The differences between SEO versus SEM is a question many marketers have asked themselves. We are going to break down the differences between the two and the benefits that come with each.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization, or SEO, uses organic factors to get content seen in search engine result pages, simply referred to as SERPs. Brands don’t need to pay for SEO, which makes it a very popular way to get traffic to websites that might otherwise have a tough time doing so. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) refers to the process by which search engines “crawl” content to see how effective it will be to attract traffic. Search engines will assess a number of things in a website (such as keywords, tags, and link titles) and rank it for its capacity to attract organic traffic based on a variety of factors. Common tasks associated with SEO include creating high-quality content, optimizing content around specific keywords, and building backlinks. 

SEO definitely takes more effort than its counterpart Search Engine Marketing. It can also take longer to build. If the content seems useful and informative, Google and other search engines will begin promoting it by placing it high in SERP results. Google uses over 200 ranking signals in their algorithm to determine the results on any given search. SEO works the same whether you’re using Google, Bing, or another search engine. Every search engine has crawlers that scan all of the webpages available to them on the Internet. The crawlers then bring this information back to a database, where they index them. From there, algorithms match a user’s search query to the information stored in the database.

In fact, both SEO and SEM want to get you a top spot in SERP results. They just work a bit differently from one other – and it’s helpful to know the differences to come up with the best strategy. 

“SEO is best when you are targeting lesser-used or more niche keywords and key phrases. With some research of your competitors and their keywords, you can likely find some gaps in the keywords they are using and go for those in your SEO plan,” writes ThumpLocal.

What is SEM?

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is when website owners utilize paid search strategies to gain more visibility in the SERPs and more traffic to their website. These tactics include the use of a budget that pays for visible advertisements related to a searcher’s query. This is known as pay-per-click (PPC) or paid search. PPC works by charging the business every time someone clicks on their paid search result. These paid keywords then appear alongside the searcher’s results in the form of an ad. With Search Engine Marketing, the more money you spend the more people you’ll reach, which means you need to make sure you have enough of a budget set aside to keep your PPC ads running.

SEM is great for brand recognition as it means that you’ll be at the top of the list every time someone searches. It’s also a great way to bring in targeted traffic to your website. And because it has to do with paid ads, it’s easy to understand your ROI in a direct way – you are using paid ads and will be able to monitor the traffic on those and then create campaigns based on this information. SEM starts targeting your audience much more quickly, too. In fact, you’ll begin to show up in SERPS as soon as you pay.

Unlike SEO, SEM makes it possible to target your ideal audience. It’s also better for competitive keywords that might be more difficult to target organically, especially if you’re new to SEO.

SEM is better for testing ads with A/B testing, a marketing strategy that tests two different versions of a website, ad, email, or landing page against the other. A/B testing is one of the best ways to increase conversion rates.

What’s the difference between SEO vs SEM (and which is right for you?)

Search engine optimization is a practice website owners use to rank higher in the SERPs and draw more traffic to their website. Their ranking is the consequence of ensuring the website performs well, features quality and original content, and includes keywords that are relevant to a user’s query. The spot a website earns in the SERPs is the natural result of ranking organically and is therefore free.

Search engine marketing is a practice website owners use to rank higher in the SERPs through paid advertising.

The main difference between SEO and SEM is SEO is free and relies on organic search strategies, while SEM comes with a cost and relies on paid advertising. Additionally, SEO takes time to take effect, while SEM is instant.  The search results of SEM appear to a user as an advertisement, while the results of SEO efforts do not. The website owner pays each time someone clicks on their ad. Website owners pay nothing when a user clicks on their webpage. 

SEO and SEM are quality marketing strategies that offer benefits to many businesses, from real estate agents to restaurants and anywhere in between. Deciding on which one to use (or even both simultaneously) is up to your vision. If you are looking to grow your website’s value over time and avoid paying for ad placements, SEO is the way to go. If you want to rise to the top of the SERPs immediately and gain an instant improvement in traffic, SEM is the way to go.

Target Points

Target Points, Inc is currently a top Long Island social media manager and digital agency. Our results-driven, innovation, intuition, and commitment to developing and maintaining long-term relationships are what got us there.

We’ll make sure your SEO/SEM strategy is in top shape – and keep your audience busy with the information they’re already looking for.

Ready to get started on the SEO/SEM strategy of your dreams? We have all the tools you need. Click here if you’re ready for Target Points to help.