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What are SEO and SEM?

SEO and SEM are crucial to the success of your business. We want to help you understand these terms and what the difference is between them.

June 3, 2021

What are SEO and SEM?

You’ve probably heard people mention that SEO and SEM are crucial to the success of your business. However, it may be a lot of information to digest if you’re doing a quick Google search and trying to understand what each of these terms are. So, we want to help you understand these terms and what the difference is between them.


What is SEO?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of optimizing a website in order to rank for specific keywords. Within the broad term “SEO”, there are three main subdivisions:

  1. On-Page SEO: On-page optimization comes from, quite literally, adjusting the content on a page to be able to target specific keywords. Typically, this process includes keyword research and blog/content writing.
  2. Off-Page SEO: Off-page optimization revolves around what isn’t shown on the website, but rather what is connected to the website. Frequently, this involves establishing backlinks from credible and reputable sources, creating directory listings online (such as Google My Business), and more.
  3. Technical SEO: Technical optimization is perhaps my personal favorite type of SEO, largely because it does require a specialized set of skills (and is more fun than just writing 😉). Technical optimization focuses on the way in which a site is built, who can use that website, and how it can be seen by spiders. With this process, one will typically look at the sitemap, code structure, structured data (also referred to as “rich snippets”), accessibility measures, mobile responsiveness, and more.


What is SEM?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the portion of gaining search engine visibility using paid strategies, including PPC (Pay Per Click) ads. SEM involves using (primarily) Google Ads to target specific keywords with ads that deliver specialized content based on a search. SEM is an extremely effective and powerful tool for businesses, but often isn’t cheap. 


What do SEO and SEM have in common?

SEO and SEM can both be used to help a brand gain awareness and traction. Regardless if a brand is using SEM techniques to attract users, being on the first page of Google (or other search engines) is extremely powerful, as most users won’t go beyond the first page of search results.

Both SEO and SEM require specialized knowledge of indexing, ranking, and SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) processes to be able to execute adequate keyword research and implementation.

SEO and SEM are also both continuous processes. There’s no “end point” at which SEO stops needing work or where SEM stops needing evaluation. These processes require consistent refinement and optimization.


What makes SEO and SEM different?

  1. The biggest difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is a long-game. It can take months to see major results, but when you do, they will organically snowball. SEM, on the other hand, is nearly immediate. Yes, it takes a bit of time for Google to optimize their algorithm to the ads and target demographics, but noticeable and traceable results appear on a much shorter timeline.
  2. SEM can cost more because the advertiser gets charged upon every click. With SEO, all clicks are free.
  3. SEM results (ads) appear higher up on the SERP, but they are also tagged with a little “Ad” market, indicating that they are paid results.


Why should you focus on your SEO?

  1. Google is essentially the modern-day Yellow Pages. If you want to be found, you better be on Google. If you’re ranking too low to be seen on the first few pages, you’re doing your business a disservice – plain and simple. According to research that studied 5 million google searches, about 75% of the click-throughs came from the top three search positions. The research says “The #1 organic result is 10x more likely to receive a click compared to a page in #10 spot.”
  2. Having good SEO also helps you remain competitive and stay ahead of competition. Those with higher rankings will see a higher ROI and higher visibility.
  3. Finally, having good SEO leads to being more inclusive. If you’re not limiting your audience to JUST word of mouth referrals, you will see a more diverse audience engage with your content.


Why should you focus on SEM, too?

Having SEM content (ads) guarantees you above-the-fold placement, which means that the content will require no scrolling to access. If a user searches for a keyword you’re targeting (and other factors like budget, geography, interests, etc. align), the ad will be one of the very first options. Much like SEO, higher placement yields more clicks.

Using SEM allows you to remarket products across display networks. This will result in a higher “bang for your buck,” as the ad will be seen more widely and frequently than an organic SERP placement will.


SEO and SEM are better together

SEO and SEM both have unique strengths and weaknesses. SEO is better for longevity and general brand awareness. It will strengthen your authority online, and provide lasting results for the business. SEM is best for quick results that overpower competition. SEM will also provide you with substantially more data from users to tailor future approaches to marketing. Though both are valuable independently, the two are better together.

Written by: Payge H. Kerman, President

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