If you are a business owner and have a website, there is a good chance you have heard of these two acronyms: SEO and SEM. But you probably don’t know what they stand for or what they mean concerning your business. It especially doesn’t help that the two are constantly referred to as the same, even though they aren’t. Let’s address all these questions and concerns when you ask what is SEO and SEM?
Before we delve into what is SEO and SEM, you should know that the two relate to search marketing; SEO and SEM both deal with how your website is perceived through search engine results pages, or SERPs, with the goal of driving more traffic to your website. This means SEO and SEM rely on specific keywords to drive that traffic. They also require you so know your target audience so you can utilize those specific keywords in your webpages.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. Although SEO falls under SEM, SEO is the process where you optimize your web pages to receive a higher position or ranking in the organic or natural (free) SERPs. In other words, you are trying to optimize your website in a specific way so that the search engine, such as Google, will determine your webpage is the best result and put your website at a higher ranking than others at no cost to you. The higher the ranking, the earlier your website appears and the more visitors you might receive.
SEO has three parts to it: on-page SEO, off-page SEO and technical SEO.
On-page, Off-page and Technical SEO
Both on-page and off-page SEO mostly deal with web pages and blogs.
On-page SEO includes techniques for the specific pages and well-written content so they are optimized for the specific keywords visitors might use. These techniques target titles, headings, meta descriptions and more.
Off-page SEO is the process of getting references, or backlinks, from other websites that go to your website. The more backlinks, the more reputable your website looks to search engines. Consider backlinks as an endorsement.
Technical SEO is the process of optimizing your website to ensure there are no issues when search engines crawl and index your website. This can include site speed, mobile-friendliness, site architecture and more.
What is SEM?
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. SEM has the same goal as SEO, except is also includes paid search advertising; you are buying ad space in SERPs and paying the search engine to feature your website above others. You often see a little “Ad” icon next to the search engine result in this instance; organic results through SEO do not show that icon and instead feature snippets.
The paid advertisements can be a part of PPC, or pay-per-click, campaigns that use targeted keywords. PPC should only be a portion of your digital marketing strategy, as it doesn’t build credibility like SEO. It also costs more money, so have a budget prepared. However, one major benefit of PPC is that you can determine who can see your ad, as well as when your ad is displayed, so you can craft the perfect outcome for your target audience.
SEM can also include cost-per-click (CPC), click-through-rates (CTR), pay-per-impression (PPI), pay-per-action (PPA), social media marketing (SMM) and more.
When Should I Use SEO or SEM?
If possible, try to have both SEO and SEM; if you can master the two, your website should have no problem being at the top of SERPs. Keep in mind that SEM can only benefit from SEO when there is optimized, high-quality content, as the content itself establishes search credibility with SERPs.
If you can’t have both, consider your company’s goals. SEO is the better choice for cheaper, long-term marketing campaigns, especially since SEO takes time to build up its credibility since it is based on organic searches. SEM is better for short-term campaigns because you have to pay for web traffic. However, the results are almost immediate with SEM. SEM, specifically PPC, is good for beginner websites trying to push their products or services until SEO does build up that credibility, but you shouldn’t solely rely on PPC, as it can be quite costly.