Search engine optimization (SEO) and search-engine marketing (SEM, also known as PPC or pay-per-click advertising) are powerfully simple.

Using SEO and SEM, you can put your business directly in front of potential clients at the precise moment that they are looking for your product or service.

This is the definition of targeted marketing, and most industries find that both SEO and SEM offer an excellent return on investment.

SEO and SEM are both tactics for generating business from search engines, but they are very different from one another.

SEO is a long-term, technical effort that must be conducted carefully.

SEM can generate results immediately, but unless it's carefully managed costs can spiral out of control.

Here are five things that dealers need to know before investing in SEO and SEM:

SEO Is Usually Less Expensive Than SEM

The rewards of optimizing a website for search engines can be great: when SEO is successful, people will find your website on search engines at no cost to you.

SEM, which has a direct cost for each and every click on one of your advertisements, can quickly consume up to hundreds or thousands of dollars of ad budget every month.

If you assign a cost-per-click value to each visitor generated for free by SEO, SEO is usually considerably cheaper than an SEM campaign that delivers similar results.

SEM Generates Immediate Returns

Search engine advertisements can be created and launched in just a few hours, which means that the SEM campaign you setup today can start paying for itself as soon as tomorrow.

It might not be the least expensive way to get people to your website, but it's great for moving the needle right away.

SEO Works Best For Established Websites

While it's not a hard and fast rule, generally speaking, dealerships that have had a website for a few years will have more success with SEO efforts than dealerships that have had a website for few months.

SEM Can Guide SEO

In a perfect world, dealers would invest in both SEM and SEO simultaneously and leverage the data from their search engine ads to guide their search engine optimization efforts. If, for example, paid search engine ads for “Houston F150” perform better than ads for “Houston F350,” SEO efforts could be focused accordingly.

Working With A Professional Will Save You Time And Money

At first glance, search-engine advertising systems seem incredibly user friendly, and SEO looks basic and simple.

However, the more you understand about SEO and SEM, the more complex they become. In the hands of a professional, a small PPC or SEO budget can do much more than the average novice could hope to accomplish with a much larger budget.

SEO and SEM make a lot of sense for auto dealers. If your dealership hasn't begun to invest in search engine advertisements or optimization, it's time to start.

Search engines are the 21st century version of the yellow pages, and sitting on the sidelines is a formula for failure.

Jason Lancaster is an auto industry veteran and Internet marketing expert. As founder of Spork Marketing, he now helps dealers nationwide to increase visibility and sales. He can be reached at www.sporkmarketing.com

Questions or comments about this column? Send us an e-mail at Dealers@wardsauto.com.