SEO and SEM! The campaigns may sound the same, but in reality, they are different when it comes to search optimization. Using the terms SEM and SEO interchangeably and not knowing the differences between the two, might make you not be able to communicate a clear and effective strategy for improving your visibility in search engines.
Search optimization is an indispensable marketing strategy for a business trying to attract attention, drive website traffic, and grow its business.
This post will give you a clear understanding of SEM and SEO and the value of each.
You will also learn SEO and SEM basics and strategies that can help you improve your visibility and performance in search.
So let’s begin.
What is Search Marketing?
Search marketing relates to any strategy that helps a brand get attention by appearing on search engine results pages (SERPs). It also comprises efforts to get higher rankings and increase search visibility so you can drive more traffic to a website or specific web pages.
There are two main types of search marketing:
- SEM – Search Engine Marketing
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Like most things, the definitions associated with search marketing have evolved. Some marketers may consider SEM to be an umbrella term that embraces both paid and organic strategies.
But in order to make your marketing plan clear, it is best you break the terms into these distinct categories for easier understanding.
- SEM uses PAID strategies to appear in search engines.
- SEO uses ORGANIC strategies to appear in search engines.
The core difference between SEM vs. SEO is that SEM is a paid strategy and SEO is an organic strategy.
Because these terms can be interchangeably and can mean different things to different marketers, you should always clarify the terminology before working with search partners.
What is SEM?
SEM, or search engine marketing, is often considered the part of search marketing that involves and uses PAID strategies to gain visibility in SERPs. A paid SEM strategy includes both the activities involved with setting up and improving ads as well as developing a budget that pays for the placement of ads.
This strategy is often denoted as paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing.
Google Ads is an example and commonly the search provider that is used for this strategy.
With this strategy, businesses conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target the best keywords for their industry, products, or services. When users perform a search query for those keywords, they see the custom ads at the top or bottom of SERPs. And one of the good things is that the business is charged only when a user clicks on the ad. So a user can see your business ad 100 times and click on it once and you only get billed the one time the user clicked on your ad. That’s amazing and cost-friendly.
Paid ads allow your business to increase the visibility of its web pages, blog articles, landing pages, and more.
So, digital marketers using SEM must tap into both SEO — for keyword strategy and having high-quality content — and pay-per-click (PPC) ads to target probable buyers and drive traffic.
What is SEO?
SEO, or search engine optimization, is the part of search marketing that uses ORGANIC strategy to gain visibility in SERPs.
With SEO, brands do not pay for placement on SERPs. Instead, they use different kind of tactics that makes search engines show their content near the top of SERPs because the result is valuable, useful and authoritative.
SEO has hundreds of tactics that can help a business increase its search rankings. These SEO techniques are often grouped into three categories.
1.On-page SEO: It optimizes each page of a website to target a specific keyword and attract the search engines. These strategies usually include keyword research, keyword optimization, and content creation. On-page optimization in SEO helps search engines comprehend a page of content and, thus, give it higher ranks.
2.Technical SEO: It optimizes the non-content elements of a website and the website as a whole to improve its backend structure and foundation. These strategies involve website speed, indexing, mobile-friendliness, website architecture, structured data, and security.
Technical SEO enhances both user and search crawler experience, which leads to higher search rankings.
3.Off-page SEO: It builds a website’s reputation and authority by linking it to other high-quality websites. Off-page SEO techniques often include link building (gaining high-quality backlinks) from other websites and management of local listings and directory profiles. When many websites link to a brand’s website, it shows search engines that the brand’s website is trustworthy, reputable, and reliable, which increases its search rankings.
It is paramount to know that a strong SEO plan doesn’t just focus on just one of these three types of SEO but instead relies on the combination of all three strategies to produce the best results.
SEM vs. SEO: What’s the Difference?
SEM and SEO are the core essentials of search marketing and they possess different characteristics. But when you compare SEM vs. SEO, you will find out that they both have similarities that overlap and differences that separate them.
SEM vs. SEO: The Similarities
1. Both help a brand appear in search results
One of the SEO and SEM basics is that they both aim to help a brand appear in notable positions on SERPs. Their end goal is to help a brand show up in search results when users search for specific terms related to the brand’s industry, business, or offerings.
