SEM vs. SEO: What’s the Difference?

So you want your website to do some of the advertising work for your company. But how do you make sure your site is listed at the top when potential customers are searching?

The answers you’re looking for are two similar-sounding, but altogether different, acronyms—SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

This can be difficult to grasp if you don’t know that SEM and SEO are both tools to help your website appear in search engine results pages (SERPs). Both are relevant to you and your business.

graphic of the difference between SEO and SEM

What is SEM?

SEM, or search engine marketing is a paid strategy. Paid strategies involve setting up a coherent and well-made website ad for your company, as well as deciding on a budget that works for your business to pay for these ad placements (something you may choose to discuss with us here at your favorite advertising agency, Mean Joe).

Among the most popular SEM tools is Google Adwords, which places a paid ad either at the top or bottom of Google’s SERPs and charges the website per click. Much like the Google Adwords model, paid ads work through pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns—in which a company is charged for each time a consumer clicks on their website. PPC advertising ensures that your business only has to pay for the advertisement if it is actually being seen by potential consumers.

What is SEO?

Unlike SEM’s approach, SEO, or search engine optimization, deals with more organic strategies. An organic strategy seeks to build up traffic to a business’s website by producing valuable and relevant information based on a company’s brand.

There are lots of tactics involved in increasing your website’s visibility organically, but SEO can be narrowed down to three main strategies:

  1. Keyword appeals:Keyword appeals involve content creation that caters to specific words that will show up in SERPs. This strategy includes creating articles that directly relate to topics revolving around a business’s brand and maximizing search engine results by using words that would most likely be found in the keywords of a topic.This all sounds a bit complicated, but we promise you it’s not. For example, a clothing store may create a section of their website where they write posts about fashion trends in the media. If one of their posts were a fashion commentary on the most recent MET Gala, they would most likely be sure to use the words fashion, MET (metropolitan), and gala as much as possible. By utilizing these keywords, they create a higher likelihood of their article showing up in SERPs and therefore increasing their organic traffic.
  2. Link buildingLink building is done by receiving backlinks from multiple websites. And what is a backlink you may ask? A backlink is basically any link or reference to your website that another website utilizes.While creating content through keyword research and appeals is important for gaining relativity in SERPs, having multiple backlinks is important for increasing the value of your website’s information. The goal of receiving backlinks is to connect your website to other high-quality websites which, in turn, increases your website’s reputation. If search engines find that your website is being referenced by multiple other high-quality websites, then it will see that your website is reliable—increasing your web page’s search rankings.
  3. Background structuresThe best way to optimize your visibility is to optimize your website! This means making sure your website runs efficiently and without to much hassle for your consumer. When consumers and search engines see that your website is user-friendly and efficient your search results are guaranteed to increase.Keyword appeals, link building, and background structures are just the tip of the iceberg for SEO techniques, and we understand that navigating the realms of these techniques may seem intimidating. But we are more than happy to help you out.

What does all this mean?what does all this mean about SEO and SEM

So now you know what SEM and SEO are, but you may still be wishing for more details as to what the vital differences between the two may be. So here’s a quick list of some important differences to keep in mind:

  • SEM results have ad extensions, additional links, and contacts, while SEO results can have featured snippets attached.
  • SEM ads require you pay per click on your page, while SEO does not.
  • SEM-based websites are tagged as ads on SERPs, while SEO-based websites are not.
  • SEM is guaranteed to be directed at your business’s target audience, while SEO is can be targeted but never guaranteed.
  • SEM is immediate, while SEO adds value over time.

Truthfully, SEM and SEO are two sides of the same coin—both intended to increase traffic to your company’s website. But the differences between them brings up two very different questions when considering which approach to building up search engine results is right for your business:

  • Is your company willing to invest its money in SEM paid advertising?
  • Is your company willing to invest its time in SEO strategies?

In a time when the phrase “just google it” has become the solution to most of life’s tough questions, finding a way to get on to the first page of a search engine is almost a requirement. This means your company is going to have to use either SEM or SEO at some point in time. But deciding which strategy fits your company’s budget, goals, and image can often turn into quite a complicated task. That’s why it may be a good idea to consider discussing your options with experts, and who knows more about these marketing strategies than an advertising agency? A good ad agency is more than happy to guide you through SEM and SEO strategies and advise you on which works best for your company.