seo vs sem marketing strategyBryan Miller

6 minute read

SEO vs SEM: What’s the difference?

Published 2021-12-20T06:00:00 by Bryan Miller

When you’re creating and managing any type of website, SEO and SEM are among two of the most important terms to understand. Both of these terms will inform your approach to marketing, which is why it’s essential that you understand how to utilize these marketing strategies. SEO stands for search engine optimization, which is a strategy that focuses on using organic methods to improve your ranking on search engines like Google and Bing. This type of strategy uses a wide range of different marketing techniques to improve a website’s ranking, which includes everything from placing keywords in website content to improving load speed between site pages.

SEM, or search engine marketing, is a method that uses paid advertising to appear towards the top of search results. If you want to gain visibility for your website and brand, the paid ads you create can appear on relevant search results, which some users will click on. These users will be taken to a landing page or your website, which gives you the opportunity to convert a visitor into a customer. Even though SEM uses paid ads, you don’t pay any money on these ads until a user actually clicks on one. While these marketing strategies differ from one another, they can also work together to deliver fantastic results for your marketing campaign.

When you create paid ads for your search engine marketing campaign, you can use SEO to optimize these ads and increase the likelihood that your website gains more traffic. Before you start working on these marketing techniques, it’s highly recommended that you take some time to study them and learn about their differences. This guide takes a closer look at SEO and SEM while also discussing how they differ.

SEO Defined

SEO defined in date analytics

Search engine optimization is a form of search marketing that aims to use organic methods to improve rankings on search engine results pages. By utilizing this technique, you won’t be tasked with paying for placement on SERPs. The goal of SEO is to make your website, content, and ads more authoritative and valuable, which will help you push your website towards the top of search engine results.

Before you start implementing SEO into your website, keep in mind that this form of optimization includes hundreds of different components that you can use to improve your ranking, which include everything from making good use of keywords to placing a meta title and description at the top of every web page.

Four Pillars of SEO

Even though there are hundreds of different components that make up SEO, these components can be separated into four pillars of SEO, which include technical SEO, on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and content.

Technical SEO – This form of SEO aims to improve the technical components of a website, which can involve making enhancements to mobile friendliness, site speed, structured data, indexing, crawlability, and security.

On-page SEO – This type of SEO centers on optimizing the web page itself, which means that every page on your website can benefit from on-page SEO. The primary elements of on-page SEO include image alt tags, title optimization, meta tag optimization, and header optimization.

Off-page SEO – This type of SEO focuses on bolstering the authority and trustworthiness of a website by connecting it directly to other relevant and high-authority websites. When a search engine notices that your website is becoming more trustworthy, it’s likely that your website will receive a higher position in search engine results. The primary off-page SEO tactics to consider using include PR and link building.

Content – Content is a key ranking factor on Google that allows you to improve your search rankings while also providing users with relevant content that they might be interested in. If a web page on your website doesn’t contain content that users will find relevant, there’s no reason for Google or other search engines to place the page towards the top of search rankings since it won’t provide the user with the content they’re searching for. While copywriting is an essential aspect of content, it’s highly recommended that you develop a strong content strategy to get the most out of this technique.

SEM Defined

SEM defined in data analytics

Search engine marketing is similar to SEO but is designed to improve search rankings with paid ads as opposed to organic marketing. This form of marketing is also commonly referred to as pay-per-click, which can be done on such platforms as Bing Ads and Google Ads.

While creating an effective paid ad is essential for a successful SEM campaign, search engine marketing also involves everything from paid ad optimization to managing your account. You can start an SEM campaign by performing extensive competitor research and keyword research, both of which will help you develop targeted campaigns that boost your brand’s visibility while also getting more users to your website.

Campaigns of SEM

The five types of campaigns that are part of search engine marketing include:

SEM search ads are text-only ads that appear on Google search results. If you pair your ad with the right keywords, you can get your search ads in front of your target audience, which should help you increase traffic and conversions.

types of advertising

Display Ads

Display ads are large online advertisements that consist of images, text, and a complete URL to your website that will allow users to continue down the sales funnel. If a user clicks on a display ad, you can be confident that they are at least somewhat interested in the product/service that you offer. As long as the user lands on an appealing web page, it’s possible that he or she will end up taking an action on your website, which could be anything from creating an account to buying a product.

Shopping Ads

Shopping ads can also appear at the top of Google search results but include much more information when compared to text-only search ads. It’s possible for a shopping ad to be comprised of a product photo, title, store name, and price. These ads provide users with visual information that could push them to select the ads and make a purchase. The link you include in the ad should link back to the product that’s being advertised.

YouTube Ads

YouTube ads provide you with the ability to use video marketing to enhance your brand. The video ads that you create can be placed at the beginning of different YouTube videos. With the right approach, you could place your ads in front of videos that your target audience likely views.

Gmail Ads

Gmail ads appear directly in Gmail accounts within the “Social” and “Promotions” tabs. These ads are initially collapsed and only consist of a subject line. Once a user clicks on the ad, it will expand and can include photos, forms, and videos. An effective search engine marketing campaign is one that includes all of these campaigns.

Similarities of SEO vs. SEM

While SEO and SEM are two different forms of marketing, they do have some similarities that you should be aware of. These similarities include:

  • Improve website visibility – By making use of relevant keywords, both SEM and SEO can help your website appear towards the top of search results, which will bring in more traffic.
  • Drive quality and relevant traffic – Each strategy directly encourages users to enter your website.
  • Use keyword research – Both of these strategies use keyword research to identify relevant keywords, which is done by studying the competition.
  • Allow you to better understand audience – If you want to correctly implement SEO or SEM into your marketing campaign, you will need to have a firm understanding of your primary audience.
  • Require ongoing optimization and testing – Each strategy requires constant monitoring and refining if you want the strategies to provide you with long-term success as well as a high ROI.

Differences of SEO vs. SEM

The primary differences between SEO and SEM include:

  • SEM ads are easy to distinguish – Users can easily identify paid SEM ads because of the “Ad” icon that’s placed on them, which doesn’t exist with organic listings. With paid SEM ads, it’s easier to control who sees your ads and when these ads are displayed.
  • SEM ads are paid – Whenever a user clicks on an SEM ad, you will need to pay for the click or impression that occurred. On the other hand, organic advertising is essentially free, which means that your costs won’t increase whenever someone clicks on your website.
  • SEM results are immediate – Once your SEM campaign goes live, you should be able to see results of the campaign in just a couple of minutes. You’ll know when and how many users click on your paid ads. As for SEO, it may take weeks or months for you to identify the results of your efforts.
  • SEO provides cumulative results – SEO adds cumulative value over time since the results are long-lasting. On the other hand, the increased visibility that occurs with SEM will stop completely once you turn off the ads.
  • Testing and Refining SEM is simpler – While both SEM and SEO should be tested, it’s easier to perform tests and refine SEM ads. You can use A/B testing with SEM marketing, which will allow you to obtain immediate results that tell you exactly which elements of your current ads should be refined.

Both SEM and SEO have their advantages and should be key elements of your marketing efforts. While SEO is a more long-term strategy, it can pay dividends at driving traffic to your website without incurring high marketing costs. As for SEM marketing, the PPC ads you create can be targeted to your exact audience, which can help you strengthen your conversion rates and revenues.

Bryan Miller

Bryan Miller

Bryt Designs

Bryan Miller is an entrepreneur and web tech enthusiast specializing in web design, development and digital marketing. Bryan is a recent graduate of the MBA program at the University of California, Irvine and continues to pursue tools and technologies to find success for clients across a varieties of industries.

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