While the terms search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are often used interchangeably, they are entirely different concepts. As a marketer, understanding these two topics is vital in ensuring success in your search optimization strategies. It is particularly essential since these approaches often overlap despite entailing different actions and focusing on various aspects of marketing.

In this article, we are going to go deeper into SEO and SEM to help you comprehend their significance as far as digital marketing goes. We will define both of these concepts, show their differences, and figure out you, which approach is better to adopt. Let’s get started, shall we?

What Is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of using organic strategies to gain top visibility in search engine results pages.

With SEO, websites gain traffic at no cost by relying on natural and editorial tactics to make search engines show their content among the top results.

At all times, this content has to be valuable to the target audience and also authoritative to get it among the top search engine results.

There are numerous SEO tactics employed by marketers. These approaches are classed into these 3 groups:

On-Page SEO

It entails optimizing every page of a site by targeting specific keywords, thereby appealing to a search engine. Some of the approaches used here include:

  • Correct use of keywords in meta titles, headers, and meta descriptions.
  • Posting high-quality, shareable content.
  • Researching keywords.

 Technical SEO

It is the process of optimizing the non-content aspects of a site and the site at large to enhance its backend. This approach improves the experience of “crawlers” as well as visitors, leading to appearance among the top search engine results. These tactics include:

  • Utilizing clean URLs.
  • Optimizing page load speeds.
  • Optimizing websites for different devices.

Off-Page SEO

It entails developing the reputation and authoritativeness of a site by relating it to high-quality websites. This strategy tells search engines that a particular website is genuine and reliable, thus boosting its search rankings. Some of the tactics used are:

  • Getting quality backlinks from reputable sites.
  • Social sharing signals.

What Is SEM?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the process of improving the visibility of a website by leveraging paid tactics to yield high ranks in search engine results pages. A paid SEM approach entails adopting and optimizing advertisements and allocating a budget for the same. This tactic is called paid search or pay-per-click (PPC) marketing.

A familiar provider utilized in this regard is Google Ads. It allows marketers to perform keyword research within their business niche.

Then they can go on to launch effective marketing campaigns that target the top-performing keywords for their audience, services, or goods.

When website visitors search for those specific keywords, they will view customized advertisements at either the top or bottom of the search engine results pages. As for the business, they will be charged for every click on the ad made by the visitor.

 SEO vs. SEM: What Sets the Two Apart?

While SEO and SEM have several similarities- for example, both help brands appear higher up in the search results- they are unique from each other. As such, the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

The major difference between these two terms is that while SEO is organic marketing, SEM involves paid ad listings. However, there are more differences to distinguish the two further. Let’s explore some of them.

  • SEM has an ‘ad’ tag while SEO doesn’t

Just from looking at the two results on search engines, you will note a key difference. SEM results always have an ‘ad’ tag just before the website address, below the meta title. SEO results don’t have any such tags on them.

  • You can specify the target audience with SEM but not with SEO

With SEM, you can decide which groups of people you want your search results to appear to. It could, for example, be people in a specific geographic area, age group, income bracket, etc. But with SEO, you can’t say who will see the search results.

  • SEM charges for every user click while SEO doesn’t

SEM is a pay-per-click method. So, you will be charged every time someone clicks on the SEM result. However, SEO is a natural/ organic lead generation technique that doesn’t cost you for clicks.

  • SEM works straight away while SEO may take a long time

The moment you implement SEM, your site/ webpages start appearing on search engine results pages. But SEO takes a minimum of six months- sometimes longer- before you start ranking on the top pages of search engines.

  • SEO grows in value over time, but SEM doesn’t

While SEO does take time to get off the ground, it generates higher ROI in the long term than SEM. SEM only works as long as you’ve turned on ads and are paying for them.

SEO or SEM: Which Is the Best Pick?

If you want to improve your search engine dominance, you’ve probably wondered what strategy between SEO and SEM you should choose. Both SEO and SEM strategies have one goal- to help sites rank higher on SERPs and as a result, get more traffic to their pages. The right strategy for your business/ website will depend on the competition in your niche, whether you have a specific target audience, your site’s online presence, and your marketing budget.

Each strategy has its benefits and share of challenges. But recent studies have shown that marketers who use both PCC advertising and SEO get 25% more clicks and 27% higher profits as opposed to those that employ just one of the methods. So, you are more likely to accomplish your marketing goals and see higher results if you use both SEM and SEO for your brand.

SEM vs. SEO: Putting It All Together

The bottom line is, both SEO and SEM offer a lot of potential to digital marketers. And depending on your target audience, business goals, and industry, one strategy may work better than the other. However, if you learn how to combine and balance the two, you are most likely going to see better results.

Author bio: Marina Turea works as content manager at Digital Authority Partners