Introduction to Digital Marketing & SEM

Introduction to Digital Marketing & SEM

As a basic definition, digital marketing is the promotion of content, products, services or a brand via one or more forms of electronic media: including websites, social media, email, mobile and other channels.

For this article, we will look at paid versions of digital marketing called SEM. Please refere to our previous articles on SEO and the benefits from organic search marketing.

What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is part of your digital marketing plan and the process of paying search engines so your site appears in the small text ads (also called sponsored links) on a search engine’s site based on the words and terms someone uses. For example, you may buy the keywords (NYC Dentist) so when someone searches for a Dentist in New York City, your website appears in the “sponsored links” section of the list of sites returned. This process is also called Pay-Per-Click as search engines charge advertisers who compete over search terms and pay for each link clicked.

The main difference between both SEO and SEM is leveraging engines naturally or organically or paying for the results directly to the search engine. This causes many people to become skeptical on the results they find displayed on each search engine knowing that a search engine makes money when they click on the ads they display to their visitors.

SEO vs. SEM (PPC / Pay-per-Click)

For years now there has been a debate regarding which is more cost effective SEO or SEM – in particular, Google AdWords™. To succeed in either strategy is art & science. Our stance is that there is a time and place for any tool but SEO is the safer and more cost effective option for most companies.

Here is a short comparison between various aspects of both SEO and PPC as part of your Digital Marketing Plan.


  • Generates Immediate Traffic
  • Extremely Detailed to Test
  • Time Intensive
  • Requires Constant Monitoring
  • High Financial Risk – can easily lose money if not implemented properly
  • Rankings Are Not Permanent – once the faucet is turned off, the traffic stops


  • Time Intensive – requires a long lead time to see results
  • Not As Detailed To Test
  • Requires Moderate Monitoring
  • Most Cost Effective
  • Won’t Lose Shirt If Done Incorrectly
  • Cost-Averaged Cost-per-Click
  • Rankings Have Greater Staying Power
  • Trust – people generally trust “organic results” over PPC/Sponsored results.

Each has their own advantages. It comes down to Cost Consideration and Trust. You can easily get to the top of Google in a single day using PPC and spend significant dollars on sought-after keywords. Statistics show that you save $14,000 per keyword a year on average by having your website ranked #1 naturally (SEO) versus spending for the top-place ranking (PPC). The savings from one keyword alone would make any marketer think twice. Imagine that most companies are targeting five or more keywords!

Trust a major factor in SEO & PPC

The most important differentiation between PPC and SEO is psychological. A digital marketing plan encapsulates both. Studies show that people put up a “psychological wall” when they click on a PPC advertisement. Most people are aware that a company paid to be listed in that spot. Therefore, they believe the company must be trying to sell them something (even if they are looking to buy what you offer).

According to the study An Empirical Study Of Paid Listings In Product Search And Purchase, Florida International University found:

For paid listings to yield the financial results that are anticipated by the business community, it is critical that consumers perceive paid listings and their descriptions as relevant to their transactional tasks. The results of this study support previous findings that this may not be the case, but also provide some guidance for the development of paid listings. Participants in the study showed a bias against paid listings in several ways. They reported an explicit suspicion about paid listings in their verbal protocols. They rated the relevance of the paid listings as lower than the organic listings despite the content of the descriptions being controlled across listing type.

The interesting thing is that the exact opposite happens when someone clicks on the first natural search result. Since Google is such a dominate online force most people trust that whatever returns in it’s search results is the best option for their specific search. Google is not in the search engine business – it’s in the reputation business. Google stakes its reputation on every search it returns to you that its number one result is the best choice for you. To achieve a number one organic ranking, are more likely to trust your message, offer and website because Google has “vouched” for you.

Bottom Line on SEO & SEM
Search Engine Marketing needs to be part of an overall strategy. While PPC is not a set-it-and-forget-it approach, it will also help reveal new opportunities to start incorporating into your SEO plans tomorrow. So be sure you include both as part of your digital marketing plan.

The Golden Triangle

Here is an eye-opening image that displays where the average visitor’s eyes go to when a new search results page is displayed using a heat map. This is also commonly called the Google Golden Triangle.

Eye Pattern Studies

Eye pattern studies (according to the Eye Tracking Study) show both high positioned PPC and organic listings achieve significantly more attention than lower ranking listings, organic or otherwise.

The key location on Google for visibility as determined by the eye activity in the study is a triangle that extends from the top of the results over to the top of the first result, then down to a point on the left side at the bottom of the “above the fold” visible results. This key area was looked at by 100 percent of the participants. In the study, this was referred to as the “Golden Triangle”. Generally, this area appears to include top sponsored, top organic results and Google’s alternative results, including shopping, news or local suggestions.

Most eyes go directly to the first natural search result and over to the PPC area only after they have looked at the top five natural listings. A further review of the organic search results show that people scan from top to bottom. Keep this in mind when you place your ads and put your digital marketing plan in place.

Organic Ranking Visibility
(shown in a percentage of participants looking at a listing in this location)

Rank 1 – 100%
Rank 2 – 100%
Rank 3 – 100%
Rank 4 – 85%
Rank 5 – 60%
Rank 6 – 50%
Rank 7 – 50%
Rank 8 – 30%
Rank 9 – 30%
Rank 10 – 20%

Side Sponsored-Ad Visibility
(shown in percentage of participants looking at an ad in this location)

1 – 50%
2 – 40%
3 – 30%
4 – 20%
5 – 10%
6 – 10%
7 – 10%
8 – 10%

PPC Ad Visibility

In searches where top sponsored results are returned in addition to right sponsored ads, the top ads received much higher visibility, being seen by 80 to 100% of participants, as opposed to 10 to 50% of participants who looked at the side sponsored ads.

Eyetracking is the enabling tool that fills in the gaps to understand why people click or don’t click — by quantifying what people consider before the decision to click or leave is made. This allows GMG to better anticipate and design search engine strategies.

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