What Is the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Harris+Ward

difference between seo and sem

Digital marketing has evolved so much in the past few years that the acronyms are seriously hard to keep up with. Who knew that SEO and SEM are actually two different things? Technically, they are two sides of the same coin, and they serve a similar goal of driving traffic to a website for more conversions.

They employ different approaches, though. Search Engine Optimization is all about getting long-term organic results, while Search Engine Marketing is more about getting fast results. The question is, what’s the real difference between SEO and SEM?

Which one should you invest in for your business to get explosive digital results? This guide employs the real difference between SEO and SEM, and by the end, we hope you’ll have a better understanding that will help you answer that question. The key may be in using both strategies at different times of your marketing campaign.

What Is Search Engine Optimization

What is SEO? Search engine optimization, better known as SEO is a digital marketing tactic used to drive organic traffic to a website. Organic traffic is important for a website because essentially, it’s free traffic since you don’t need to pay for it like paid ads and the like.

These are the results you get from search engine result pages, or SERPs naturally where users click on your website because it appeared on the first page of Google for your keywords. Every second or every day, Google gets over 85,000 searches, which makes it vital for your website to rank high on search engines, something SEO will help you achieve.

Case in point, these users are genuinely interested in your business and are more likely to become customers if you have what they need. For this reason, the quality of traffic is paramount in SEO, and once you achieve that, you can then start looking to increase the quantity of your traffic.

Techniques Used to Achieve Search Engine Optimization

The most important thing for your SEO strategy involves providing search engines like Google exactly what they need to give users an incredible user-experience. White-hat SEO techniques include technical SEO, on-page SEO, and Off-page SEO. Technical SEO is all about optimizing the elements of your website not related to content.

They include the structure of your site, site speed, indexing, responsiveness, user-experience, etcetera. On-page SEO is about optimizing web pages and targeting keywords that appeal to both search engines and customers. It involves dealing with content, keyword research, meta tags, image optimization, etcetera.

Off-page SEO, on the other hand, is geared towards building a website’s reputation and authority. It involves local listings, link building, forums, directory profiles, and the like. The most significant goal of these techniques is to show search engines like Google that your website is relevant, authoritative, and useful.

Google especially is very strict about user-experience, and they ensure users get the best of it. You’ll notice that fast, responsive, content-rich, and high-authority websites rank very high on SERPs. This is what customers need, hence Google gives it to them.

What Is Search Engine Marketing

So what is SEM, and what is the difference between SEO and SEM?

The major difference between the two is that SEM involves paid strategies and techniques to drive traffic to a website. Sometimes, SEO takes a long time before it can result in significant benefits as you could have too many competitors to even make a dent at first. SEM, however, can get you visibility and cinch sales for you a lot faster.

SEM starts with paid search advertising, and when users search for your target keywords, your ads appear at the top or bottom of the SERPs. The schemes highly depend on the type of paid advertising you invest in. Some of them include Pay Per Click, Cost Per Acquisition, Cost Per Click, and Cost Per Thousand Impressions.

There are also several search platforms, and you should consider your needs, goals, and budget before choosing the right one, or combining several of them together. Google Ads is the most popular, with over 37% of the market, and creating an account is free.

There are also Bing Ads, social networks, and other PPC ad options. Beyond that, understand that SEM is highly dependent on keywords, so to conquer SEM, it’s essential to master keyword research and bidding.

How Can SEO and SEM Work Together?

Now that you know the difference between SEO and SEM, you may want to understand how they complement each other.

If used right, search engine optimization and search engine marketing will get your brand on the first page of Google search results and get you in front of your target audience. They will drive more traffic to your website, and even though they will achieve that goal through different techniques, they both play a vital role in getting you the results you want.

For that reason, you should stop thinking about SEO vs SEM  and think about how you can leverage both for more website conversions.

Is One Better for Business Than the Other?

This is one of those questions that get an “it depends” answer. It’s okay to choose one of them. Most businesses opt to use SEM first because it produces faster results, then switch to SEO later on once they establish a customer base.

Some choose to use SEO, while others feel it’s too much work and opt for SEM. Some of these decisions are sometimes based on a company’s marketing budget, objectives, among other things. However, if possible, implementing both tactics is usually better because they work exponentially well in tandem.

Expounding the Difference Between SEO and SEM

This is the difference between SEO and SEM, and we totally understand if you still find the whole concept overwhelming. We highly suggest you leave this to the gurus. Allow them to analyze your website, online presence, budget, competition, and ultimate goals.

Our experts will present you with a comprehensive audit that will outline the best strategies to meet those goals, and help you make an informed decision. Please get in touch with us today so we can discuss this further!

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