Nowadays, anyone who wants to be found online cannot avoid a good positioning on search engines. SEO and SEA are two different approaches to landing at the top of search results pages. We clarify in the following article: What are SEA and SEO anyway? How do they differ? What are the advantages and disadvantages of the respective strategies? When is something worthwhile, and does it make sense to invest in both approaches simultaneously?
What’s The Difference Between SEO And SEA?
SEO is the abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. This includes all optimization measures that aim to appear as high up as possible in the organic search results with your website. Since there are no search engine costs for organic results, “free” traffic is often referred to in this context. In contrast to this is SEA, Search Engine Advertising. These are paid search result ads with a cost per click.
If you look at the search results page, the two types of results do not seem to differ much from each other. However, if you take a closer look, you can see that the paid advertising is marked with the word “Advertisement” or “Advertisement”.
SEO and SEA both have the goal of attracting website visitors via search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. SEA achieves this through paid text and image ads, SEO, on the other hand, by creating relevant content and optimizing its website, which is rewarded by good rankings in the organic search results.
Both SEA and SEO are sub-disciplines of search engine marketing (SEM for short). A fundamental advantage of SEM is that users are already actively looking for a topic, product or service. Thus, the communication measures of companies take effect precisely at the point where potential customers would like to receive solutions to their problems.
Before deciding on an approach (if you have to), we should first take a closer look at the respective properties.
How Does SEA Work?
The basic idea of SEA for search ads is quite simple. If a user searches for a term that matches your registered keywords, your ad will be auctioned for the current ad spaces. Here you compete against competitors who have also bid on the same or a similar keyword. It is determined whether and in which order the ads are displayed. At this point, the amount of the bid counts (the maximum price that you would pay for one click) and the quality of the ad and the expected effects of the ad extensions. If your ad wins and is listed, there are no costs. These only arise when your advertisement is clicked.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of SEA?
There are several arguments in favour of using search engine advertising:
- The rapid increase in traffic: If you place advertisements, they will be displayed within a short time. This makes it possible to reach your potential customers directly and quickly.
- Prominent placement: Google & Co. want to earn money, of course, and they do that through advertisements in particular. Therefore, the search engines also are interested in ads being clicked and, among other things, place them in a visible place in the “best location” high up.
- Target group-specific is addressing: The ads are played using the keywords you have defined yourself beforehand. This means that the probability that you will reach the people you want to reach is high, as they search for exactly the terms that you have saved.
- Compensation for organic search results: SEA can also be an attractive addition to SEO if the organic rankings for essential keywords have not (so far) reached the desired position.
- Control & flexibility: You are free to pause or adjust your campaigns at any time. This means that you have control over your measures and your costs at all times.
- Measurability: The clear budget comparison with the various key figures for the advertisements enables a detailed analysis of your SEA measures.
But it would help if you also kept that in mind:
- Complete traffic stop when paused: The calculation at this point is easy. If you stop your campaigns, they will no longer be played out and will not generate additional traffic.
- Continuous budget necessary: A constant budget is necessary so that the first point does not occur.
Success does not come by itself: simply blindly investing your budget in advertisements is often not very promising. SEA ads must also be carefully selected, optimized and managed.
How Does SEO Work?
Similar to SEA, keywords are also of central importance in SEO. However, these cannot simply be booked anywhere so that organic search results appear. Here the optimization process is a bit more extensive.
A search engine like Google aims to choose from the billions of websites worldwide that best match a search query. To decide which these are and which order they should be arranged, certain factors come into play – the ranking factors. According to Google, over 200 corresponding signals are taken into account. They can be of both a content and a technical nature. Such criteria are, for example, the quality of the incoming backlinks, topic relevance, mobile optimization or loading speed.
The task of search engine optimization is now to take these factors into account when optimizing one’s online presence to offer users the best possible user experience and thus also to send positive signals to the search engine to perceive its website as relevant.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of SEO?
In addition to the apparent goal that your page should be high in the organic search results to attract visitors, SEO has other advantages:
- SEO forms the basis: only when a website is optimized correctly can further measures like SEA or social media ads take effect. Potential customers who are won through advertisements convert better if the website is also optimized accordingly, which is a central task of SEO.
- Optimization for users: Even if it means search engine optimization, the measures primarily benefit the users. It is not uncommon for Google to emphasize that the benefit for the user about SEO measures should be in the foreground.
- Long-term effects: SEO measures are in a long-term context and achieve sustainable success. In contrast to SEA, organic search results are not continuously fed with an advertising budget.
- No cost per click: this advantage is obvious. However, it should be noted that SEO is not free either because work has to be invested in SEO.
- Illustration of non-commercial search queries: Paid ads are not displayed for every search query (e.g. for specific informative searches). However, there are always organic results. If you only rely on SEA here, you run the risk of ignoring significant traffic.
But SEO also comes with certain restrictions:
- The SEO process is not done in one go: If you think you only have to deal with SEO once and can safely forget about it forever, you are unfortunately severely advised. Even if SEO measures can achieve lasting effects, it is still a dynamic process that should be considered continuously.
- Not in first place in the rankings at the push of a button: SEO interplay with many different factors requires effort and perseverance. Unfortunately, there is no magic lever or button to achieve good rankings.
- More difficult to measure: Due to many influencing factors, it is often not easy to say in search engine optimization which specific measure led to success. Nevertheless, it should also be mentioned that SEO is not an undertaking that has to be manoeuvred blindly. Numerous tools offer the possibility of tracking important KPIs related to SEO.
What Is Better Now? SEO Or SEA?
Admittedly, the title of this article has been chosen to be somewhat provocative. Because there is no such thing as “better”, both SEA and SEO have advantages and disadvantages. Which strategy is to be pursued depends in particular on the company’s own goals. While SEA is particularly suitable for short-term success, the SEO approach is a sustainable strategy.
However, the question of “either-or” is counterproductive on closer inspection. As has already been shown in the advantages and disadvantages listed, SEA and SEO complement each other pretty well. The synergy effects when using both variants are manifold. In practice, it has often been shown that 1 + 1 = 3 can be in this context because the two disciplines can benefit from each other and thus together generate more traffic than either of the two variants on its own.
To be more specific when talking about synergy effects: As already mentioned, keywords are a crucial element for both SEA and SEO. Keyword research, therefore, only has to be carried out once, for example, and can then be used directly for both areas.
SEA ads can also be optimized. A helpful tool here is, e.g. B. A / B tests. Which titles and descriptions work particularly well? Such and other information also helps in SEO.
If the implementation is successful, there is even the possibility that you appear both as an ad and as a snippet in the organic results. Multi-listings increase the search results pages’ presence, which has a positive effect on branding and visibility. It also increases the likelihood that users will get to their website by clicking.
Another point that we don’t want to forget, which was touched on briefly in the SEO benefits section, is that an SEO-optimized page performs better in the ads. If a page is optimized accordingly, this impacts the quality factor that Google considers for displaying the search ads. Thus, not only can the positions in the ads turn out better, but the click prices can also be reduced.
Incidentally, with a hybrid strategy, not everything always has to run at full load. Depending on the needs and the situation, the focus can vary between SEO and SEA.
In summary, it can be said that SEA and SEO are two fundamental approaches to land on the search engine results pages and thus attract visitors to your website. Both strategies have different advantages but are not free from certain limitations. There is no blanket “better” in this context. What you should focus on as a company depends on the respective strategy. However, it has proven itself in practice to pursue both approaches together.