What's the Difference Between SEO & SEM?

Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are often used interchangeably, but this isn’t correct. SEO and SEM are two very different ways to drive traffic to a website. So What's the Difference Between SEO & SEM? Here's how industry standards define the difference: 

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is a component of SEM. The definition of SEO is: “The process of maximizing visitors to a website by ensuring the site appears higher in the search results.” Search engine optimization works to ensure that a particular website is presented in the top of the search results for a specific keyword.

Google’s frequent algorithm changes, and other search engines, because SEO to continually change.

But, there are two main aspects of SEO that remain constant: on-page and off-page optimization.

What is On-Page Optimization?

On-page optimization occurs on a website. This is what the website owner has full control over, and includes:

  • Keyword placement in headers, titles, meta tags and text.
  • Blog posts or pages optimized for high search placement.
  • Cleanly formatted URLs and site structure.
  • Page speed (a crucial component for mobile).
  • Social sharing integration.

Think of on-page optimization as signals to hint at what your site content is about as well as user-friendly design concepts, such as a fast-loading website.  These are just some of the many on-page signals used by search engines.

What is Off-Page Optimization?

The most powerful component of search engine optimization occurs off-page – on other websites. These are signals (which you have little control over under normal circumstances) that allow your website to rank higher. These signals include:

  • Natural backlink profile.
  • Social sharing signals.
  • Social bookmarking.

Off-page signals are links, or “vouches,” for your website.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing encompasses search engine optimization. The definition of SEM is: “Search engine marketing that involves the promotion of a website by increasing visibility in search engines and through advertising.”

Components of SEM

There are a few components of SEM, including:

  • SEO
  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Buying ad space

SEM includes traditional online marketing efforts that build brand awareness and site visibility. You can start PPC campaigns on search engines, such as Google, or you can buy ad space on major and minor publications.

Understanding the Difference Between SEO and SEM

The main differences are clear between SEO and SEM. Search engine optimization is used to:

  • Boost a website’s search engine rankings.

Search engine marketing is a more complex process that works to:

  • Boost SEO efforts.
  • Boost brand exposure.

SEM includes social media marketing, advertising and search engine optimization.

Which Tactic is Right for You?

Organic SEO is the optimal choice for any website because it drives traffic to a site without high expenditures. The issue arrives when SEM includes organic SEO to succeed – which it should include always.

In many circumstances, SEM is the right choice. Why?

  • PPC can drive immediate leads and revenue.
  • SEO can be a timely process where results take months to materialize.

Advertising and PPC are two costly avenues, so SEM and SEO work best in conjunction under normal circumstances. Websites that establish their presence on major search engines often need fewer or no pay-per-click marketing, which leads to less overall expenditures.

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