SEO or SEM First? Whenever we start up with a new client, one of the first questions that often comes up is whether or not we should focus on Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or Search Engine Optimization first. Lisa Barone discusses this point in her recent post about What Comes First: PPC or SEO?.
As part of her post, she reviews a Wilson Web article written by iPlenus Solutions’ Director of Web Design Paul Schmidt. Paul advocates the notion of always starting out with PPC.
Lisa correctly observes that there are many reasons for laying down the foundation of your SEO strategy in advance too. For example, you would not want to build a site for PPC purposes up front, and then find out that it does not meet the needs of your SEO strategy from a structural point of view. Part of her post outlines the need to do keyword research as a part of developing the site hierarchy, and that this research needs to be done before you build your site.
We completely agree. It’s important to understand that if you put a site together without understanding your SEO considerations up front, that you will almost inevitably end up having to redo your site. This is expensive and time-consuming. It can also be harmful to your search engine rankings while the search engines adapt to your site changes.
Another hidden cost is that if you launch a PPC focused site first, you might not take into account basic architectural and code design decisions that need to be made correctly. This happened with one site I know and resulted in a site that is fundamentally uncrawlable. Substantial work now needs to be done to salvage their site and the long term prospects for their business have been damaged. Always do your initial SEO plan (and the related keyword research) before you build your site.
Another factor to consider is that SEO has a much longer lead time. Search engines don’t index your page overnight, and developing good rankings take time. While instant revenue (and customer data) from PPC may be attractive, you may also want to make sure that you get the “clock ticking” on getting your site to rank for key terms, by getting it up and running as quickly as possible.
Given the importance of organic search engine rankings to branding, this may be a higher priority for some businesses than PPC revenue.
Note that there are some real benefits to getting involved in PPC early. As outlined by Paul, early PPC does provide real value in seeing what messages users respond to, what causes them to buy, and, of course, potential profit. The messaging and conversion data can affect what you do with your site design too. But we see this as a second order effect which you can apply to the 2nd pass of your site architecture.
Eric Enge leads the Digital Marketing practice for Perficient Digital. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO. Learn More About Eric Enge