The Difference Between SEO & SEM (And What To Choose For Your Next Campaign)

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In an era where the Internet has evolved beyond the point of us realizing it, there are a lot of leading marketing trends and best practices. The world full of jargon usually throws terms such as search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). And while both of these are strategies small businesses should rely on, you need to understand the differences between them.

The Difference Between SEO & SEM Explained

The main difference between SEO and SEM is lies in the actual process behind each of them.
For example, search engine optimization (SEO) is a process of generating website traffic from free organic natural search.
On the other hand, search engine marketing (SEM) is a process of increasing website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.
From this, it is simple to conclude that SEO is all about getting natural views to your site from the search engine, while SEM is all about paying for ad space on search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo.
In other words, SEM means paid search – and SEO means non-paid, organic search.
Now that we know the difference between SEO and SEM, let’s dive in the actual processes and how you can use them to increase website traffic.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) And How To Use It

The world of search engine optimization, or SEO, has evolved a lot thanks to Google’s frequent algorithm updates. As the leading search engine with most of the searches, Google adopts various trends that demand businesses to fulfill certain factors.

Now, there are two parts of SEO: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to any keyword optimized content in the right places such as pages and blogs – as well as their corresponding titles, headings, subheads, body copy and even the image alt text. It also revolves around keyword-driven metadata, meta descriptions, heading tags, keyword-enhanced URLs and in general, all of the keyword-optimized ocntent used on the actual website.
Off-page SEO focuses on the elements which are not directly placed on the website. This practically includes all of the links which lead to the website, the social media shares from other sites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc.) as well as links from social bookmarking sites such as Digg, Yelp, Reddit and others.
The goal is to combine both on-page and off-page SEO and create a unique presence that meets all of the factors and results in a naturally optimized website with links from relevant sources. In a nutshell, SEO is all about regularly managing and updating your website keyword optimization – both on your page and outside of it (through link building).

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) And How To Use It

As we mentioned above, search engine marketing (SEM) is the practice of driving traffic and gaining search visibility by paid search advertising with Google or other search engines.

If you have searched for stuff on Google and saw the first four text ads on the page (with the ‘Ad’ button next to them), this is exactly what illustrates the practice of SEM. Also known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising, this means that websites can “rent” space in the top four spots on Google and only get charged when someone clicks on their link. If they don’t click, they don’t pay anything.

So, the key takeaway from SEM is that it is a great way to promote a website and get interested viewers. Essentially, it is a practice that lets you rank in the top results for keywords that you manually handpick (and are ideally in your niche).

Which One To Use: SEO Or SEM?

Now, the part you have all been waiting for. If you are wondering whether SEM or SEO is right for your business, you are not the only one.
The truth is, the tactics of both SEO and SEM may sound the same, but they are actually very different. The facts are as following:
  • SEM placements cost money while organic SEO does not
  • SEM placements have the “Ad” button while organic SEO does not
  • SEM search results come with ad extensions while SEO search results have featured snippets
  • You pay each time a user clicks on your SEM result but nothing when they click on your SEO result
  • SEM results show only to a select target audience and SEO results cover a wider audience
  • The impact of SEM is immediate, while SEO takes time
  • SEM is better for testing than SEO
  • SEO adds value over time, SEM does not
  • SEO has a higher click-through rate (CTR) than SEM (but only if you get to the top)
So, the best way to use SEO and SEM is in combination.
In other words, you should do everything to build up your SEO by posting fresh and relevant keyword-optimized content, getting natural links from relevant websites and being present on social media. The key secret to successful SEO for businesses lies in the content you post – which should ideally be unique, relevant and as descriptive and informative as possible.
On the other hand, using SEM for your marketing should come only after you research your target audience and what are they likely to use when searching for your business online. For example, if you sell red T-shirts, you should not advertise your website for the keyword “white T-shirts” – as silly as this example sounds.

A Final Word

In the end…
The goal is to improve both of your SEO and SEM strategies. Do everything in the long run to improve your SEO visibility, and manage your budget reasonably to make the most of your SEM strategy and get a top position in your competitive niche or competitive keywords.
We hope that this guide has taught you about the difference of SEO and SEM, how they differ as a process and when to use each for your business!