As search engines have evolved over the years, content marketing has also had to evolve to be effective. This has led to two terms becoming popular in the marketing industry: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Here, we’ll explain the differences between the two, because many people still get them confused.

Put simply, SEO uses strategies aimed at increasing the number of website visitors organically by getting a site to appear higher in search engine results pages. SEM includes SEO, advertising, and other techniques.

To be clear about the difference between SEO and SEM, let’s look more closely at each term.

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What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is the practice of optimizing your website and content in order to naturally increase your visibility and rankings in search engines. It involves the use of high-quality content, relevant keywords, meta descriptions, and useful links. There are two main pillars of SEO: on-site SEO and off-site SEO.

On-site SEO consists of:

  • Optimizing metadata, including heading tags, meta descriptions, and alternative text for images.
  • Clear page URLs with suitable keywords.
  • Optimizing page loading times.
  • Well-written copy that uses relevant keywords.
  • Social media integration.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, check out the latest trends of on-page optimization.

Off-site SEO consists of:

 

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

SEM is the practice of increasing your website’s visibility on search engines through paid search advertising, social media marketing, and SEO.

Through paid search advertising – or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising – you’re essentially buying advertising space on search engine results pages. Google AdWords is the most common pay-per-click service and you can use it to get your ads to appear in search results, paying only for the clicks on your ads. Bing and Yahoo have a similar system.

PPC advertising lets you target potential customers through relevant keywords that match search queries. You can also target your ads at a specific audience location and demographic, so you get seen by the right people at the right time. What’s more, you can monitor your paid search advertising performance by viewing impressions, click-through rates, and the average cost per click. This means you can tweak your ads over time to give you a greater return on your marketing investment.

Related: How to Perfect Your PPC Ad Copy

 

The Main Difference Between SEM and SEO

It’s wrong to use the terms SEM and SEO interchangeably, because although they’re related, they’re not the same. The main difference between the two is that SEM is more targeted and drives traffic from paid ads, whereas SEO drives traffic from free, organic search results.

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SEM Vs. SEO: Which Tactic is Better?

Some marketers consider SEM traffic to be more valuable because it’s more targeted. The theory is that when searchers click on an ad from search results, they’re more likely to convert.

If you’re looking for quicker results and you have the budget, paying for PPC ads may make more sense in the short term. It’s also easier to compete for space on search engine results pages against bigger brands. However, if you’re operating on a more limited budget, it’s sensible to invest time in creating content for SEO to steadily increase your organic search rankings.

For example, if you’re launching a new website, a PPC campaign is great for instant online visibility. However, it’s unlikely that you can afford to keep paying for ads all year round. Although SEO takes more time to see results, it’s less costly in the long run. Additionally, consumers tend to trust organic search results more than paid ads, so SEO has the advantage of building your credibility.

A combination of paid strategies and SEO is often the best way to go. This way, you can adapt your strategies to suit your changing budget and your specific marketing goals.

 

Two Sides of the Same Coin

Basically, search engine optimization is part of search engine marketing. They both increase your visibility in search engines. While SEO will help you naturally increase your search engine rankings in the long term, SEM will give you more instant results. It just depends on what you want to achieve.

When combined, SEO and SEM will help maximize your online reach and convert more qualified traffic into interested customers. Think of them as being two sides of the same coin. Use a mix of both and monitor the results.

If you’re interested in elevating your SEO and SEM efforts, consider hiring a professional SEO writer or a copywriter for your ads.