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SEO vs. SEM for Authors

I have worked with many authors who ask me about search engine optimization. Many aren’t sure what the difference is between SEO and SEM/Google Adwords, another service we author. So hopefully this post will clear things up a bit.

First, here are the simple definitions of each one:

Search engine optimization (or SEO) is the process of improving the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”)

Search engine marketing (or SEM), referred to on Google as Google Adwords, involves paying for your pre-written search result text to appear when someone searches for a specific keyword, and paying the search engine for each click you get on that ad.

Now, on the surface, SEO looks far preferable to SEM, since it’s free! You can get as many visits to your website as possible and not have to pay a penny for them. But it’s not so simple. Which of these methods works best for you (if not both) really depends on your situation.

With organic SEO, getting to the top of search results generally takes 6 months to a year of effort. We’ve done it for our business (search for “websites for authors” and we’re the top result), but it takes a great deal of time and effort. If you have a book coming out in two months, SEM is a lot more effective in terms of allowing you to appear on the first page of search results immediately.

In addition, the search engines are always changing how they rank sites. So even if you put in loads of effort to get to the top of search results, you may or may not stay there over time. It could all go to waste if they change their ranking system.

Organic search engine optimization also limits you to focusing on several keywords. For example, as I described above, our site shows up at the top if you search for “Websites for Authors,” but not necessarily “Author Websites” or “Writer Websiters” (although we’re working on it … partially by making those words links to our homepage right here). It takes a lot of work and very specific keyword focus to get it to work. So if your priority is to show up at the top of search results if someone searches for your name or your book title, that’s very doable through SEO. But if you have a variety of different areas you want to focus your keywords in, it gets a little more difficult.

SEM also allows you to keep incredible statistics of the clicks you get. You can see how many people searched for each keyword you’re bidding on, what percentage of people clicked on that keyword, and what percentage of those clicks turned into purchases of your book! In this case, you get what you pay for.

Now, this all may sound like I’m down on SEO and pushing SEM. I’m not really. They both work. But too many people opt for SEO simply because it’s free. And then they get upset when they’re not showing up at the top of search results right away. SEM can get you immediate results within your control — just at a price. SEO takes a lot longer and a lot more work — but it’s free. See how that works?

So here’s how I sum things up. If you’ve just built a writer website with the goal of promoting an upcoming book, you’re better off paying for clicks and ensuring that you get traffic to your website right away. If you’re building your author web site as a long-term resource, promoting your writings and your books over the next several years, then SEO may very well do the trick for you.

I could go on for ages about this (hence, there being books on the subject), but I won’t. Should you be interested in learning more about SEO or SEM, I’ll be happy to go through the details with anyone willing to listen. Just contact us.

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