What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM
The terms search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are often used interchangeably when referring to digital marketing strategies involving search engines. Because of this, many business owners and marketers believe they are the same. While they share some similarities, however, SEM and SEO are two unique methodologies with different characteristics.
SEO is a Part of SEM
SEM is a broad term that encompasses all forms of digital marketing in which the primary goal is to increase a website’s visibility in the search engines. That includes SEO, pay-per-click (PPC) marketing and other forms of digital promotion involving the search engines.
SEO, on the other hand, refers specifically to the use of on-page and off-page processes with the goal of increasing a website’s ranking in the search results. So, SEO is a part of SEM.
The primary objective of SEO is to achieve a higher organic rank in the search engines for one or more keywords. The owner of a website that sells custom engagement rings, for instance, may want to rank for keywords such as “custom engagement rings,” “custom wedding rings” and “personalized wedding rings.” Anyone searching for these keywords will presumably be interested in buying a custom engagement ring from the owner’s site. Therefore, the owner optimizes his or her website to rank for these keywords.
SEO is a tricky subject, however, because of the tight-lipped nature of search engines. While Google has revealed some of the factors it uses to determine where websites rank, it has not shown its exact algorithm. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. If Google disclosed its ranking algorithm, webmasters would know how to manipulate their search rankings.
There are still ways to encourage higher search rankings, and that’s the basis of SEO. It involves building backlinks on relevant and authoritative websites, as well as publishing high-quality content and performing other on-page optimization processes.
Benefits of SEO
SEO offers several benefits, one of which is the simple fact that it’s free (or almost free). Unlike PPC channels like Google AdWords or Bing Ads, you don’t have to pay for traffic generated from SEO. Once your website begins to rank high, you’ll create targeted traffic that doesn’t cost a dime. That is in stark contrast to PPC traffic, which charges advertisers by the click. You’ll still have to pay for website hosting, domain registration, and other traditional website expenses, but the traffic generated from SEO is entirely free.
Users also trust organic search listings more than paid listings. Any company can buy an ad placement for its website, but only those deemed worthy by the search engines will rank high organically.
Furthermore, users are more likely to click organic search listings than paid listings. According to Search Engine Land, organic listings receive 70% of all clicks, whereas paid listings earn just 30%. Again, this is probably attributable to the fact that users trust organic listings more than paid listings.
The primary goal of SEM is to achieve greater visibility in the search engines. That typically involves SEO as well as PPC.
All of the major search engines offer PPC advertising, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo. One way to get your website listed in the search engines is to optimize it using SEO. An alternative method, however, is to create a PPC ad. Using AdWords or Bing Ads, you can create text ads for your website that appear in the search results and choose the keywords to trigger these ads. The only time you’ll be charged is when someone clicks one of your ads.
Because it involves PPC, SEM requires a more substantial monetary investment than SEO. That is why some online entrepreneurs stick with SEO. If you have the resources, though, investing in SEM can prove far more lucrative and beneficial than using only SEO.
Benefits of SEM
SEM is a versatile, robust digital marketing strategy that allows businesses to strengthen their presence in the search engines. Combining PPC and SEO will enable you to display your website in multiple locations. In addition to an organic listing, you’ll also have a paid listing. If your site sells physical products, you can create three listings for the same keyword by creating an AdWords Shopping campaign as well.
By consuming more digital estate, SEM can offset some of the costs associated with PPC. Depending on the competition, PPC advertising typically costs $1 to $3 per click. If you generate 500 clicks, you’ll have to pay $500 to $1,500. If you get 500 clicks from PPC and 500 from SEO, however, you are essentially getting twice the traffic for the same price.
SEM also delivers fast results. It can take over a year to achieve a high, stable search ranking through SEO. In comparison, PPC ads are almost instant. After you’ve created a PPC ad, Google will review it to ensure it doesn’t violate its guidelines. Assuming it looks good, your ad will go live. This entire process usually takes less than 24 hours.
Furthermore, SEM guarantees your website will appear for a specific keyword. You can spend countless hours optimizing your site for a keyword, only to discover little to no change in its search ranking. If Google believes other sites are more relevant and provide a better user experience, it will rank them higher than your website. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem with PPC. If you’re willing to bid high enough, you can display your site at the top of the search results for your target keywords.
The Bottom Line on SEM vs. SEO
So, should you use SEM or SEO to promote your website? SEM is more potent than SEO, both for digital marketing strategy and to achieve more targeted traffic. With that said, not everyone has the about the budget or time for SEM. If you’re just getting your feet wet with digital marketing and not willing to invest any serious money into it, SEO can still help you achieve your goals.
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