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  4. effective use of SEM in your marketing strategy
  5. increasing website conversions
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Read on to find out how SEO or SEM can work to help raise your sales, improve your marketing ROI and attract clients to your products.


What is website positioning: how does it relate to SEO and differ from SEM?

SEO and website positioning revolves around placing your website into the top 10 search results of Google, Yahoo, MSN or other search engines.

What is the purpose of website positioning? It is to allow web users (your potential clients who you should be trying to reach by any/all means, because they're actively searching online for your product/industry and are ready to purchase now) easy access to your website, and service offering, via search engines.

Ok, but why else should you consider website positioning for your site? Well, because it is the most cost-effective form of promoting your brand, product or service:

So, what's the difference between SEO and SEM?

SEO (search engine optimization) is a methodology of designing websites, writing code and content so that web users can easily find your web pages in search engines like Google, having searched using keywords relevant to your company, brand, industry, products or services.

SEO is also synonymous with website positioning, and both are based on website optimization.

The purpose of website optimization, and in effect of SEO services, is to develop websites that make it easy for users to quickly reach the content they seek. Then, with proper website positioning a website can reach top ten organic (main) rankings in search engines like: Google, Yahoo, Dogpile, Ask, MSN or in other regional leaders.

For example, consider that you're searching for "car tires" typing that phrase into Google. Websites that care about positioning and proper search engine optimization will appear in the top 10 results of SERP. In the top 10 results you can also sometimes find pages that follow improper positioning techniques, but as the Greeks said: much to that purpose elsewhere.

SEM (search engine marketing) is a form of advertised listing in search results that is promoted by practically all search engines. These paid for (sponsored) results appear next to organic (main) results.

Presently, SEM consists of many PPC (pay-per-click) or CPC (cost-per-click) campaigns like Google AdWords or Yahoo Sponsored Search, AdSense or other affiliate programs offered by various websites. SEM services can also consist of marketing activities over web portals, web services and websites via advertisements like banners, pop-ups, etc.

To illustrate how SEM works, let's also consider the above mentioned car tire example. On the SERP you will notice organic (main) results of your search featured prominently at the center of the page. However, SEM sponsored results will also appear, but they will be grouped to the right side of the screen, being more condensed and placed under the 'sponsored results' tab.

SEM results appear on the same page as organic (main) search results, but because SEM results are paid for and thus biased, they're moved to a dedicated portion of the screen to separate them from main search results.

Furthermore, if you viewed a page full of tire related content, whose owner participated in the AdSense program, then you would notice stuffed in between the content, or to its side, multiple text ads showcasing websites with links to similar topics. That's SEM as well. In this case, search results are advertised in relevant content of other participating sites.

So, now you can tell the difference between SEO and SEM. Probably your next question is: what for and when should you use one method over the other? Well, we'll just get right to answering that dilemma below, while showing you the benefits and drawbacks of each method.

seo and sem increase website conversion, raise web traffic and online sales

SEO perks

Proper SEO and website positioning techniques will enable a webpage to place in the top ten results of SERPs. Also, well positioned websites (placements 1-5 in SERP) attract the largest percentage of all web users searching for websites using a given phrase. Basically, the higher you are on the results' page, the more people click on your link.

SEO will also help you create websites that have a clear layout, easy navigation and readable/effective content, which the reader will find with ease. Therefore, SEO will help you reach your main objective; increase sales. It will help you attract a user/client/reader/subscriber to your site and will help encourage him to convert and purchase your service or product.

SEO can substantially increase sales of your product/service.

Thanks to SEO and website optimization, you'll be able to exploit all the linguistic nuances, thereby creating multiple pages full of hundreds of different keywords used daily by web users in their search for information. Small companies can successfully compete with behemoth corporations, by using SEO to position their sites in SERPs under various search terms; some even less popular but more prone to attract traffic that converts.

Lastly, SEO requires continued modifications but gives long-term strategic results, like:

SEO shortcomings

SEO requires (blood, guts) effort and patience. Why, you ask? Because oftentimes, with badly designed websites, for SEO to make sense all of the code and content demands a rewrite, and in worst case scenarios, the whole site needs redesign.

