By Published On: March 29, 2016

We’ve recently come to a crossroads in the great SEO and SEM debate.

Google has changed its search engine results page (SERP), removing the ads from the right side. Instead, desktop searches now return up to four ads at the top of a SERP. Essentially, ad real estate has gone from eleven potential spots in the real-time auction to only seven. By adding a fourth ad slot to the top, Google has pushed organic (free) results further down on the page. The result is less real estate for free SEO near the top, as well as fewer ad spots to bid on overall, which drives up the costs of paid search.

Not following the digital geek-speak?

As somebody who hails from the state responsible for the movie Hoosiers and hoops legend Larry Bird, allow me, in honor of March Madness, to explain what this means in basketball terms.

Think of your organic website ranking (or SEO) as a basketball three-pointer. While it’s valuable, it’s also a harder and riskier move. Add to that, Google has now just pushed the three-point line a little further back, making it more difficult. At the same time, they’ve moved the free throw line a little closer to seem more appealing, while simultaneously making the rim smaller (like that damn carnival game) with their changes in search results.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is like stepping up to the free throw line. You get to take a shot with limited interference from the other team. Quality ads and landing pages are like having a solid free throw shooter on your team—somebody who’s dependable in the clutch, with less risk.

But now, with the lines being redrawn, it warrants a closer look at your current marketing strategies and the mix of shots you’re taking.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating one approach over another. No game is won on free throws alone (or SEM). You still need to have a wicked jump shot (or SEO) from beyond the arc when the opportunity presents itself. It takes a combination of shots and opportunities to win the game. And the same strategy applies to your marketing.

With the changes in Google’s SERP, your marketing agency should be discussing with you when to go for that longer shot versus when to step up to the line. Just as a successful team is skilled in shooting lay ups, free throws, and three-pointers, so is a great agency skilled in knowing which situations warrant which type of shot. There’s a right time and a right situation for each. So be wary of agencies that hog the ball and don’t include you in team meetings. Be sure they can pass and let another channel take the shot sometimes. Because after all, when it comes to creating a winning formula, assists are vital, too!

About the Author: cat-tonic

Born of curiosity and enthusiasm, we’re a scrappy group of smart, passionate marketers who work hard and play hard. We show up every day and fight for our clients who are making the world a better place. We listen with curiosity, explore deeply, ask hard questions, and sometimes put forth ideas that might make you squirm. Because we believe the status quo is good for growing mold but not much else. The way we see it, change is the way forward and the magic happens when curiosity, math, science, instinct, and talent intersect.
Want to inject new life into an old brand? Take a lesson from Macallan Scotch.
Conundrums: Crazy Contronyms