What is the Difference Between Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization

Jul 16, 2019 | Marketing Trends, Search Engine Optimization

The world of digital marketing seems hinged on two core components: search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). People use the two terms in conjunction to the point where their lines have blurred, but make no mistake; they are not the same.

The difference matters: here’s what you need to know about SEO vs. SEM and how you can use them to level up your digital marketing strategy:

What is Search Engine Optimization?

Search Engine Optimization (or SEO for short) is the set of actions taken to get your business to rank higher in the organic search results.

If you’ve ever wondered how Google or other search engines decide how to rank its results, SEO is your best answer. These search engine algorithms have priorities when deciding which results to display. Because they want the results to be relevant, they will look for clues that help them “understand” the content.

Whether you’re writing a blog post, publishing your website, or creating a landing page, your content will rank higher in search results if it’s optimized for search engine algorithms.

Components of SEO

SEO spans a wide range of activities that can be divided into two categories: on-page and off-page. A good SEO strategy includes both categories to maximize your results.

What is On-Page SEO?

On-page SEO refers to optimizations that occur on web pages you own (i.e., your website, blog, or landing pages). Some examples of this include the following:

  • Web site and page load speed
  • Content optimized with keywords
  • Title tags, meta descriptions, header tags, and alt text that includes keywords naturally
  • Outbound links
  • Internal page linking
  • SSL certificate
  • URL structure
  • Site map
  • Mobile responsive design
  • And more!

There’s a lot that happens behind the scenes on a website to make it SEO-friendly. Many marketers focus primarily on keywords and content quality, and while these things are important, they shouldn’t be the only factors you rely on to earn higher rankings.

What is Off-Page SEO?

As you may have guessed, off-page SEO refers to optimization activities that happen on third-party websites. This includes the following:

  • High-quality backlinks (links on third-party websites with high domain authority that link back to your website)
  • Social sharing signals
  • Social bookmarking, such as Reddit, Mix, etc.
  • There’s a lot more to this list, too!

You might be thinking, I have no control over what other websites do, so why does this affect my SEO?

Fair question: remember that search engines are focused on one goal, which is to return relevant, high-quality results to its users. Search engine algorithms will favor content that others are visiting, reading, and sharing more than content that is sitting idle.

Social proof is valuable when it comes to rankings, and you have more power than you think. Many companies will guest post on other websites to build a healthy backlink profile and get their content in front of a wider audience.

Okay Then, What is Search Engine Marketing?

SEM encompasses promoting businesses in search engine results pages (SERP) through paid search activities, such as Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising. Many companies that don’t rank as high as they would like on Google SERP will leverage Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) and Local Services Ads to appear toward the top of the page (before the organic search results begin).

Bottom Line: Do I Need SEO or SEM?

The benefit of SEO is that you’re relying on organic rankings instead of paying for ads to show near or at the top of search engines. However, doing both increases your chances of getting contacted by a potential customer! Unless you are doing SEO on your own, both options are going to cost money. So the answer to the question of which one you NEED will depend on several factors that are unique to your business. For example: if your new website is looking to gain visibility quickly, a PPC campaign might give you faster results. SEO is a journey, not an overnight miracle cure, so you’ll need to think about your short and long-term objectives to figure out the best way to proceed. A consultation with a marketing professional can help you determine your SEO & SEM strategy.

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