What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

seo sem

To optimize the positioning of the website, it is necessary to be clear about what SEO and SEM are about since they are terms that will help you to conquer the first places of the main search engines, such as Google, Yahoo or Bing.

Web search technology is one of the most powerful tools on the Internet. A few decades ago, it was not so easy to access so much information.

The digital age allowed this change, and now, anyone with an Internet connection can access an immense amount of knowledge anytime and anywhere. And, when searching, you will surely take into account the information that is presented to you first in your search results.  Nobody would go to the last page of a book if on its first page you could find what you are looking for, right?

The number of searches carried out in one minute on the Internet exceeded 3.8 million in 2017. Clearly, it is a massive source of getting people to your business or project, so it requires a search engine positioning strategy, whether your business is online or offline.

Next, I will explain what SEO and SEM are, what they are for and the advantages of using them in your strategy.

The differences between SEO and SEM

SEO, which is translated from English as “Search Engine Optimization”, refers to the method used to make a website appear in the top positions, based on certain keywords that people use to find the information they need, what is also known as organic traffic.

SEM, which is translated from English as “Search Engine Marketing”, refers to the marketing actions that are carried out to obtain the first positions in the search engines, but from the purchase of ads, based on the keywords that are being searched for by the user.

SEO is, then, a set of actions that are part of the SEM, and SEM in general, are the actions that seek to optimize the positioning both organically and through paid search engine placement. The SEM aims to generate short and medium term results, while with SEO the strategy will be designed for the long term, since web optimization works for organic search usually takes a little longer.

SEO and SEM, what is each one good for?

The actions that are attributed to SEO, focus on achieving the first positions in the search engines. This is done through different actions that can be both On-Page and Off-Page. I will give a brief description of what each is and what they do:

On-Page SEO actions are those that are done within the website so that their positioning is improved. This includes the inclusion of the keywords within the web page content, a suitable URL that includes keywords, the format of the content for web, the inclusion of alt attributes in the images, etc. The set of actions serves to make the search engines consider the content found on the website to be relevant, since it is related to the keyword that the user is searching.

Off-Page SEO actions are those that are done outside the website in order to bring relevance and reputation, such as link building actions, sponsored links, guest blogging, among others. These actions will also make search engines see your website as a reference and consider it relevant to whoever searches for the keywords associated with your website or a specific page of your website.

In general, SEO works the content associated with the website so that it is optimized based on relevant keywords. Thanks to these actions, people who come to the site have a good experience because they end up finding just what they were looking for.

Although this strategy is considered part of the overall SEO, it is normal to avoid confusion to refer to the SEM as paid search or search engine advertising.

The SEM is used so that, by means of ads generated from keywords, the websites that want to pay to be there are placed in the first positions of search results based on the keywords they have purchased. That’s why when we perform a Google search, the first two or three options with websites or landing pages , have an “Ad” label.

When you want to generate results more quickly, SEM strategies are often used, but keep in mind that paying is not always synonymous with effectiveness, it is necessary that the website is optimized and offers a good user experience, and that the keywords you are investing in are truely represented in your website content.

The combined use of SEO and SEM

As I mentioned earlier, SEO is part of the SEM, so we can say that one acts as a complement to the other. To be more specific, we are going to assume that I am going to create a website and that I will use the two strategies to obtain positioning. My step will be the following:

  • Based on my research of keywords in specialized tools, I will define the keywords on which I will optimize the positioning of my site, meaning the words and phrases that are mostly used to find businesses like mine, or my competitors;
  • As I still do not know what words are going to give me better results to improve the positioning, I’m going to make an investment in Adwords that will help me discover it more quickly;
  • After the first results achieved, I realized that there is a keyword that gives better results, that’s when the SEO work starts on that keyword I discovered. In the end, it would be much better not to have to pay for always being in the first results. We use SEM to help us find what keywords perform the best and then improve our SEO so that we can reach organic searches for those keywords and discontinue paid search engine placement.

Web positioning is an important part of the digital marketing strategy of the website, it is not about choosing to use only SEO or SEM, but understanding when and for what each strategy each should be used, because in the end the first positions are the most visits, and therefore, those that generate more business opportunities.

About the author

Freelance web design and branding professional, Christopher Chad LaGrone, has been working in digital marketing and web design since 2004 with a focus on online marketing, web design, and social media marketing. To date, he has helped over 1,000 clients develop and manage their corporate, product, and personal brands. He has had the privledge to produce design works used by American Idol, Hilton Hotels, Cesar Millan (aka, The Dog Whisperer), HBO and Showtime. Recently, Christopher launched ¡GOTCHA! Brands, a collaboration of the greatest minds in content management, digital branding, marketing, and design.

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