By Christy McNee at

The Difference Between SEO and SEM

What is the Key Distinction Between SEO and SEM?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has traditionally been thought of as a component of the umbrella term, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), encompassing both paid and organic tactics. Today, SEM is used to refer exclusively to paid search.  Search Engine Marketing is the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines, while Search Engine Optimization is defined as the process of getting traffic from the free, organic, editorial or natural search results on search engines.

So, rather than viewing SEM as an umbrella term encompassing SEO, it’s more accurate to view SEM (paid search) and SEO (organic search) as separate entities in your Search Marketing.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The industry and discipline of SEO is continually evolving to keep up with Google's ever-changing algorithms, but one thing is constant: SEO is made up of on-page and off-page (aka "on-site" and "off-site") activities as its two main pillars.

On-page SEO consists of:

  • Optimized meta data, including the page title tag, meta description, heading tags, and image ALT tag, which incorporate target keywords
  • Well-written and optimized page copy that incorporate target keywords
  • Simple and well-formatted page URLs with selective keywords
  • Optimized page speed
  • Social sharing integration within your content

Off-page SEO consists of:

  • Link building to attract and obtain quality inbound links (aka "backlinks")
    • This makes up the majority of off-page SEO
  • Social signals (e.g., increasing traffic to a website from social media sharing)
  • Attracting attention from social bookmarking sites like Reddit, Digg and Stumbleupon

A large part of SEO is creating valuable, high-quality content (e.g., blog articles and web page copy) that your target audience will find helpful. Over time, this results in increased organic traffic to your website, more opportunities for inbound links and, most importantly, more conversions.

Be sure to pay attention to these on-page and off-page tactics to ensure your landing pages, web copy and blog articles are optimized for search.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM strictly involves earning search visibility through paid advertisements on search engines like Google, Instagram Facebook and Bing. While these advertisements are commonly referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) ads, there’s a slew of additional terms used for paid search or SEM activities—cost-per-click (CPC) ads, paid search ads and paid search advertising.

PPC advertising allows you to target potential buyers through relevant ad copy and keywords that match their search queries. These ads show up in the search engine results pages (SERPs) next to organic listings, which gives your company the opportunity to increase the visibility of its web pages, landing pages, blog articles and more.

What Are Some Examples of SEM Activities?

Google AdWords is far and away the most popular platform for hosting ads, but there are some key activities needed for successful SEM on the platform, such as:

  • Launching ad campaigns with a specific audience (e.g., geographic) in mind
  • Creating ad groups that consist of target keyword variations
  • Writing relevant ad copy using these selective keywords
  • Setting an ad budget
  • Monitoring metrics like clicks, impressions, click through rates and average cost-per-click

So, Which is Better? Strict SEO or SEM?

Advocates on either side could argue one is more effective than the other, but I like to view high-quality SEO as a prerequisite for high-quality SEM. SEO lays the foundation for SEM through well-optimized content that prospects and customers find helpful. Without landing pages, web pages and blog content optimized for search, your SEM efforts will fall flat due to poor quality, and visibility in the SERPs will be extremely difficult. Organic SEO is also less costly long-term as you establish search credibility, as long as you maintain it with the consistent creation of quality content and social media usage.

 

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