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What is the difference between SEO and SEA

In the field of digital marketing, there are a number of terms that keep popping up – “SEO” and “SEA”. Seasoned webmasters, marketing professionals and forward-thinking entrepreneurs will have no problem distinguishing the two. But what do these words mean for the rest of the population or for starting entrepreneurs?

Let's start with SEO, what is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It is the process of optimizing a website so that search engines like Google can rank you in the organic search results. Your website is compared based on various criteria with other websites that have approximately the same content.

That’s complicated!? Do not worry! SEO may be difficult to explain in words, but in practice it is easier to demonstrate. Below is a screenshot of the search engine results page, after someone searched Google for `sunglasses with logo`.

The organic results are marked in green. These results are “natural” and according to Google are the most relevant result based on the search query “sunglasses with logo”. Intuitively, this makes sense when we consider why someone would search for “logo sunglasses.” In all likelihood, the user is looking for printed sunglasses to hand out as promotional material or business gift. Take, for example, the result of Promoboer, which is shown second, is a useful result in the eyes of Google. Examples of images of sunglasses with logo are also relevant to the search, which are therefore shown in the middle of the results.

SEO screenshot

So why are these results showing on the first page and not the 12,200,000 other Google results? The answer is simple. According to Google, these results are the most relevant and reliable, and therefore offer the most value for the client.

Google’s ability to find the most relevant results for every query has made it the largest search engine in the world. Much of this success is due to the ability to not only find the best results, but also filter out the bad ones. For example, you can also add a location to the search, such as ‘sunglasses with logo in Haarlem’. You are looking for sunglasses with a logo in Haarlem, but you are not waiting for results from Groningen or Limburg, these results are also filtered out. Providing value to users is the end game for Google.

Besides relevance, the other half of the Google comparison is reputation. In our logo sunglasses example, there isn’t just one provider active – there are probably dozens, all of which could be considered relevant. To decide which results are ranked first, Google checks how “popular” the website is. Popularity is determined by, among other things, how many people link back to the site, which is also known as backlinking. More backlinks suggest that people are essentially talking about the site and recommending it to others, making it more popular and valuable in Google’s eyes.

Before an SEO specialist starts performing SEO, you must first map out who your target audience is and what they are likely to search for on Google. Then you make your website as relevant as possible for this target group. In the meantime, you also work on improving your online reputation, for example by obtaining backlinks on the basis of a strategy. Due to the size of the internet, this is a tedious process that requires dedication and patience, often involving months of reputation work to show fruitful results. But it’s definitely worth it: the more relevant and reliable your website, the higher you rank in Google’s organic results. The higher you rank on Google, the more profitable search engine traffic you will receive. Do you want to know more about SEO? Find more information about our SEO course here.

Let's move on to SEA, what is SEA?

SEA stands for Search Engine Advertising, also known as PPC or Pay-Per-Click. It is the process of advertising directly on Google and other similar search engines mainly performed by a Google Adwords specialist. Ad results are displayed at the top and right of the organic results on the search engine results page.

Ad results are highlighted in red, which are clearly labeled with an “ad” icon. The main difference between ad results and organic results is that you pay Google to have your ad appear. SEA is often referred to as PPC because it is based on the Pay-Per-Click model. You set up an account and advertising budget with Adwords, Google’s advertising platform, and as soon as users click on your ad, Google collects a pre-agreed amount. The more you’re willing to pay for a click, the higher your ad will appear on the search engine results page.

Screenshot SEA

How much you’re willing to pay for a click can be set manually in your AdWords account. Depending on your industry and competitors, it can get very expensive to keep (or get) your ads visible. But on the other hand, it has the great advantage that your website is displayed directly on Google and, for example, not on page 3.

This is not to say that there is no guide to SEA and how much to pay. SEO principles still apply to SEA, mainly with regard to relevance. With AdWords, you have control over which search terms you want to target, which ad text you want to appear on Google and which landing page of your website users should end up on. The more relevant your ad text and your website landing page is to the query you’re targeting; the less you pay when the user clicks on your ad. That means you can afford more clicks to your site than your competitor who is less relevant.

AdWords management is a time consuming affair because you can target an almost unlimited amount of keywords. To maintain relevance for each keyword, each ad copy and landing page must be tailored and relevant to keep your costs down. There is also a need to monitor your bids per click to ensure that your budget is used as efficiently as possible. Then there should be ongoing analysis to see which ads are performing well and which are not. And then evaluate and adjust your campaign accordingly. Do you want to know more about SEA? Find more information about our Google Adwords training here.

In summary – SEO vs SEA

When done properly, search engine advertising can drive traffic to your website very quickly and effectively. All this for a fee. It’s significantly different from SEO, where it can sometimes take months for Google to recognize your optimization efforts and rank your site in organic results, but unlike SEA, you don’t pay anything directly to Google.

The long-term ROI (return on investment) for properly implemented SEO is much greater than SEA, as users are generally much more confident in organic results than ad results, with the added benefit of not having to pay for every click. However, the short-term earning potential of SEA is excellent if you need an immediate and targeted boost in traffic to your website.