Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are familiar terms in the internet marketing lingo. That said, new online marketers often aren’t sure what these two terms really mean. Some even use them interchangeably, which is akin to saying Texas when you want to say USA.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It’s a process which online marketers use to gain better rankings on search page results.
SEM, on the other hand, is the short-form of Search Engine Marketing. It is much bigger than SEO, as it includes SEO and a host of other things, much like USA is made of Texas and many other states.
As you can see, SEO can never be used in place of SEM and vice-versa.
Let’s take a deep look at both to develop a better understanding about them and inherent differences between them.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
In plain English, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to a set of rules which online marketers can follow to make their sites more likeable to search engines and improve their sites’ rankings on search page results.
However, there’s more to Search Engine Optimization than just this.
It is also an effective way to improve your site’s quality. If you do SEO correctly, your site will automatically become faster, more user-friendly, and easier to browse.
Why You Need Search Engine Optimization?
One word that’s nearly always used along with SEO is organic traffic, which refers to people who visit your site on their own.
So who are these people?
These are those individuals who do an internet search using keywords or key phrases and then click an URL appearing on the search engine results page (SERP).
Without Search Engine Optimization you’ll not get free traffic.
As said above, SEO is all about improving your search engine ranking. Where your site is ranked on search engines results page determines, more than anything else, how much organic traffic your site gets.
Research shows majority of internet users click on one of the top 5 ranked sites in the results page. That’s why it is paramount that you do everything possible to get into this coveted list.
What Components Do Search Engine Optimization Include?
Search Engine Optimization comprises of many activities, which can be divided into categories: On-page SEO and Off-page SEO.
On-page SEO refers to techniques that help make your site more search-engine friendly. It includes, among others, the following:
- Content marketing (e.g. posting regular blog posts on your blog)
- Optimizing your content for relevant key phrases, keywords, and LSI keywords
- Using title tags, heading tags, meta descriptions, and alt texts and incorporating selective keywords into them
- Improving web page load time
- Formatting page URLs effectively
Off-page SEO, on the other hand, includes those SEO techniques that help you get links from other sites and make your site more trustable to search engines. Sites which have more quality links are ranked higher than those that don’t. Off-page SEO activities include, among others, the following:
- Content marketing (e.g. publishing content on various guest blog sites)
- Social bookmarking (Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc.)
- Social sharing signals
What is Search Engine Marketing?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) refers to the process that allows you to increase organic as well as paid traffic. Organic traffic, as said above, is boosted through search engine optimization. That’s why SEO is an integral part of SEM.
Without it, Search Engine Marketing can’t be complete. At the same time, SEM also includes other subsets beside SEO.
So, which are these components?
One of the main SEM techniques, other than SEO, is paid advertising, also known as paid search advertising. Online marketers use it to purchase advertising space on the search engine results page.
Paid advertising is for paid traffic what SEO is for organic traffic. You can’t get free traffic with SEM. Similarly, you can get paid traffic only through paid advertising.
In SEO you try to get your site ranked higher on results page to divert organic traffic toward it. While in paid search advertising, you put your ads in front of online users to encourage them to click them and visit your site or blog.
The most popular advertising agency for paid advertising is in none other than Google AdWords or Google Ads. You can use it to display your advertisements on Google search results page.
Whenever a user clicks on your ads, you’ll have to pay an agreed rate to Google. Because you pay for every click, this process is widely known as PPC or pay-per-click.
PPC marketing or PPC ads helps you improve brand awareness, increase site traffic, and consequently boost sales.
In addition to Google, Yahoo and Bing offer internet businesses the option to do PPC marketing. However, these two search engines are not very successful.
Search Engine Marketing is Costly Than Search Engine Optimization
That’s not surprising because SEM contains other marketing processes beside SEO. That said, this is not the only reason why SEM is usually several times more expensive than SEO.
Theoretically speaking, you can do SEO yourself, especially if you’re good at writing content. Identifying the right keywords doesn’t take much time, with free tools available that can do this work for you, but writing website content and blog posts does. That’s why most online marketers choose to outsource content writing.
Search Engine Marketing includes PPC, among other things. PPC ads can cost you a significant amount, depending on the duration of your campaign. The longer you run PPC ads, the more money you’ll have to spend.
Paid Traffic is More Targeted
The other difference between SEO and SEM is that SEM traffic is more targeted. Precisely for this reason, it enjoys a better conversion rate.
People use Google to search for information or an answer to their problems. They aren’t necessarily looking to buy your product or service. Whereas when people click an ad, they are more likely to make a purchase.
Which is Better – Search Engine Optimization or Search Engine Marketing?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It all depends on two things: your overall marketing strategy and marketing budget.
If yours is a startup company, your marketing budget is likely to be limited. If you’ve an established brand and no budget problems, paid search might work well for you, particularly if you’ve a narrowly defined target market.
One thing needs to be said here. Every online business needs SEO. In today’s cut-throat market, that’s no longer an option.