While SEO and SEM are related, they work very differently when it comes to various marketing aspects. Although the terms are often used at the same time to reference similar sets of activities, it can be confusing to understand the difference when you’re new to digital marketing.
To be an effective digital marketing professional, it’s essential to have a firm grasp of the two terms and how they work in the marketing arena. Before we can understand how SEO and SEM are different, we need to explain what each concept is and how they both work. Let’s dive in and explore the difference between SEO and SEM.
What Is SEO?
The term Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the term that is used to describe how search engines such as Google or Bing find your website. When your site is optimized for search, search engines can effectively “crawl” your content to determine its value and effectiveness.
Search engines assess several different things on your website, including tags, keywords, headlines or titles, and subheadings. Then, the search engines rank your site’s content for its capacity to draw organic traffic. SEO is all about organic unpaid traffic.
How does SEO Work?
When assessing your site’s content, search engine crawlers look for a few different things.
- Quality content: When you have quality content, it sends a message to the primary search engines that your business and/or website deliver value and relevance.
- User experience: Search engines take into account the experience of the end-users. For example, how fast your website is can play a role in how high you rank in search. Also, if a website is easy to navigate, search engines will see your site as more user-friendly.
- Linking patterns: There are two types of links that you have to consider when working on your SEO: inbound links and outbound links. When you link to authority sites, it helps to establish your site as a trustworthy source. By the same token, if authority websites link to your site, it suggests that your site has valuable content.
It’s definitely possible to learn SEO on your own, but in some cases, it can be more cost-effective in terms of both time and money to work with an agency that can help you optimize your websites.
Also, when you’re relying on organic traffic alone to grow your traffic, it will take longer than it takes if you’re using both SEO and SEM together.
What Is SEM?
What does SEM stand for? Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to the process of incorporating different types of paid search advertising. For example, Google ads are a type of search engine marketing. When you conduct any type of Google search, the item at the top of the search page is typically an advertisement.
SEM is essential for solid brand recognition because it will ensure that you make it to the top of search lists when someone searches for your keyword phrases.
How does SEM Work?
SEM utilizes keyword usage and placement mostly in a paid advertisement form. Some examples of activities involving SEM-based advertising are listed below.
- Writing ad copy or content using specific and very selective keywords
- Paid (targeted) advertising campaigns
- Working with an allotted budget in an advertising activity or campaign
- Analyzing key performance indicators such as cost-per-click (CPC) and click-through rates (CTR) for the purpose of future advertising activities.
When SEM is done effectively, it can catapult your website to the top of the Google search rankings. Generally, doing effective SEM involves investing time in ad design that does a good job of targeting.
Since SEM is done through paid search, you can understand your direct return on investment (ROI) much more easily, thanks to analytics tools. When you use paid ads, you can easily monitor your traffic through your ad campaigns and use the resulting data to create even more effective campaigns. However, Google Analytics and Google Search Console are also great tools that can help you analyze the effectiveness of your SEO efforts.
The downside of SEM is that it does cost money, and if you’re not well-versed in using these tools, it’s easy to throw money away. There is a steep learning curve to running cost-effective and successful ads, and you can quickly blow your entire budget if you don’t know what you’re doing. For this reason, it’s a good idea to work with an SEM agency that has significant expertise in ad campaigns and web marketing for growth driven design.
SEO vs SEM: What Is the Difference?
The differences between SEO and SEM are all about different approaches to effective advertising. SEM refers specifically to paid advertising, so although you will see the terms SEO and SEM used interchangeably, they are completely different concepts.
Keep in mind these two key statements and it will be easy to understand how SEO and SEM are different:
- SEM uses paid ads to get traffic.
- SEO gets traffic via unpaid organic traffic patterns.
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How Can SEO and SEM Work Together?
SEO and SEM work together when a website is first SEO-optimized. When SEO best practices are in place, SEM has a stronger chance of working successfully. When you have both SEO and SEM set up properly, SEO is the foundation for solid SEM.
When you learn how to use SEO and SEM together to complement each other, you will reach a kind of website and marketing zen. Both SEO and SEM rely heavily on keywords for driving traffic to websites and business pages. Both systems are focused on the flow of traffic.
People use search engines to find what they’re looking for, whether it’s information, products, or services. These people will find what they’re looking for through both SEO (organic results) and SEM (paid results).
Today, most people do an online search before they make purchases, so ranking well in search is essential to your company’s success, whether you’re selling a product, a service, or just providing valuable information. Strategically using both SEO and SEM will ensure that you’re increasing your chances of showing up in search.
When an SEO-optimized website and correctly targeted sponsored ads using the correct keywords are in place, you have a good chance of landing at the top of paid searches. Keep in mind that to see you as a credible website, your site’s SEO has to be solid.
SEO and SEM: Moving Forward to the Future
SEO and SEM are constantly shifting to accommodate new trends, societal changes, and the latest technological advances. Because of this, it can be challenging to predict the future of SEO and SEM. Nevertheless, experts can make solid predictions based on past trends and future directions.
- Google’s Accelerated Mobile Project (AMP) will continue to grow in popularity.
- UX (user experience) will become increasingly important to SEO. Google rewards the most user-friendly websites and recent algorithm updates have shown that this trend will continue.
- AI will become more involved in search activities as the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to become more prominent.
- Emphasis on data focus will continue and everything will become increasingly data-driven. This will help companies continue to create more personalized and target advertising campaigns.
- Because of the increased focus on gathering data and the Internet of Things AI, users will become more concerned with privacy.
If you’re considering a career in digital marketing or you’re looking to make sure your own websites are optimized, it’s crucial to stay on top of trends and shifts in the SEO/SEM space. People are more reliant on technology than ever, and this trend will continue to grow. If you’re interested in expert SEO & SEM help or have any questions please reach out!