SEO vs SEM: What’s the Difference?

In 2017, the internet surpassed 1.7 billion websites. While not all of these are active websites but rather parked domains, there’s still a lot of competition out there.

How do you plan to make your website stand out? What digital marketing strategies will you employ to help visitors find your website and stay there long enough to convert, become brand ambassadors, and learn about your organization?

Where digital marketing is concerned, there are two main paths you can take: SEO vs SEM. What are they and how can they help you market your brand’s website?

We’ll answer both of those questions in this article. Keep reading to learn about SEM vs SEO.

SEO: What Is It?

What does SEO stand for? It’s short for search engine optimization, which is a practice involving both on-page and off-page tactics with the goal of improving your web pages’ rankings on search engine results pages, or SERPs.

The key to SEO? It’s about improving organic traffic.

On-page SEO includes tactics you implement on your website. This can encompass:

  • Content creation
  • Website design
  • Metadata

Content creation includes everything from the text you publish on your blog to the background video you place on your homepage. It’s all the information users can (and hopefully will) consume.

Website design is all about aesthetics and functionality. What sort of experience will your users have on your website?

Search engines like to show users websites that deliver a positive user experience, or UX, so you’l want to make sure you’re up to date on the latest web design trends. You’ll also want to make sure your site is easy to use, no matter what device visitors are on.

Metadata includes things like your title tags and meta descriptions. Not only should these include your researched keywords, but they should entice readers.

The reason is the title and description of each page is what users see on the SERP.

There’s a lot more to on-page SEO than these tactics, just like there’s a lot more to off-page SEO than authoritative and relevant backlinks, but our goal in this article is to acquaint you with SEO.

SEM: What Is It?

SEM stands for search engine marketing. Think of SEM as a box, into which SEO and pay-per-click advertising, or PPC, fit into.

Since we talked about what SEO is above, let’s look at the other side of SEM in this section: PPC.

When you engage in PPC campaigns, you’re running ads each time a user searches for a particular keyword or long-tail keyword phrase in a search engine. Your page then shows up in the sponsored section of the SERP in what’s called an impression.

You can use data on your impressions to help determine buyer intent and how successful your content is at matching that intent.

If someone clicks on your sponsored ad in the SERP, you pay for that click. How much you pay depends on the keyword and your budget, which you set with the search engine.

For this reason, PPC can be a great way to boost digital marketing without exceeding a budget. It’s not as time-consuming to get those clicks as SEO, and you can control how much money is spent.

When users click on your sponsored SERP links, a click-through rate, or CTR, is generated. You can use this metric to determine the success of a PPC ad campaign.

Though the average CTR varies based on industry, overall the average is 3.17 for search ads (the ones that appear in SERPs).

SEO Vs SEM: Which Is Right For You?

Choosing between SEO and SEM isn’t really necessary, especially since SEO is part of SEM. However, if you’re new to digital marketing, you might want to pick one to focus on first.

For the purpose of this part of our discussion, we’ll reword our question to:

SEO vs PPC: Which is right for brands new to digital marketing?

The question comes down to which commodity you have more of to spend on your digital marketing efforts.

If you have a larger monetary budget, PPC will get you more visitors in less time. It’s great when you want to sell something too, so if you’re in e-commerce, PPC is probably the best way to kick off your digital marketing.

However, if you have more time and you can afford to be patient, but you don’t have a large enough monetary budget, SEO is probably your best stepping stone into digital marketing. SEO is also great if you want to build brand awareness.

Ultimately, we think it’s best to go for the true SEM approach: SEO and PPC together. Then you can attract both organic and paid traffic, and you can also enjoy both long-term and more immediate increases to your traffic.

Is There More To Digital Marketing?

You bet there is. Digital marketing isn’t just split into SEO and SEM.

If you engage in social media or email marketing, guess what–they’re also digital marketing. In fact, some SEO professionals consider social media to fall under the SEO umbrella because it can impact your performance in search engines, though search engines don’t publicize right now the type of impact it might have on their algorithms.

Also, social media can fall under the PPC umbrella because you can also run ad campaigns on many of the top social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Final Thoughts

When choosing between SEO vs SEM, the best option is to not have to choose at all. Both of them can help your business stand out on the internet.

But digital marketing is an ever growing and changing field. If you’ve got questions about how to best implement these strategies, that’s good.

We’d love to help you answer those questions and ensure you’re on the right path to success, whether you choose SEO or SEM…or both. Drop us a line.