The Difference Between SEO and SEM Part 1

The Difference Between SEO and SEM Part 1

When you are planning a digital marketing campaign, you come across two key strategies: SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing). While both of them aim to reach the same goals, each takes a different approach to doing it.

SEO and SEM are integral to a successful digital marketing campaign. They complement each other perfectly to increase brand awareness, generate leads, achieve conversions, and improve retention. Whatever your marketing and business goals are, you need both strategies to gain a competitive edge.

Let’s take a closer look at the main differences between SEO and SEM.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

SEO involves optimizing your website to place it as high as possible on the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). The key aspects of SEO are:

  • On-page SEO — writing valuable content, using the right keywords, optimizing metadata, creating relevant landing pages.
  • Off-page SEO — building backlinks, optimizing digital profiles, generating positive reviews.
  • Technical SEO — increasing page loading speed, improving on-page user experience, working on mobile-friendliness, tweaking site architecture, beefing up website security.

Search engine optimization uses hundreds of different tactics to achieve the main goal — top spot on the first SERP.

What is Search Engine Marketing?*

SEM involves using paid tactics, such as PPC (pay per click) ads to get your website to the very top of the SERPs, above the organic search results.

SEM uses paid advertising platforms like Google Ads or Bing Ads to place ads in front of the searchers. It involves:

  • Creating paid ads.
  • Setting up the budget.
  • Optimizing and a/b testing paid ads.
  • Streamlining PPC campaigns to achieve business and marketing goals.

SEM uses a variety of different ads to achieve its top goal— get clicks from the target audience with high conversion potential.

*While in this article, we use SEM and PPC synonymously, some marketing experts define SEM as the tandem of SEO and PPC.

Key Differences between SEO and SEM

The main differences between SEO and SEM include:

  • Time — SEM starts yielding results as soon as you launch the campaign. SEO can take several months to demonstrate visible results. It could take several years of SEO efforts for the website to appear on the first page of Google search.
  • Cost — SEO campaigns are less expensive than SEM. With numerous free tools available online, it’s possible to implement a variety of SEO tactics without spending a penny. SEM involves certain expenses. The results of the campaign depend on the budget size.
  • Duration — SEM campaigns stop working as soon as you stop paying. SEO creates a foundation for a strong campaign that lasts for years.
  • Visibility — paid ads only appear in front of certain target audience segments. Organic search results are available to everyone.
  • Flexibility — paid ads are much easier to a/b test to discover what works for the audience. When you split test SEO content, it could take weeks or even months until you get clean results.

While these two approaches are drastically different, they can’t achieve proper results unless they work together.

How SEO and SEM Can Work Together

Here are a few important ways SEO and SEM complement each other:

  • Keyword testing — you can test which keywords work the best for your business by using them in paid ads. Then, the top keywords can be used in the SEO content.
  • Retargeting — since only 2% of visitors who come to your website convert, you need a way to bring them back. Your organic SEO efforts can be strengthened by putting paid ads in front of the visitors after they leave your website.
  • Dominating SERPs — by placing your website on top of the search and your ads above search results, you can dominate the top page of Google, thus improving your conversion rates.

The Takeaway

Search engine optimization uses a variety of organic tactics to place your website on top of the SERPs. Search engine marketing involves paying for placing ads in front of your target audience.

While their nature is completely different, these two strategies work together seamlessly, helping companies achieve the toughest marketing goals.

If you’d like to learn more about using SEO and SEM to achieve your business and marketing goals, please contact us at any convenient time.


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