SEO vs. SEM and Why it Matters for Small Businesses

So, you’re an HVACR business owner, and everyone says you’ve got to do SEO or “Search Engine Optimization” for your website.  On top of that, everyone says you need SEM or “Search Engine Marketing” to drive traffic and leads to your website. For those who did not know, SEM is also known as “Pay Per Click” advertising. Where does it end? What’s your strategy? Who do you trust? Which direction do you go?

Don’t worry,. Continue reading, and we’ll explain these terms and their importance to your contracting business.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In layman’s terms, it is optimizing your website so that it will rank for the search engines. Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Duck Duck Go want to see regular activity on your website. And by activity, I mean new content;  such as seasonal updates, new pictures, new service pages, and new blogs.

So, there are essentially two forms of SEO: on-page and off-page SEO. Let’s  look at the differences.

Why SEO?

Organic leads through SEO are some of the least expensive leads that contractors can obtain. A click on your website costs your company nothing more than the work required to build, host, and get your site to rank. High organic rankings position your HVACR company as a trusted authority source. It is a coveted position to have these days. 

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is search engine optimization activity on your HVAC website. The search engines are looking for new information and content on your website.  

Examples of On-Page SEO:

•    Seasonal updates (Transitioning offers: Winter tune-up to a spring tune-up)
•    Content updates to existing pages
•    New service pages
•    New blogs and even updating existing blogs
•    Correct Alt tags for pictures (Pictures on your site are tagged with a name)
•    Meta descriptions for each page on your website (This is a short description of your page that describes what it is about in search engine results)
•    Proper site loading speed (the site opens or comes up fast when a user clicks on it)

And this is just the tip of the iceberg … Hang on, there’s more 🙂!

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is exactly what the name states. It is the activity related to your website that takes place in locations other than your website. The search engines are looking for activity and updates that point to or are related to your company’s site. 

Examples of Off-Page SEO:

•    Driving REVIEWS today is your #1 PRIORITY
•    Updates to your Google Business Profile
•    Posting to social media sites (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tiktok)
•    Email marketing (e-blasts linking back to your site)
•    Link building
•    Listing management
•    Correcting broken links to your website

SEO Strategy for Success in 2024

Your SEO strategy is ever changing and constantly evolving in 2024. What worked a short time ago may not drive the same results today. A few years back, it was as simple as creating content with proper keywords to drive traffic to your website. Today, search engines are looking for well-written content that makes sense and is “relevant” to the searcher’s search query. This is where a current SEO Strategy comes into play in 2024. 

Pillar-Based Content Strategy

Pillar-based content is a fairly new SEO technique that drives the best user experience. This is a long-term strategy for success for your HVACR company. Listen to what our Digital Marketing Director has to say on the topic:

The pillar-based marketing strategy works by creating exhaustive content around a specific matter and supporting it with interlinked cluster content. The cluster content serves to answer questions your visitors may have related to the pillar content and provides the impression that your site is authoritative. The cluster content also provides your site with more keyword ranking opportunities, and the link structure sends positive signals to the search engines signaling that your site is an authority on the pillar topic.

Jim Gregory – Digital Marketing Director at Effective Media Solutions

What is SEM or PPC?

SEM is Search Engine Marketing, and PPC is pay-per-click, which are essentially the same thing. They are forms of online paid marketing. These ads are generated when a consumer searches for an HVAC service online. Paid ads are a proven platform to generate leads for contractors in 2024.

Why is SEM or PPC Important in 2024?

The No. 1  reason to use online paid ads is to drive leads to your contracting business. Studies show that 80% of customers  search online for a heating and air conditioning company. So, let’s look at what you see at the top of the search results.

Wow! That is a lot of information to decipher by the average consumer. No wonder they get confused.

PPC Platforms that Drive Leads in 2024

Local Service Ads or Google Guaranteed

Google Guaranteed ads appear at the top of the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page), so this is the first thing a potential customer sees. Remember, a consumer does not casually shop for HVACR services. They are  prone to clicking one of the top results. Below are the most important reasons to enroll in this platform:

•    It’s at the top of the SERPS page.
•    Backed by the check mark or stamp of “Google Guaranteed.”
•    It costs nothing to set up the platform; you set your budget.
•    LSA is a “Pay Per Lead” service, you only pay for qualified leads.
•    It can often cost less per lead than other paid platforms.

Search or Text Ads

Search ads are often referred to generally as PPC or Google Adwords. These ads have been a staple for lead generation in our industry for years, making up most of Google’s paid revenue.

Display Ads

Display ads are exactly as the name implies. They are visual ads that will show on partnering websites, apps, or games that accept paid advertisements, such as the weather channel shown below. Display ads will drive lead generation, but they are primarily used for branding. By setting the proper demographic parameters, your ads will show to your target audience in the geography you select.

Performance Max Ads

Performance Max is one of Google’s newest platforms. It serves multiple ad types on a myriad of platforms. Google uses “machine learning” to determine which ad type is best, predicated upon the user’s “search query.”

Example:  A homeowner searches: “Why is my thermostat screen blank?” Google may serve up a YouTube video from a contractor explaining that the batteries may be dead in the thermostat or the indoor drain pan switch has been tripped. Google will show what they deem to be the best answer to the searcher’s question.

Combining SEO with SEM Creates a Winning Combination in 2024

We all know that a well-executed plan gives you the best results.  This applies when it comes to combining SEO tactics with SEM paid investments. The search engines crawl sites that are set up correctly for SEO. They also love seeing tons of traffic to websites from paid ads. Google, Yahoo, and Bing see these as signs of an authoritative site, so they will serve it up more often in search results. Please remember that online marketing is a long-term strategy for success.  Have patience and keep up with the ever-changing trends; it will pay off for your HVACR business.

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Will Merritt is the Managing Partner at Effective Media Solutions, a full-service marketing agency.  With 27 years of experience in the HVAC field, 10 of that in marketing for contractors, our agency has keen insight into our industry that others do not. Contact Will at or (704) 507-7858. “We Speak HVAC.”

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