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SEO vs. SEM Timelines: A Medical Analogy

Marketing directors and search engine optimization (SEO) consultants are often questioned by their bosses and clients about the progress of their SEO campaigns. Most business owners don’t understand how SEO works and, quite frankly, could care less.

Nonetheless, they know it’s important and just want to see results. Unless you’re ingrained into an industry or market, it’s tough to comprehend how effective certain strategies are and when those results can realistically be expected.

As an SEO consultant, you might have been posed with questions similar to one of these:

“Now that we turned on the SEO, we should be on the first page, right?”


“If I pay you overtime, can you work on my SEO over the weekend so we can rank by Monday?”

So how do you explain to your boss or client how SEO works and when to expect results? My office uses doctors and medication as an analogy and it seems to get the message across.

SEO = Antibiotics

SEO is a long-term tactic that requires a solid foundation and consistency over time. When you get sick or have an infection, antibiotics aren’t going to provide instant relief. As you begin to take the antibiotics, it may seem as if nothing is happening, but you must believe in what the doctor suggests and take the medication as prescribed.

The doctor might ask you to follow up in a week or so to see if anything has changed (reviewing ranking reports). It is common to find out that nothing has changed and a new medication needs to be prescribed. Doctors and SEO experts don’t have exact answers and must test different strategies to see what works and make adjustments when necessary.

The frustrating part is when the doctor (or SEO expert) finds out that the medication wasn’t taken as prescribed. The inconsistency throws everything off and makes it difficult to determine if the prescription (or strategy) was really working.

Consistency is very important for the success of your SEO campaign. It’s not something you should “turn on and off.”

It should also be noted that you can’t simply prescribe more antibiotics (or spend more money) to speed things up. SEO simply doesn’t work that way.

Imagine taking three times the antibiotics the doctor prescribed. You will make yourself even more sick.

SEM = Pain Meds

Search engine marketing (SEM), or paid search advertising, can satisfy the demand for instant gratification.

Let’s say you are in the doctor’s office for an ear infection. The pain is unbearable and you need relief.

The doctor will most likely prescribe you some sort of pain meds or even give you a shot. You will get temporary relief, however, you will find yourself returning to those meds every time you start to ache again.

Imagine paid advertising as those meds providing relief when you’re taking them, but when you stop, you’re back where you started – or in even more pain. You can get the phone to ring when you’re actively paying for ads, but as soon as you stop paying, your phone stops ringing.

What Will the Doctor Order?

A good doctor will understand that you have immediate needs and care about your long-term health. He or she will likely prescribe the pain meds for instant relief and put you on a regimen of antibiotics to address the root of the problem. You might notice that your pain medication prescription will run out long before your antibiotic prescription.

Using this analogy, or a similar one, should help your boss or client realize the time and effort it takes to run a successful organic SEO campaign and help you avoid being inundated with questions every few days.

Matt MorganAbout the Author

Matt Morgan is the CEO & Founder of Optimize Worldwide, an online marketing company in Northern California creating more powerful online results. Matt enjoys sharing SEO strategies, riding enduro motocross, and hanging out with his wife and baby girl Haley. To see more experiments Matt runs, follow @MattMorgan105 on Twitter.