SEM and SEO currently represent just under 50% of all digital marketing spend in the US. And that percentage will only increase—Forrester’s analysts predict an 8% growth in SEM and SEO in the coming year. As click-to-call, voice search, and voice-enabled devices begin to play a larger role in SEM and SEO, it’s essential that digital marketers keep pace with the latest trends. Below, we’ll break down some of the most frequently asked questions about the future of SEM and SEO and discuss how to optimize your search strategies to acquire more customers.

What’s the Difference Between SEM and SEO?

We’ll start with the basics—it’s easy to get confused about the difference between SEM and SEO, since many marketers have begun to use the terms interchangeably.

SEM is a blanket term, which includes SEO as a subset. SEM includes both paid and organic methods of increasing your website’s visibility on search engines. SEO is the portion of SEM that deals with increasing search engine visibility through organic methods.

To put it another way, SEM includes all of the following:

  • Paid methods of increasing search engine visibility:
    • Paid search ads
    • PPC advertising
    • CPC advertising
    • CPM advertising
  • Organic methods of increasing search engine visibility (also known as SEO):
    • Writing quality website content
    • Including relevant keywords
    • Maintaining a blog
    • Writing strong tags and meta descriptions

Paid search has the highest spend of any digital marketing channel. As it continues to grow, it’s also becoming more competitive. When Forrester recently assessed the quality of 175 randomly-selected paid search ads, they found that 58% passed their rigorous evaluation. This is the highest pass rate Forrester has seen in over a decade, since they started the study.

paid search Forrester dataSource: Forrester 2017

Not only are marketers increasing the quality of their paid search ads, but they’re also including more extensions—Forrester saw that 49% of the ads used click-to-call.

Why Should I Use Click-to-Call in My Paid Search Ads?

According to Forrester, mobile searches will generate 73 billion phone calls to businesses in 2018. This figure has more than doubled from 30 billion calls in 2013. Additionally, leads who call a business are 10-15 times more likely to convert than leads who fill out a web form. Callers tend to be more empowered than typical leads—they’ve done more research and they’re likely further along in the customer journey. Therefore, for many businesses, driving calls should be the primary objective of SEM advertising.

The click-to-call action is becoming an increasingly important part of SEM, since it provides a frictionless user experience. Users no longer have to click the website link, wait for the site to load, and scroll through searching for a phone number. Instead, they can simply click the button and speak with a representative. This reduces frustration and routes the user to your team instantly, before they can be enticed by a competitor.

Click-to-call extensions are also highly beneficial for local customers. In a recent study, Forrester found that 50% of searches were local in nature. When surveying these local search customers, Forrester found that the majority of them weren’t looking for product availability or pricing—they were simply searching for contact information. Therefore, the click-to-call extension is a valuable way to instantly provide local customers with the information they need to engage your business.

How Will Voice-Enabled Devices Impact SEM and SEO?

Forrester found that over 43% of US online adults currently use a digital assistant (Alexa, Cortana, Siri, etc). Additionally, 97% of these digital assistant users ask for commercially relevant information from their assistants, including search engine queries.

As digital assistants advance, they will become the gatekeepers for purchases. They will understand consumer wants and needs—for example, they will recognize a user’s preferred brand of running shoes based on past purchases. They will also anticipate when the consumer needs to make the purchase, and execute it autonomously—when the user’s smart device reaches a certain mileage with the current pair of running shoes, the intelligent agent will automatically order a fresh pair of running shoes.

It’s crucial that companies evolve with voice technology—below is a chart Forrester designed to help assess voice search SEM urgency.

Forrester study voice search Source: Forrester 2017

You’ll need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. Are my target customers using voice search?
  2. How highly considered are my products/services?

Voice-enabled devices are ideal when shopping for simple products that are not highly considered—products that require heavy research are seldom purchased through a voice command. If your customers are using voice search and your products/services are not highly considered, you’ll need to think about optimizing your SEM and SEO strategy for voice sooner rather than later.

The following strategies can help you rank in voice searches:

    • Partner with your customer insights team to determine how likely your users are to use voice search.
    • Analyze common questions that customers ask when they call your company (DialogTech’s conversation insights tool uses AI to automate this process for you). These questions will most likely mirror questions customers ask their voice-enabled devices. Tailor content accordingly to address these questions.

Analyze Calls - DialogTech

  • Consider investing in a social media listening platform to determine additional common customer questions.
  • As voice searches continue to become more localized, cater to local customers by providing easily accessible phone numbers and addresses. Also consider adding “near me” in the title tags, meta description, and anchor text.
  • When performing a voice search, users are typically in a hurry or on-the-go—in many cases they will scan the Google business listings without actually clicking your website. Ensure your company has updated information and positive reviews on Google
  • A large portion of voice searches take place on mobile devices. Ensure you’re taking a mobile-first approach to your UX and content delivery.
  • Embrace branding—in five or so years, when intelligent agents are making purchases, they will sort products based on the brands their owners prefer.