or she may receive SEM results for a sim­i­lar car, say, the Toy­ota Corolla. The SEM mar­keter knows that many of those who are search­ing for a Honda Civic might find a sim­i­lar car, the Toy­ota Corolla, a rel­e­vant result too.

A searcher may even find SEM results to be more rel­e­vant than SEO results. How could paid results be more rel­e­vant than nat­ural results? Because of the marketer’s flex­i­bil­ity in cre­at­ing SEM ads. SEM takes into account more data and thus more about the searcher than SEO does. SEM can thus yield results that are not lim­ited by key­words, results that take into account more infor­ma­tion about the searcher.

Get­ting What You Want

Both SEO and SEM give con­sumers what they want. While SEO offers results that cor­re­spond directly with key­words, SEM con­sid­ers searchers’ implicit desires. For this rea­son, mar­keters must approach SEM and SEO dif­fer­ently. SEM mar­keters need to find out who their cus­tomers are and what types of things these cus­tomers are look­ing for. When mar­keters do this they can start expand­ing key­word lists to reach con­sumers on a broader plane.

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