SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is a fantastic way of boosting your reach in the short-term. However, SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is a stronger long-term strategy. Here are their key differences – and how you should get started.

Optimising the content you produce for better search rankings has become an essential part of a comprehensive online marketing strategy. Companies have realised that they cannot reap maximum rewards if they fail to effectively promote themselves on search engines.

If you are running a business and have a brand to promote, bear in mind that optimising for search engines can be quite tricky if you can’t distinguish SEM from SEO. These may sound similar, but SEM and SEO are two different approaches to attracting new customers through search engines. 

If you want to better your marketing strategies and become more visible, learning the basics and differentiating SEM from SEO is a great first step.

Search Marketing: An Overview

Before delving deeper into the ins and outs of SEM and SEO, it is essential that you understand search marketing. To create a strategic search optimisation strategy, you need to understand this marketing channel inside and out.

Search marketing relates to any method that helps a brand attract attention by appearing on the search engine results page (SERPs). All efforts that aim at getting a higher page rank and increasing search visibility so as to drive more traffic to a website are included in this method.

The two primary categories of search marketing are:

1. SEM — utilises paid strategies to appear in search results
2. SEO — uses organic strategies to appear in search results

These two terms do not represent the same thing. However, some marketers claim that SEM is an umbrella term that covers both paid and organic strategies.

To understand this better, let’s go into more detail about each of these methods.

What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

SEM deals with search visibility through paid advertisements on search engines.

These ads are referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Terms that are also used for SEM efforts include cost-per-click (CPC) ads, paid search ads, and paid search advertising.

PPC advertising allows a marketer to target potential customers through relevant ad copy and keywords that match their search queries. These ads show up in search engine results pages (SERPs) next to organic listings.

With PPC ads, a business can increase the visibility of its web pages, landing pages, blog articles, and more.

The most popular platform for hosting ads today is Google Ads. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider other options as well. Bing ads and Yahoo search ads also provide a decent ROI. 

However, no matter the platform, you should always do everything you can to boost the ROI of PPC ads

You need to conduct keyword research and create campaigns that target the best keywords for your industry, products, or services. Consequently, when users search for those keywords, they see the custom ads on top of the page (or at the bottom of SERPs).

What is Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)?

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the other category of search marketing we mentioned above, and uses organic methods to gain visibility in search engine results pages. 

However, with SEO, you do need to use a wide range of methods and tactics to make the algorithms work in your favour. Sometimes marketers have to do a complete revamp of their websites and blogs to rank better.

This is all done with the aim of making a search engine display the content near the top of the results. The top result is generally the most valuable one since it tends to be the most authoritative and most visited.

Now, let’s take a look at three categories of SEO tips and methods that you need to know about.

1. On-page SEO

On-page SEO deals with individual pages of a website. To be precise, this method optimises pages to target a specific keyword and appeal to search engines.

On-page SEO covers keyword research, content creation, and keyword optimisation. Thanks to this technique, search engines can better understand a page of content and place it higher in the results.

2. Off-page SEO

This method builds a website’s reputation and authority using other sites. In other words, it connects a site to other high-quality websites.

A business can use off-page SEO to drive traffic but also become an industry authority. Off-page SEO methods cover link building and management of local listings and directory profiles.

Algorithms recognise when many websites link back to your website. If the websites that link back to your own are authority websites, then the search engine will see that you too are an excellent source, and you shall be placed high in the results.

3. Technical SEO

Technical SEO refers to non-content elements of a website and the website as a whole. This method exists to improve a website’s backend structure and foundation.

Technical SEO covers website speed, mobile-friendliness, indexing, crawlability, website architecture, structured data, and security. Ultimately, this method is there to improve user and search crawler experience leading to higher search rankings.

A good SEO plan focuses on combining all of these three categories. Concentrating on just one or two may improve a website’s ranking, but combining all three gives the best results.

Also, it would be wise to use reliable SEO tools if you plan on getting the most out of your SEO efforts.


What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

It is essential to know that SEM and SEO cannot be used interchangeably. The critical difference between these two is that search engine optimisation is simply a component of search engine marketing.

SEM, on the other hand, includes components of paid search such as PPC or SMM (social media marketings).

The bottom line is that the terms SEO and SEM should never be used interchangeably. SEO and SEM work hand in hand, but they do not have the same meaning.

Is SEM better than SEO?

It’s very simple — SEM is fast, SEO is true.

By investing in SEM, you can quickly place your results in front of audiences with just a few clicks. As soon as you start a campaign, your ads will show up in the results. Additionally, you can turn ads on to increase visibility or turn them off to stop the search engines from showing them.

Do know that SEM is better for testing since you can turn the ads on and off. It is possible to revise ad copy or target new audiences if you see that the campaign is not producing the right results.

SEO, on the other hand, is something that is won over time. It requires constant effort and persistence. It can take months or years of implementing an SEO strategy before a brand begins to rank on search engines.

But some people prefer organic methods, as these lead to a long term victory that guarantees higher traffic, unlike paid advertising. A number of people simply dislike ads, and that is why SEO is essential.

Final thoughts

Hopefully, you now have a good understanding of both SEO and SEM. Some marketers claim that organic SEO is the best approach and it is fair to say that real SEM cannot succeed without the use of organic SEO.

However, SEM (PPC to be precise) makes more sense than SEO for many small businesses, since they do not have the resources that are necessary to develop and maintain a good SEO strategy.

In the end, it all comes down to your particular situation and your preferences as a business.


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