What's the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

  • by Shala Graham
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Although a lot of people outside the business design and Internet marketing community use the terms "search engine optimization" and "search engine marketing" interchangeably, they actually represent two different things. Do you know how to tell them apart… and more importantly, how to use them together for the maximum possible effect?

Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO, simply refers to the process of making your website "easier to see" for search engine spiders. That, in turn, pushes you up the normal listings you see on Google and the other engines, which usually increases the amount of web traffic you can get to your site.

Search Engine Marketing

Conversely, search engine marketing, or SEM, is all about advertising on search engines. Have you ever noticed the targeted ads that show up on the right-hand side of the Google listings when you search for certain terms and phrases? Those are paid search ads, or SEM. In this scenario you aren't trying to make your site easier to find, but paying for the search engines to send certain types of visitors your way.

How to Use SEM and SEO

Knowing the distinctions between SEO and SEM is one thing, but putting each one to its best use is what really matters. Each one can be used to bring visitors to your website, but savvy organizations have different goals for their separate SEO and SEM campaigns. With that in mind, here are a couple of tips to help you maximize the opportunities you can get from both of them:

Best Use for SEO

SEO is slower and broader, but generally offers a higher ROI over long periods of time. In most markets, it's going to take a little bit of time to reach one of the top spots on Google if you aren't there already. That's because you are probably going to have lots of competitors who already have search optimized websites, and so it's going to take a bit of work (in terms of content creation and link building) to make your website more visible than theirs. But, once you do, you can see visitors keep coming to your site day after day for years on end.

Best Use for SEM

SEM is fast, efficient, and extremely adaptable. Because search ads can be set up within minutes, you can identify your most important customers or supporters and start sending them to targeted landing pages within just a few hours. The quick nature of SEM campaigns make them ideal for testing new ideas or appealing to groups that would take months or years through SEO. On the other hand, you have to be careful about spending and efficiency, since you could easily burn through a large budget without getting the results you're looking for if you aren't careful.

Most businesses and nonprofit organizations can find lots of uses for both SEO and SEM. The trick is having the right Internet marketing goals in place and then using the tools available in the most efficient way possible. If you need help discussing these tactics, drop us a line! We're happy to walk  you through some of the ways that SEO and SEM can greatly improve your website's traffic.