What is the Difference Between SEM and SEO?

As marketing has changed, so has the language used by marketers. All of us are guilty of getting confused with different acronyms and jargon that most often leave our clients too confused. In fact, we as digital marketers are possibly confused ourselves at times on what do certain acronym and terms mean.

One of the common examples of such terms that are most of the time used interchangeably without a clear understanding of how they are related to each other and how are they different from each other are: SEO & SEM

Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be a confusing thing to grasp. Is there any difference between them? Often, both these terms are used interchangeably, which increases the confusion.

What is the key difference between SEM and SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is traditionally been considered as a component of the umbrella term, Search engine marketing (SEM), encompasses both organic and paid tactics. Today, search engine marketing is used to refer to the paid search.

As per the Search Engine Land, Search Engine Marketing is the procedure of gaining website traffic by buying ads on the search engines, whereas search engine optimization is the process of gaining traffic to the website from free, organic, natural and editorial search results on the search engines.”

Therefore, instead of considering SEM as an umbrella term including SEO, it is more precise to view SEM, i.e. paid search and SEO, i.e. organic search as two different entities to use as a part of your search engine marketing collection.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

The discipline and industry of SEO are continually changing to keep up with the ever-changing algorithm of Google, but one thing remains constant: SEO includes on-page and off-page activities as its two vital components.

On -page SEO includes:

A) Optimized metadata that includes the title tag, meta description, heading tags, image ALT tag, which should include target keywords after a keyword research
B) Well-written and well-optimized page content
C) Well-formatted page URL’s with chosen keywords
D) Optimized page speed
E) Integration of social media sharing within your content

Off-page SEO contains:

A) Link building for attracting and attain quality inbound links, i.e. quality backlinks
B) Social media marketing, i.e. increasing traffic to a website through social media sharing
C) Getting traffic from various social bookmarking websites like Digg, Stumbleupon, and Reddit
A large part of SEO is developing valuable, high-quality content (e.g. blogs and web copy) that your target audience will find helpful.

With time, this results in increasing organic traffic to your website, more opportunities for different inbound links, and most significantly, results in more conversions. Be sure to pay attention to these on-page and off-page techniques to make sure that your landing page, website, and blogs are well-optimized for search.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Search engine marketing (SEM) involves earning search visibility with the help of paid ads on the search engine, Google. While these ads are generally referred to as pay-per-click advertising, there are few additional terms that are used for SEM and paid search activities-cost-per-click ads, paid search advertising, and paid search ads.

PPC advertising helps you to target potential buyers with the help of right ad copy and keywords that match their search queries. These PPC ads are displayed in the search engine results page, next to the organic listings, which gives the business owner an opportunity to increase the visibility of his/her website, landing pages, web pages, blogs, and articles.

Few examples of SEM activities
Google AdWords is by far the most popular platform for hosting ads, but there are a few activities required for successful search engine marketing on the platform, like:
1) Launching a paid search campaign with a target audience in mind
2) Creating ad groups that include variations in target keywords
3) Writing an appropriate ad copy by utilizing certain selective keywords
4) Fixing an ad budget
5) Checking the metrics like impressions, clicks, cost-per-click and average pay for each click

There are various other intricacies that are involved in launching and maintaining efficient search campaigns, but these activities are very important for any beginner to learn. If you are planning to work on your SEM efforts to bring improvements in organic SEO, don’t forget to have a look at the Google Ads’ search page.

So, which is better? SEO or SEM?

Advocates argue that one is more effective than others, but, high-quality SEO is a prerequisite for high-quality SEM. SEO lays the foundation for SEM through a well-optimized content that customers will find helpful. Without landing pages, blog content and web pages being optimized for search, your SEM efforts will not produce positive results. Organic SEO is less costly and produces long-term results if you handle it with a reliable creation of social media usage and quality content.

On the contrary, if you are launching your first website, you are probably going to require some instant visibility in the search until you build up certain organic credibility. With a strategic online marketing strategy, you will be able to attain this. What you should avoid doing is depend strictly on the PPC for the long-term while avoiding the organic SEO.

Therefore, you must first evaluate what is best for your needs and ensure that you understand the differences fully and you know how to maintain your efforts for the long term.

How SEM and SEO are different from each other

SEO mainly focuses on organic search results, i.e. the results that are generated by Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines that are not considered as ads, including the local mapping too. Paid search, on the contrary, focuses on the bidding system where a high-paying advertiser gets the chance to place the most prominent ad and is charged when a user clicks on that ad. The real question should not focus on SEO vs SEM but should be what type of results does each one of them produce.

Fishing is a perfect example here. Paid search is like going out with your dropping bait and fishing rod in certain areas where you know there are fishes. On the other hand, SEO is like dropping a fishing net in the river in the areas where you heard the fish jumping. With both the methods fish can be caught, but not in the same manner.

Paid search is agile and precise. You will get the searchers you are looking for, but you need to pay for that convenience. Search engine optimization is technically free of cost, but it takes effort and research to ensure that you have put your net in the right place, and you are catching the right fish. It takes a longer time to move a net than to pack up your things and find another lake, and the same is true for a search engine campaign vs a paid search campaign.

Why any of this matter?

The effect on your results. You should not expect fast results from an SEO campaign, and it is also not correct to expect long-term results from a paid search campaign without investing in it. When used correctly, paid search and SEO will fill each other’s gaps and support each other with their strengths.

Search engine optimization is a perfect choice for branded keywords once a brand is established, whereas paid search is perfect for advertising campaigns. You should know which tactic to use for a digital marketing campaign.

The influence on who you appoint. If you are looking for search engine optimizers and using the term, SEM, you will be flooded with candidates who have more experience in SEM than in SEO. You will also find an SEO specialist who has experience in paid search, however, it is better not to hire a single person who can handle both. For best results, an individual must focus on either SEO or SEM at a time.

If you want to know more about SEO and SEM, join the best digital marketing course in Bangalore offered by Streamlyn Academy. Here, we teach students, entrepreneurs and professionals’ basic concept of digital marketing, Google Analytics, programmatic advertising and much more. Want to be a digital marketer in the future? For more info, contact us.

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