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SEM vs SEO: What's the Difference and What do They Entail?

By Nick Raineri

You have a beautiful website up and running, and now you need to get it in front of people who are interested in what you have to offer. The biggest ways of doing this are through search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO).

Defining our terms is typically a good place to start. Some see SEO as being one element within SEM, which can include other elements such as pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Lately, many see a clearer distinction between the two.

Search engine optimization is the process of optimizing all the elements on your website and between your website and other sites in order to increase its rank in what's known as the organic search results.

When discussing search engine marketing, digital marketing professionals are typically referring to the process of engaging in paid advertising efforts in search engines' search results.

Search Engine Optimization

Seo Written on Sticky Note

Search engine optimization is essentially any action or efforts you make in order to get your website to be considerered a relevant search result and rank for a given search term in Google, Bing, or any other search engine.

These actions, therefore, include optimizing the meta-data and content of your website for these keywords. Google also highly regards factors such as fast webpage loading speeds, mobile-friendly websites and the time a visitor spends on your website.

This last factor is one reason why content marketing is important. Many of the latest Google algorithm changes seem directed toward rewarding those sites that offer regularly-updated, high-quality information that is valued by visitors.

Search Engine Marketing

Sem Written on Wooden Blocks

Google Adwords is one of the biggest pay-per-click marketing platforms online with Bing Ads being another popular one.

Pay-per-click marketing is often seen as interchangeable with search engine marketing since this is the primary method by which this form of marketing is done.

Basically, advertisers select certain keywords or keyword phrases that they then place bids on and create ads for, and whenever someone on Google searches for this keyword, their paid ad shows up next to the organic search results. This form of internet promotion does have some advantages.

Search Engine Marketing Advantages

Instant Visibility and Results

After you create an ad that will show for a given group of keywords and select your bid amount for that keyword, your ad campaign goes live within a couple days. This can be a great approach for short term growth.

Greater Personal Control Over Your Search Ranking

Search engine optimization is subject to the unpredictability of search engine algorithm updates. This means that your search ranking is not as completely under your control as it is with pay-per-click marketing.

Easy to Measure Your Return on Investment

On a platform such as Google Adwords, you select a maximum total budget, and no more of your ads appear after this budgeted amount is reached.

They also have measuring analytics available, so you can see which ads got the most clicks. When you incorporate their analytics on your website as well, you can see which ad clicks generated conversions.

This gives you an excellent picture of what your ROI is for a given campaign and for various individual keywords and ads.

Search Engine Optimization Advantages

Higher Return on Investment

SEO is regarded by digital marketing experts as being the highest return on investment method of digital marketing. It can be time consuming, and you have to stay up on algorithm changes to maintain ranking, but making the effort is considered well worth it in terms of the results one typically gets from this long term growth approach.

Greater Credibility

Search engine users who recognize the difference between paid and organic search ads assign much higher credibility to the organic results.

They know that the paid ads mean that someone paid to get that position in the search results. Whereas, the websites that rank organically earned their spot by showing the search engine they contain content that is relevant to what the person searching is looking for.

You May Be Priced out of Many SEM Keywords

About 10 to 15 years ago, search engine marketing services like Google Adwords hadn't been around very long, and not nearly as many people were using these services.

This meant there were incredible opportunities for cheap keywords available in numerous markets.

Nowadays, everyone with a website knows about services like Adwords and Bing Ads, and keywords with bids that are both affordable and that get you on the first page of search results are generating more competition.

SEO Makes a Solid Foundation For SEM

Solid Bulding Foundation

For newer businesses, it may be necessary to do search engine marketing to get your company and product out in front of prospective customers quickly since SEO efforts are meant for long term growth. That said, you should simultaneously be working on improving your SEO in every way you can.

Those valuable actions that make your website better for SEO purposes will also give you better return on investment from your SEM efforts.

Both search engines and site visitors appreciate fast loading webpages, intuitive website navigation, social media integration and high-quality, engaging content.

Having these things in place will increase your chances of getting more conversions from all visitors to your website regardless of whether they are from a paid or organic search listing.

Another consideration in this regard is the amount you are willing to bid on a keyword in Google Adwords is not the sole determinant of where your ad will appear.

Google's own AdWords help page about ad position and ad rank says that this rank is also affected by other factors including “landing page experience.”

If you don't have your ads connecting to webpages that grip a visitor's attention, then your ads may be appearing a lot lower than those of people paying the same amount or even a little less for those same keywords.

The Bottom Line

Search engine marketing can give one a quick boost in online visibility and sales, but search engine optimization definitely needs to be at the core of any plan for long-term success.

You will face tremendous competition online, and SEO will give you the highest return on your promotional investment, which is the key to survival in an online world with ever-tighter profit margins.

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I hope you found this information beneficial and feel free to comment down below any thoughts or questions you may have.

Topics: Search Engine Optimization (SEO), SEO Tips, SEM