SEM vs SEO: What’s the Difference & Right Strategy?
Here is all the difference between SEM vs SEO. As marketing grows, so does the language we use as marketers. Like several industries, we’re guilty of tossing around jargon and acronyms that can leave clients confused. And, to be honest, we marketers are likely involved in some terms, too!
Here are two doozies: SEO and SEM. Unfortunately, these two terms (both acronyms) are often used interchangeably without a clear understanding of how they’re related and how they differ.
- Is SEO part of SEM?
- What components are included in SEM?
- Isn’t organic SEO the best long-term approach?
This article explains it all, but one point is clear: they have a symbiotic relationship and, when both are leveraged to their full potential, they can get you great marketing results.
SEM vs SEO – Definitions, Differences, and Strategies
Let’s start with definitions. Here’s an easy-to-remember way to begin:
SEO is an organic search strategy.
SEM is a paid search strategy.
Yes, these are separate (but closely related) plans, yet both should be involved in your company’s online search marketing arsenal. It would be best if you had SEO to do SEM properly.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) aims to increase the number of website visitors by elevating the site’s position within results returned by a search engine. This is done by continuously optimizing the site to rank higher. Because of Google’s ever-changing algorithms, SEO tactics are constantly changing, too. However, one thing stays consistent: SEO is made up of “on-page” and “off-page” strategies (see more below).
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) involves increasing website traffic by using paid ads to increase a website’s visibility on search engines. However, your ad copy and targeting plan must align with keywords that match your target buyers’ search queries, allowing your ads to show up in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). In addition, paid ads allow your business to increase the visibility of its web pages, landing pages, blog articles, and more. So, marketers utilizing SEM must tap into both SEO — for keyword strategy and having high-quality content — and pay-per-click (PPC) ads to target potential buyers and drive traffic. So, yes, SEO is a component of SEM.
ON-PAGE SEO STRATEGIES
- Optimized metadata — incorporate target keywords into page title tag, meta description, heading tags, image ALT tags
- Optimized page copy (that’s also well-written) using strategic keyword research
- Simple, well-formatted page URLs with selective keywords
- Optimized page speed
- Social sharing integration within your content
- Internal link building utilizing targeted keywords and avoiding generic link text
- Content optimized for featured snippets that immediately answer a query; can be definitions, lists, tables, steps
OFF-PAGE SEO STRATEGIES
- Link building to draw and obtain quality inbound links; backlinks help make up the majority of off-page SEO
- Social signals — boosting traffic to a website from social media sharing
- Social bookmarking to grab consideration using sites like Reddit, Digg, and MIX
- Links from industry-specific communities to bring your target audience
- Local SEO benefits businesses promote their products and services to local customers
Create valuable, high-quality content that your target audience finds helpful (blog articles and web page copy, for instance). This helps build your authority over time and results in increased organic website traffic, more opportunities for inbound links, and, most importantly, more conversions.
Pay attention to these on-page and off-page tactics to secure your landing pages, web pages, and blog articles are optimized for search.
Google Ads is far and apart from the most popular platform for hosting search engine ads. Consider other possibilities, too, such as Bing ads, Yahoo search ads, and Amazon-sponsored ads for suitable industries. For example, if you have a target market in China, put an advertisement on Baidu.
Wherever you want to spend your internet marketing dollars, there are some key strategies for successful SEM:
- Start ad campaigns with a specific audience (e.g., geographic, industry, etc.) in mind
- Build ad groups that consist of target keyword variations
- Write relevant ad copy using those particular keywords.
- Set an ad budget
- Monitor metrics like hits, impressions, click-through rates, and average cost-per-click
- Create retargeting audiences
- Develop targeted social media ads on suitable networks, such as LinkedIn
There are other considerations when launching and managing an effective paid search ad campaign, but these seven are especially important for any beginner. If you want to ramp up your SEM aims to complement organic search engine optimization, take a look at Google Ads.
Which is better? Should You Use SEO or SEM?
OK, you now know that’s a trick question. SEO is a component of SEM, a foundation. You can’t have successful SEM without SEO, so one isn’t more useful than the other. You also know that you shouldn’t use the terms “SEO” and “SEM” interchangeably.
FOCUS ON SEO FIRST
SEO lays the foundation for SEM through well-optimized content that candidates and customers find helpful. Without landing pages, web pages, and blog content optimized for search, SEM works fall flat due to poor quality. Gaining visibility on search engine results pages (SERPs) ends up being very difficult as a result.
Organic SEO helps establish search credibility, but it’s necessary to consistently create quality content and share it on social media and other content distribution and promotion channels. In other words, you need to have something for which people will find good of searching.
WHEN TO FOCUS ON SEM
Are you just starting your company’s website and creating your initial online footprint to promote your product or service? Then you’ll likely need instant visibility in search until you build up your organic credibility. With a strategic PPC campaign, you’ll be able to achieve this.
Of course, you can’t rely strictly on PPC over the long term. You need to create great content that visitors will want to engage with once they get to your website.
Evaluate what’s best for your specific needs, but make sure you fully understand the differences between SEM and SEO and how you’ll maintain your efforts in the future.
Discover more tips and solid insights within four chapters on our SEO deep-dive page. From the basics to the brain-twisting, we cover it all.