Sometimes, a basic rewrite suffices. Sometimes, it's enough to just modify navigation menus. Other times, however, everything needs to be modified for SEO to work. It all depends on who developed the site and how familiar he was with website optimization during development.

With optimized websites, a virtue called patience may become a necessity too. First effects in positioning can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to occur. The amount of time it takes to see true results in search engines is inversely proportional to the age of the site's domain: the newer the domain, the longer it takes to position it. Add to that the competitiveness of some keywords and you might find that a few months have to pass before the results kick in.

So, the biggest shortcomings of SEO are work and a time-delay effect.

SEM perks

SEM encompasses a whole umbrella of search engine marketing practices. Due in large part to Google's AdWords and the ability to bid on keywords in sponsored search, a website doesn't need to be well optimized at all, nor have content full of appropriate keywords, to exploit SEM's possibilities.

With AdWords, all you need is a hefty budget that lets you overbid your competition, and voila; your website gets listed in the top spots of sponsored search results, for the keywords you bid on (and 'won').

So, the main benefit of SEM is the immediacy that it offers.

Once you bid on a phrase and 'win' (by win we mean bid high enough to place your add in the top 5 sponsored results), the search engine will immediately post your website in its sponsored search results the next time someone types in that phrase. You don't need to transform or modify your page's content or code. You don't need to do anything other than bid high enough on keywords that you want to rank under.

SEM shortcomings

The main perk of SEM, and AdWords, is the immediacy with which your site can rank in sponsored search. Regrettably, that immediacy is SEM's primary flaw as well. Just as soon as you exhaust your budget, your website will disappear from search results.

SEM's dependence on capital is all the more worrisome when you realize that your competition is always ready, possibly having swollen budgets full of reserves and bidding on the same phrases you are.

With SEM you need to be prepared for instances where your budget may be significantly smaller than your competitions'. That means your bidding ceiling is lower than theirs, giving them easy opportunity to overbid you, pick up your keywords, rank in the top placements and leave you at the very end of the queue (in the black hole of sponsored search results where no one cares to enter).

Nonetheless, SEM and AdWords are a better form of spending your marketing dollars than conventional advertisement. AdWords allow you to control and measure ROI via every dollar spent. Also, lest we forget, SEM helps you attract buyers directly to your site at a point in time when they're looking to purchase - not many other conventional advertisement methods can beat that.

But, let's underline that for AdWords to be effective, your budget should be set at $10-20/day (that's the absolute minimum). Most companies and large corporations dedicate large capital to building AdWords budgets that grow to millions of dollars. In Poland (and Europe), due to the specifics of this market, such huge budgets are still uncommon as SEM is still a relatively unknown marketing practice. The Polish market being smaller, there's also less competition and such capital isn't initially required to run effective SEM campaigns (at least not in all industries).

Having said that, we wouldn't expect this situation to continue indefinitely. In fact, you should expect that the keywords and phrases on which you bid on, will also be bid on by your competition possessing hefty budgets.

Ergo, the main drawback of SEM is its dependency on capital. Your results are directly proportional to the size of the budget you'll allocate to keyword bidding (low budgets equal low results).

Another inherent, but intentional, weakness of SEM and AdWords is the fact that they don't appear in the organic (main) results and thus attract fewer visitors to your site than SEO and fewer web users click on them. Don't trust SEM specialists that claim otherwise.

Web users, just like a large portion of society, are a clever bunch. They don't trust sponsored results any more then they trust sponsored testimonials or ads. Now, with SEM and AdWords your results appear under a 'sponsored results' header to the side of the main search engine results. So, automatically, web users are more apprehensive to click something that even remotely resembles an ad and is therefore biased. They prefer search results that appear at the center of the screen and seem to be impartial.

Now, that doesn't mean that SEM and AdWords are bad. It does mean, however, that you should consider their drawbacks, limitations, costs and compare whether SEM will be truly more useful to your overall strategy than SEO.

