SEO vs SEM: What’s the Difference?


Yes, everybody has an email and social account, but there’s still one place that businesses often overlook; search engines. Currently, there are around 8.5 billion searches on Google every single day. Without some type of strategy, you’re missing out on a goldmine of traffic.

Having a clear search engine marketing strategy is the best thing you can do to build traffic to your site, and it’s easier to start than you may think. Let’s settle the score on SEO vs SEM to determine what they are, how they differ, and which is better for your marketing strategy!

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is simply the process of optimizing the content on your website to rank higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). Users typically trust the higher results on their searches, which is why the top few spots receive most of the traffic on every search. There’s even a joke among SEO marketers that they hide the cure for cancer on the second page of Google, and that’s why nobody has found it.

There are a few important components in SEO that every strategy will need for success. Let’s talk about those.

Website Optimization

Your website is the foundation of your entire digital marketing strategy, especially for SEO. Without a strong site, you’re building a house on a broken foundation. Google uses over 200 ranking factors to determine the quality of a website, most importantly:

  • Mobile optimization
  • Fast loading times
  • Keyword usage
  • Page structure
  • Navigation system
  • Linking structure
  • Accessibility
  • UX/UI design

The list goes on, but optimizing these will get you pretty far. Remember that you’re trying to optimize your website for users, not Google. This is what Google’s algorithm is designed to look for, so there’s no substitute or “cheat” for a high-quality website.

Content Strategy

Using the right keywords in your content will get you pretty far. However, if you don’t follow that up with quality content, it’s unlikely that you will see long-term SEO results.

With a 10-page website, you have 10 weak chances to rank on various SERPs. With a blog or other content outlet, you will have endless opportunities to rank for any keyword that you want. The more quality you offer, the more likely you are to receive backlinks, user engagement, and higher conversion rates.

Over time, this will yield the best results in organic SEO. Again, you’re creating content for users, not Google’s algorithm. User engagement is an important ranking factor!

For ideas on content, research keywords and competitor sites for new ideas. Try to create a regular posting schedule, share your content on social media, and optimize every post.

Off-Page Factors

Building backlinks (links from other sites) is the best way to build domain authority, which will help your SEO strategy excel. However, this takes time to do organically, so don’t try to rush it or fall for any “blackhat” SEO scams.

In the short term, claim your Google Business Profile, optimize the listing, and remain active on the platform. Keep all information up to date and consistent with what’s on your website.

From there, get listed on all other location-specific and industry-specific directories or listings. This includes Google Maps, Yelp, and others. These small steps will go a long way!

What Is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) covers all of your search engine marketing tactics, including SEO and search ads. Basically, all SEO is SEM, but not all SEM is SEO.

Using search ads in your SEM strategy has plenty of benefits. First of all, you get to skip the line and be among the first pages that users see. You can also target these searches using the right keywords, just like you would with SEO.

This is a great way to build brand awareness and drive short-term revenue. However, how many times have you skipped over the search ads in favor of the organic results? You’re not alone.

Still, a well-rounded SEM strategy will require SEO. Your website acts as the foundation of your entire digital marketing strategy. While you can pay to “skip the line”, you still need to follow up with optimized landing pages to avoid low conversion rates.

SEO vs SEM: What’s the Difference?

The difference between SEO and SEM is not great. Both strategies can benefit greatly from each other by drawing traffic and engagement to your site and saving money by ranking organically.

Both SEO and PPC ads are crucial for a well-rounded marketing strategy, and they both have many similarities. For example, both rely heavily on keyword research, competitor research, and content marketing. Also, both of them are great for building the right traffic to your site.

However, SEO is the best for long-term sustainability, positive brand awareness, and reducing your dependence on paid ads. Organic traffic is always better for establishing trust, improving conversion rates, and saving money.

However, for short-term growth or revenue, PPC ads are very beneficial for businesses. Overall, having a well-rounded SEM strategy is the best bet for businesses looking to use search engines to their advantage.

Use a Well-Rounded SEM Marketing Strategy Today

Now that we’ve settled the score on SEO vs SEM, you can see how putting both of these strategies to use can benefit you in the long run. No matter what industry you’re in, search engines should be part of your strategy!

Stay up to date with our latest SEO tips, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or for help with your strategy!


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