Most medical practices have limited marketing dollars that they can spend to acquire new patients, so they need to make sure that they’re making the most of every dollar. As a result, we are very often asked “should I spend my marketing money in SEO or SEM (Pay Per Click).”

Obviously, that’s a pretty tricky question with a lot of potential variables, but a stock answer of “You should invest in both!” doesn’t quite cut it when there is a hard cap on the amount of money you can spend. You certainly will lose clicks and potential leads if you’re not investing in both (see point three of Why a PPC Campaign Is Critical for more info). But, instead of giving a non-committal answer, we’ll tell you which we believe you should invest in, but first we need to explain the pros and cons of investing in SEO or SEM.

SEM Brings Immediate Results

If you need immediate results, SEM is going to give you the biggest bang for your buck. Once you set up an account with Google, you can choose your budget, choose your keywords, write a couple of ads and you’re all set to go. We highly recommend having an agency help you with this because they know how to choose the right keywords and write ad copy that entices clicks, and can also help you manage your landing pages to make sure that clickers become customers. Depending on your budget (and to a lesser degree, your keywords and ads), you can instantly be getting traffic from a Google search.

The problem: it can be expensive. Every time someone clicks on your keyword, that costs you money – even if they’re not a good potential customer (maybe it’s a patient that has insurance you don’t take, or a medical injury that you don’t treat). And, once your budget is gone, so is your campaign. It’s very much like renting versus buying. With SEM, you are renting temporary space, but as soon as your term is up, the space is gone. SEO, on the other hand, is like buying. You probably spend a little more, but you are carving out a longer-lasting footprint in the organic search results. SEM can be a great way to start getting traffic and an incredible supplement to your other efforts, but its fleeting results mean that it isn’t usually the best option.

For the Long Term, Your Best Value Is Organic Search

If you’re looking for the long term, and only have enough money in your marketing budget for one option, organic search is the way to go. SEO has long-term, lasting value. As long as you keep up your website and don’t let it get too stale, the investment that you made in organic search will pay long term dividends. Just make sure that you’re not running into the black hat world (in the realm of SEO, black hat refers to the techniques that are frowned upon by Google, like buying links, which are likely to earn you a penalty).

Outside of the long-term sustainability, there are other benefits to organic SEO as well. When optimizing your site, the quality of your website will often increase. Part of this is due to the need for increased content to give users quality information. Unless you want to take it down, this stays with your site to add ongoing value. As far as clicks are concerned, the top few spots of organic search results typically have a higher click through rate. This is because many users (though certainly not all, based on PPC traffic volume!) hesitate to click on the ads at the top of the search results. You can also get unlimited clicks because you’re not paying for each one. So as long as you’re ranking well you could be getting a ton of traffic.

The downside to organic search is that it does take some time to start ranking well. There’s no on/off switch for organic search ranking. It will typically take a few months before you really start to notice any significant movement. That’s why we recommend SEM if time is a factor. Otherwise, be patient and focus on your long-term strategy.

The Bottom Line Recommendation

When it comes down to it, we ultimately have to recommend organic SEO over SEM if a practice is forced to choose between the two. You may not get many new patients from your SEO campaign in the immediate future, but long term you will get much more out of it. If you’re looking for a lasting investment, turn to SEO.

If you’ve already experimented with both PPC and organic search, which have you found to be more valuable? Let us know your experience in the comments below. And of course, if you’re looking for help in getting a SEO or SEM campaign started, give us a call and see how you can be generating new leads in no time – and months down the road.

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