In summary:

  • Effects are long term
  • Produces high organic rankings
  • Better traffic conversion
  • More website visits
  • Can require much effort and time
  • May require a whole website redesign
  • Immediate effects
  • No need to modify site's content
  • Easy to initiate
  • Ability to quickly and easily test many phrases
  • Expensive/costly: requires competitive budgets
  • Less website visits than SEO (and each visit is a cost to you)
  • Immediate exclusion from search results once the budget is depleted
  • Web users trust less, and click less, on sponsored links

When to use SEO and when to use SEM?

The best way to put it is this: AdWords and SEM should complement SEO, not vice-versa.

Choosing a suitable internet marketing strategy is contingent on the company's objectives relative to their products or services. For some businesses, which desire quick search engine ranking, SEM would be the primary course of action. For others that wish to reach a wider audience and do it at a fraction of the cost, probably SEO would be top choice.

Big business
We recommend SEM services and AdWords if you have ample budgets and if you need immediate results. We also recommend SEM as a suitable platform for testing hundreds of keywords and phrases, for which you are unable to prepare dedicated and personalized web pages.

On the other hand, we recommend SEO services, if and when:

Effectiveness of SEO services and SEM services can be measured in any, and every, way that takes into consideration the criteria deemed most important to a given business. With the most important marketing criteria being sales conversion, both SEO and SEM help you reach that end.

Nonetheless, you will obtain considerably more website page views, visits/hits, and overall traffic if you embark on a positioning campaign using SEO services. Thanks to SEO your website can have optimized content and layout, which will most successfully assist in converting visitors into clients, and leads into sales.

Let's also not forget that all of Google's recent changes to how they compute AdWords results (specifically the correlation between CTR - click through rate - and ranking) further underline the importance of SEO. So, based on this, one could extrapolate that without proper SEO in place most SEM campaigns will produce limited effects.

Small to mid-sized companies
From our experience we gather that the optimum solution for most small and mid-sized companies is to use website positioning and SEO services over a wide range of two-word keyphrases (eg. 'car tires'). This is done in order to attract the largest percentage of web users who use general phrases on a daily basis in their searches. Of course, in order for this to work, the keyphrases you use have to be compatible with your company/product/service/industry.

Notice: keywords that web users search for are prone to trends and periodic changes. It may be that in your industry the most effective keyword list will be one that includes multiple three, or four-word phrases.

Once you attract visitors to your website en-masse, make sure that your content is persuasive, your navigation intuitive and your sales tunnel clear. That way you will convert as much of the web traffic as possible.

Some food for thought

In the opinion of SEO Magma, sometimes it is better to have extensive traffic on your website, traffic that gives you possibilities and is there to draw on, rather than have few visits from few keywords and little traffic showing limited potential at converting.

Contrastingly, if you have lots of website traffic that is difficult to convert, then it may help to focus your website positioning practices on long-tail keyphrases. Long-tail phrases attract less visitors, but visitors that are more prone to conversion because they are at the end of the sales cycle.

For example. a keyphrase like "gastrology practice" will probably be used by people who may just as well be interested in gastrology as a practice, or a topic, as they are in it as a service. On the other hand a phrase like "gastrology practice Chicago appointment phone" will probably be used by people searching for local gastrologists, being ready to call up and sign up for an appointment.

While the first phrase is very useful for general medical websites and portals, the second phrase is much better for individual gastrology practitioners/doctors looking to attract patients. The first phrase will increase traffic to a website, but the second phrase will bring traffic that converts.

Worth mentioning

The less words in a keyphrase (the more general that it is, like "car tires"):

Therefore, if you want to persuade your visitors to buy/convert, then you will sometimes need to develop creative and effective on-site optimization tactics, marketing know-how and good copywriting skills.

Positioning will help you bring traffic to your site, even targeting traffic that converts and thereby raises your sales. But, don’t underestimate the importance of content. For it is your website and its content that will need to be persuasive enough to actually induce these visitors to buy from you.

Learn how to optimize website content to raise conversions and don't forget to test your website.

Want to raise your website's position in search engines? Want to attract more visitors to your website? We will help you raise your sales, get more leads and improve conversion, contact us today!

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