Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two marketing channels businesses can use to reach their target audiences on search engines. Although often used interchangeably, these two practices cover different aspects of online marketing.
SEO is vital for brands that want to boost their online visibility and drive organic website traffic, and it can be challenging to manage it without knowing when to use it with or without SEM. But once you understand the differences and similarities between the two, you’ll get a grasp on how to apply them to reach your online marketing goals.
In this article, we discuss what SEO and SEM are, how they differ, how they match, and how your business can benefit from each.
Search Engine Optimization is the process in which search engines crawl the content to see how effectively it will draw traffic. That said, search engines will assess several things on a website, including keywords, link titles, and tags, and rank it for its ability to attract organic traffic based on different factors.
Here are some of the things search engines look for:
When using SEO, marketers optimize their websites by working through on-page SEO, off-page SEO, and technical SEO to get the best results for a specific query they want to rank high on Google or other search engines like Bing.
On-page SEO is about optimizing elements on the web page that help crawlers understand the content in context. This includes title, H1, meta tag optimization, and image alt tags, to name a few.
Off-page SEO helps build site authority through link building, PR, and other tactics. This practice focuses on improving the authority and trustworthiness of a website in search engines’ eyes and its users by connecting it to relevant, high-authority websites. That said, if crawlers see that users trust a website, they will be more likely to rank it higher.
Technical SEO focuses on enhancing the technical structure of a website. It strives to improve website speed, crawlability, mobile-friendliness, structured data, indexing, and security, to name a few.
Also known as PPC, Search Engine Marketing is a system that uses paid tactics to achieve visibility on search engines. Unlike tactics that help a website rank organically, SEM uses PPC advertising platforms, such as Google Ads, to reach target audiences. And it involves everything from setting up and optimizing paid ads to managing the account to boost conversions and returns.
SEM typically begins a campaign with thorough keyword research and competitor insights to create targeted campaigns that position their products or services in front of target audiences. SEM campaigns include:
When people search for terms the advertiser is running ads for, they’ll see a custom or shopping ad, typically at the top of SERPs. And the business pays each time the ad is clicked.
With SEO, it can take months or even years to see tangible results, but with SEM, you can see results in a short period. Moreover, you can control when the ads will show and who they will show to. This makes SEM excellent for accelerating traffic during quiet times, testing new strategies, and sending traffic to a sale.
Both SEO and SEM help you rank higher in search results, but in different ways. Let’s explore their differences and similarities.
SEM is easy to test and adjust: PPC requires testing. Ad copy needs to be revised, new audiences targeted, and the landing page content will probably have to be changed for your tests to work. This can be done fast with the available data, with changes taking effect quickly and results back in a short time. Given the nature of the algorithm, you can’t test in the same way with SEO. While testing is a vital part of a good SEO strategy, it’s can’t be done as easily as with SEM.
While SEO and SEM differ in the ways they function, their goals are the same:
Note that SEO and SEM shouldn’t be seen as separate channels but as two parts of a larger online marketing strategy that drives visibility, traffic, and conversions.
As you know by now, both SEO and SEM come with benefits and drawbacks, and not one is better or worse than the other. Instead, they are two complementary strategies you can use simultaneously to improve your website’s visibility, traffic, and conversions. However, in some cases, one may be a better option than the other and vice versa, depending on:
Note that this doesn’t assume you should use only one of these channels. For most businesses, a winning search strategy relies on integrating SEO and SEM. Together, they offer many opportunities to drive growth from prospective customers looking for businesses like yours.
Both SEO and SEM heavily rely on keywords to drive traffic to websites. Although the tactics used for each differ, they both focus on traffic flows and how these relate to marketing activities. Users will search for something using search engines and find it through organic or paid results.
Most consumers search online before making a purchase. Therefore, having a strong presence in search is vital. And using a strategic combination of SEO and SEM can increase your visibility in the long run.
As we mentioned, SEO is for organic traffic, and SEM is for targeted paid ads. And while these strategies can and should be complementary, the website needs to be SEO-friendly first for SEM to be successful.
That said, SEO is the cornerstone for profitable SEM. When you set them up properly, you have greater chances of driving quality traffic and boosting your conversion rates. With an SEO-friendly website and properly targeted paid ads using the relevant keywords, you are more likely to show up at the top of paid searches. However, your SEO needs to be well-optimized so that Google and other search engines can see you as a credible site.
If you’re just starting out, you may want to prioritize PPC campaigns first because SEO can take some time to deliver tangible results. Even so, you shouldn’t ignore your SEO during the process.
While SEO and SEM are different practices that use different tactics, they both help you achieve the same goal, and that is to drive traffic and conversions to your website. Although SEO is focused on organic traffic, and SEM works through paid ads, integrating them to develop a winning digital strategy will give you the best chances of succeeding.
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