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The Difference Between SEO and SEM

Search engines such as Google have two kinds of search results that show up when you search for something. One being paid (SEM), and the other being organic (SEO). Paid results appear at the top of the page when a company is paying Google. Organic results are typically located under the paid results and are shown based on their relevance to the search terms. Additionally, organic results can appear in the form of featured snippets.

Many businesses try to use both SEO and SEM to increase their chances of appearing in both paid and organic search results. In order to effectively use them together, we have to understand what the key differences are between them and when to focus on one or the other. 

 

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. It is synonymous with Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising. PPC advertising gives companies the opportunity to target potential customers through relevant ads and keywords that align with their search query. PPC ads show up in the search engine results page directly above, and below, organic listings. Each time a PPC ad is clicked on, the company is charged for that action. Hence the name, Pay-Per-Click. These kinds of ads grant your business the opportunity to boost the visibility of their website, landing pages, service pages, and more by appearing as the first result.

So, how do you get in on this increased visibility? The most frequently utilized ad service is without a doubt Google’s ad service. This service allows users to create paid advertisements that when clicked, take visitors to your website’s landing page, thus increasing traffic.

 

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Essentially, how SEO works is Google (or any search engine) will crawl your website, index what they find there, then use their ever-changing algorithm to match your content with a relevant search query.

Whether or not search engines can crawl your site and properly connect your content with search queries depends upon the application of on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO. These three main verticals of SEO ensure search engines can read your website and give you an accurate ranking on the results page. In order to best leverage this service, be sure that you’re covering your bases on all three categories of SEO:

On-Page SEO: is the process of optimizing individual pages on your website. This includes in-depth content, using descriptive URLs, properly placing keywords, and more.

Off-Page SEO: is everything that is done off the website to help improve rankings. This includes building citations, backlinks, guest blogging, etc.

Technical SEO: involves doing everything to improve how search engines crawl, index, and rank the content you produce. Technical SEO practices include improving page speed, using robots.txt to improve page speed, and adding schema markup to pages.

 

Which One Should I Choose?

To put it bluntly, you have to use both. Strategized effectively, SEO and SEM strategies will work symbiotically to increase site traffic and improve your online presence.

Focusing on SEO

SEO lays the foundation for SEM with optimized content that visitors and potential customers may find useful. Without strong landing pages, web pages, and content, your SEM efforts will be minimized due to a lack of quality. 

If you’re working with a tight budget, organic SEO is usually the less expensive option and can help establish authority and credibility for your website. When choosing this route, it’s important to maintain good SEO by consistently creating and optimizing content that is valuable to your target audience. Essentially, you want to create content that people are searching for.

Focusing on SEM 

SEM can be a great option for anyone looking to promote their website, products, or just gain visibility. With a strategic PPC advertising campaign, you’ll be able to accomplish all of these goals—at a price. With strong, relevant keyword targeting, you’ll be able to better align your ads with what your customer is searching for. You’ll also want to be sure you maintain good on-page SEO so your prospective customers can find what they are looking for.

 

The Takeaway

Both SEO and SEM are strategies that digital marketers utilize to increase the volume of visitors that come to their websites and engage with their companies. Though they hold separate values on their own, one isn’t inherently better than the other and they are most effective when implemented concurrently.  When composing a digital marketing campaign, definitely consider the advantages of both SEO and SEM opportunities.

 

Written by Jonah Ericksen

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