The Difference Between SEM and SEO

If you’re fairly new to the online marketing world you might be a bit confused about the difference between SEM and SEO.  Here’s a brief overview and definitions.

What is SEO?

SEO refers to search engine optimization, the process of structuring a web site and its content so that it will appear at or near the top of a search engine results page (SERP) for your chosen keyword phrases. It’s been around for quite a while and SEO is here to stay, although it changes quite regularly.

Among other things (such as getting quality links to your site) It also involves researching the best keywords to use for your industry, and they are not always the ones you would expect. Often our potential customers use different search terms than we would use, or they search for the solution to a problem without knowing exactly what they need.

Keyword research is an important part of SEO and critical to the success of any campaign.

Every time someone does a search, Google takes about 200 different elements into account when determining how to rank your site. The more of these elements you get right, the better you will do.

What is SEM?

SEM (search engine marketing) is a similar but broader term.  It encompasses SEO and other things you can do to be successful in online marketing, most notably advertising.

One of the more common elements of SEM is pay per click advertising (PPC) which allows you to bid for ranking position among the listings labelled as ads or sponsored. These usually appear above and/or to the right of the regular search results.  The benefit is instant visibility on search engines. The downside? You have to pay for every click, and as soon as you stop paying your visibility disappears.

The Goals of SEM and SEO

Despite the difference between SEM and SEO, the goal is the same. Namely, targeted traffic that converts well. Targeted traffic means the people who arrive at your site are already interested in what you offer and are specifically looking for your products or services.

You’re better off with one hundred targeted visitors than a thousand visitors who land on your site but then leave right away because it doesn’t offer what they’re looking for.

SEO and SEM should also include analysis of your site traffic and conversion rates. A number one ranking or increased traffic (or top spot among the ads) will not necessarily bring success.  They must be accompanied by increased conversion rates and sales (or signups, phone calls, downloads or whatever action it is you want your visitors to take).

Can you do SEO and SEM yourself?

Depending on the size and structure of your business or organization (and your website) you can learn to do it yourself, train a staff member to handle it, or hire an outside individual or company to do it for you.

If you are hiring someone outside your organization it is still a good idea to gain basic knowledge of the difference between SEM and SEO, and the processes involved, so you can ask the right questions, take an active part in decision making and be confident the job is being done right.

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