What is the difference between SEO and SEM in digital marketing?

In your online marketing research, you may have heard of search engine marketing vs. search engine optimization. There is a lot of confusion about the two different types of internet marketing. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) most often refers to online advertising and  Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has to do with the methods and strategies used to ensure your website contents appear at the top of organic search results. However, much like SEO and content marketing, SEO and SEM for small business go hand-in-hand.

What Is SEO?

SEO encompasses many elements. Ahrefs, a leader in digital marketing research, offers 40 different definitions from experts in the field. The prevailing thought is that SEO is about optimizing your website for search engine rankings.

It can include:

✦  Link building

✦  Technical aspects of your website

✦  Keyword research

✦  User experience

✦  Branding

✦  Quality content

SEO isn’t just one thing that makes your website successful in ranking in searches. It’s the entire marketing package of doing what you can to optimize your site to be authoritative, to get lots of traffic and to rank high when people search for your product or service. SEO for small business is a valuable tool in your marketing arsenal.

What Is SEM?

SEM marketing usually refers to paid search. Paid search ads are also called pay-per-click (PPC). With SEM you pay to have your link at the top of the search engine results. SEM for small business lets you target geographical areas or demographics, to discover new customers. Most people who use SEM use Google Ads, which can give you analytics about your ad copy, conversions and audience.

What’s the Difference Between SEO and SEM?

It might seem as if the biggest difference between SEO and SEM is the cost, but that’s not quite true. Done right, SEO will take time and money.

You need people who understand SEO to make sure your website is optimized. Paying a digital marketing agency to help you set up your website is worth the investment. With SEM, you pay for marketing. You’re still paying, but this time you’re paying for clicks. The difference between SEO and SEM is where you’re putting your efforts.

But, you should know that SEM won’t work without effective SEO. If you spend money on SEM, when potential customers arrive at your site, they want a good experience. If you haven’t invested in SEO to make sure your site loads quickly with relevant content, the user won’t stick around. You have essentially paid for a click that doesn’t convert. Not only that, but Google recognizes that the customer didn’t spend much time on your site. That lowers your SEO ranking.

The better question to ask is which one is right for your business?

SEO is like a crockpot. It takes time to get results. SEM is more like a microwave. If you’re having a sale and want to promote it, SEM is the route to take because you should get traffic quicker. But it’s not really an either/or question. SEM can help with your SEO campaign and vice versa.

SEO and SEM get different outcomes, so it’s difficult to say which type of online marketing will work best for you. It depends on your goals and budget. Your digital marketing agency can help you find a balance between the two that fits into your business.

Need Help?

There’s a lot of jargon when it comes to online marketing. If you have any questions about the differences between SEO and SEM or how they’re related, open up a live chat below or drop them in the comments.