2.Both are used to drive more traffic to a website
The goal of both strategies is to gain visibility on SERPs, but more importantly, they both drive traffic to a website. Each strategy has ways to increase a website click-through rate (CTR) and get more people to click on the search results or the keyword that leads to your website.
3.Both require knowledge of your audience
To thrive at both strategies, you must have a proper understanding of your audience and their behavior. By using tactics such as buyer personas and psychographic segmentation, you can get to know your audience, discover their needs and wants, and even know what they are searching for.
Using this knowledge, you can create useful contents that show up when they go searching for solutions associated with your brand.
4.Both use keyword research as a core part of their strategy
The first step for both SEM and SEO is performing keyword research to find the best keywords to target. This research includes looking at keyword popularity to know the top keywords or buying keywords that your model audience will search for.
Using this keyword knowledge to target your audience so they easily find you when they need your service or products.
5.Both entail testing and constant optimization.
When using SEM or SEO, you should know that neither is a strategy that you can set and forget as soon as the first sales come in. Both require continual testing, monitoring, and optimization to increase performance.
SEM vs. SEO: The Differences
1.SEM includes an “Ad” designation. SEO does not
Search results that appear as a result of SEM or SEO look different on SERPs. Paid ads that receive exposure through SEM strategy are often identified as an ad usually by an icon appearing next to the ads, whereas the search results that receive exposure as a result of organic SEO are not marked in such a manner.
2.SEM has ad extensions. SEO has featured snippets
When comparing SEM vs. SEO, you will find differences in the appearance of the search results. SEM search results might include ad extensions, which can add and have important information like additional links, phone numbers, and callouts. While SEO on the other hand may appear with featured snippets in search.
3.SEM is paid. SEO is free
You only pay when a user clicks on an SEM result. While with SEO, you pay nothing. So with SEM, it’s best to have a budget that continually shows your SEM ads, using a form of Pay per click (PPC) lead generation.
4. SEM results show to your select target audience. SEO results do not
While successful SEO and SEM tactics are driven by a plan to reach a target audience, you can only specify that target audience you desire through SEM. Through SEM, you can select what type of audiences you want to see the search results by assigning filters based on age, income, habits, location, and more. Through SEO, you cannot specifically target who will see your search results.
5.The impact of SEM is immediate. SEO takes time
Through paid SEM ads, you can start to see your results immediately and how effective it is. As soon as you launch a campaign, your ads start showing in SERPs and also appear on your target audience search query.
At any time, you can turn your ads on to increase visibility or turn them off to stop showing. While with SEO, it takes time to get results. A really long time if we are being honest.
It can take months of implementing an SEO strategy before a business begins to rank on search engines.
6.SEO adds value over time. SEM does not
SEM only works when you pay. As soon as you turn off your ads, your SEM strategy is over. SEO is the opposite. SEO strategy grows and compounds over time, leaving lasting results.
SEM vs. SEO: Which is Better?
Now that you have knowledge of SEM vs. SEO, it will now be easier for you to decide which tactic is right for your marketing strategies. They both have their uses and they both have where they are not useful. Your goal should be to utilize both strategies for your brand, using them both to complement their weakness and boost their strength.
If you want instant results or brand awareness, maybe as you are launching a new product or offering a discount service, using SEM will be perfect for such a campaign as it will bring instant results since your campaign is time-based. You can also use SEM to test strategies out especially if you aren’t sure how customers and competitors will respond to your offerings or content. Running an SEM campaign gives you the opportunity to test your ideas, products, and services
And if your goal is a long-time goal or you want to be a go-to site for solutions then you should incorporate SEO in your strategy. With better content, you can attract new users to your brand and even keep the existing users engaged. SEO also helps with cost-per-click(CPC), so if by the end of your research, you find out you need to pay high for cost-per-click, it might be better to put your focus on SEO since it’s free.
There are a lot of factors to consider. Some businesses may choose to focus on SEO. Others may choose to focus on SEM. It all depends on you and what your business goal is. Instead of exchanging one for the other, use both of them as they are both useful.
Now that you know the similarities and differences between SEM and SEO, you will be better equipped to decide how each can help your brand reach its goals.