SEO and SEM are really two sides of the same coin, but they consist of very different actions and relate to different aspects of marketing. Sometimes the two terms are used together to reference a similar set of activities, which can be confusing for those of us who aren’t as familiar with this world.
So, what’s the difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
What is SEO?
SEO is a key part of your digital marketing strategy and some knowledge is essential no matter what area of digital marketing you specialize in.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the process by which search engines “crawl” content to see how effective it will be to attract traffic. Search engines will assess a number of things in a website (such as keywords, tags, and link titles) and rank it for its capacity to attract organic traffic based on a variety of factors.
Some things that crawlers look for include:
- Quality Content: Having great quality content sends a message to search engines that your website and business is delivering a legitimate good or service. Part of the way they assess you is via link building and keywords.
- User Experience: Is your website designed for users to have a frictionless experience? Is it fast and easy to navigate? Can users meet their end goals (e.g.: making a purchase) with ease?
- Link Patterns: Are you backlinking to authority sites? Where are your inbound links coming from?
You should also note that it takes a bit of time for Google to recognize and reward your site – if your site is brand new, it probably won’t get “noticed” by Google for quite a while
What is SEM?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a descriptor that incorporates various types of paid search advertising. This is the type of thing that you’ll see as Google ad and usually ends up on the top of a page list. Usually, this has a to do with keyword placement and usage and that’s one way why doing it well can require some extra knowledge and strategy.
Here are some examples of SEM-based advertising activities:
- Targeted (paid) ad campaigns
- Writing copy using very selective keywords
- Ensuring that advertising activities fall within an allotted budget
- Applying key performance indicators like click-through-rates (CTR) and cost-per-click (CPC) towards future advertising activities
SEM is great for brand recognition as it means that you’ll be at the top of the list every time someone searches. When we talk about SEO and SEM differences, we’re really just talking about different approaches to advertising.
Where is the difference?
When we talk about SEO and SEM differences, we’re really just talking about different approaches to advertising.
SEO is sometimes used as an umbrella term that includes SEM, but because SEM refers strictly to paid advertising, they are actually separate. SEM is about getting traffic via paid ads, and SEO is more about acquiring, monitoring and analyzing organic (unpaid) traffic patterns.
How are SEO and SEM Complementary?
SEO and SEM both heavily rely on keywords to drive traffic to business websites and web pages. Though the marketing techniques used for each are different, they are both focused on traffic flows and how these relate to marketing activities. People will use search engines to search for something that they’re looking for, and they’ll be able to find it by the organic results (SEO) or by the paid results (SEM).
SEO is for organic traffic – so that’s unpaid or free listings, and SEM is for targeted ads that you pay for. They can be complementary but only if the website itself is SEO-friendly first, then SEM has a greater chance of being successful.
SEO is the foundation for good SEM and when you have each set up properly, you have a better chance of getting high-quality traffic and improving conversion rates. Once you have an SEO-friendly site and sponsored ads that are targeted properly using the right keywords, you have more chance of showing up at the top of paid searches. But you have to have your SEO in place in order for Google to see you as a credible website