More and more, SEO and SEM are used interchangeably, to the detriment of everyone. They are not synonyms. While it can be a confusing topic (especially after reading some posts on the subject), once understood it’s actually very simple.

The key aspect to remember is that SEM is an umbrella that covers many aspects of a successful online marketing strategy, including SEO. Also, as a business, you need to understand the difference so that your strategy is properly planned and executed to achieve your objectives.

SEO vs. SEM: The difference between SEO and SEM

Search Engine Marketing (SEM):

According to Webopedia, Search Engine Marketing is an overall strategy “to achieve maximum visibility and increase share of paid and/ or organic traffic.” The main difference then, is that SEO is focused on improving organic search results, while SEM incorporates both organic results and Pay-Per-Click advertising on search engines and social media sites.

Aspects of SEM:

  1. Keyword Research
  2. SEO
  3. Competitive Analysis
  4. PPC (Pay-Per-Click)

SEM uses the belief that a successful marketing strategy is pushing a brand in front of a targeted audience with paid advertising and SEO. With 3.3 billion Google searches per day and 94% of clicks going to the first page, your business has to rank highly to maximize clicks. However, when first starting out, or as a small business competing against international corporations, using a PPC strategy is a way for your site to get to the top of the results page immediately. While this strategy costs more, it provides an opportunity for immediate results compared with the timeline of a structured SEO campaign.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO):

SEO is the strategy of optimizing a website to maximize results on organic searches. This is one of the more difficult aspects of SEM because, as stated by HubSpot’s Nicole Rende, it is “frequently changing due to frequent changes made to Google’s algorithms.”

Best Practices:

  1. Keyword Analysis
  2. Excellent Content
  3. Link Building
  4. Promotion through Social Media
  5. Optimized site for User Experience
  6. Optimized Title Tags, H1 Headers, and Meta Tags

SEO takes longer than PPC campaign, however, when done successfully and maintained over the course of many years, it builds more credibility than PPC ads. This is a direct result of visitors finding your site themselves, as opposed for you paying for an ad at the top of a page.

SEO vs. SEM: The difference between SEO and SEM

Difference between SEM and SEO:

A successful marketing strategy use a complete SEM strategy, which encompasses SEO. How your company chooses to distribute the efforts depends on objectives, timeline, and market. To improve your chances of success, you need to stay up to date on new trends, new keywords that your company needs to rank for, and Google algorithm changes to ensure that you are maximizing your results. Neither SEM or SEO is a one and done solution and both revolve around offering visitors and clients excellent content that helps them make informed decisions.


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