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SEO vs. SEM: What’s The Difference?

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SEO and SEM are two great flavors that go well together – ok, sorry, this is not a Peanut Butter Cup. But many business owners may have heard “SEO” and “SEM” thrown around when interviewing digital agencies. Even though these acronyms are interchangeable, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) are fundamentally different.

While both digital marketing strategies help with increasing traffic to your business’ website, the tactics for SEO are not the same for SEM. Keep reading to learn the differences between SEO and SEM!

What is SEO?

In the marketing world, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a strategy to optimize your business’ website by using keywords and phrases coupled with non-collusive backlinks from 3rd party websites to drive more traffic to a website. SEO helps a website rank higher in SERPs (Search engine results pages) for specific terms in specific geographies, which occurs organically on search engine sites like Google and Bing.

Other techniques that fall into SEO are keyword research and analysis, site and server optimization, home page titles and meta descriptions, content creation, and more. The goal of SEO is for your website to rank for hundreds if not thousands of keywords in specific targeted areas that high rank naturally instead of paying for Google or Bing PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertisements.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a different digital marketing strategy that encompasses both paid advertising and SEO organic results on search engine websites. However, SEM acts as a high-level term for SEO because of the similar elements they share. The element is PPC, which directs traffic with the help of paid advertising. When a searcher clicks on a paid advertisement, the advertiser pays a fee to Google (advertisement publisher).

SEM involves creating and managing advertisement campaigns created through Google AdWords, Bings Ads, or other credible ad campaign sites. These ads appear as “sponsored ads” and rank towards the top (or bottom) of the SERP. Whether a company plans to use Google AdWords or Bing Ads, bidding keywords is a major element of paid search. When someone searches for a keyword, the ad can appear on Page 1 for the specific search term assuming the bid places the site in the top seven of all advertisers. Ideally, the goal of SEM is to have a business’s paid advertisement rank at the top (or at least in the first three positions).

Three Key Differences Between SEO and SEM

Both digital marketing strategies aim to increase website visibility and drive qualified traffic from search engines. However, SEO and SEM have key differences, which may impact the route you opt to follow.

1) The Cost

One of the most significant differences between the two major components of digital marketing is the cost. Many digital marketers use SEO because it is free traffic to your business’ website. SEO is an organic marketing strategy that does not involve directly paying for advertisements, unlike SEM which involves paid advertisements to appear at the top of the search engine page. Although, theoretically, SEO and the traffic it generates won’t cost you money. But just like anything else in the world, nothing is ever truly free.

The effort and services that go into creating SEO typically cost money, even though you’re not paying for services through Google like with pay-per-click advertising and other SEM-related strategies. Generally, an average to mid-size marketing business will spend $750-$2,000 a month for SEO compared to $5,000-$10,000 a month for SEM marketing. SEO is a long-term marketing technique that requires time, effort, and patience before seeing results. SEM provides immediate results but requires a large enough budget for the ads to continue running.

2) Website Visibility

Another difference between SEO and SEM is the visibility of your website. SEO focuses solely on organic search results that appear directly below paid advertisements. Organic results take time, effort, and patience; luckily, SEO typically attracts high-quality traffic that has an actual interest in your business and the products or services that your business offers. In fact, depending on the data you read, organic rank tends to get more than 85% of most clicks on the SERP page.

SEM, on the other hand, involves paying for advertisements through Google or Bing to guarantee your website appears at the top of organic search results. While this does give instant visibility, with a PPC advertisement, companies risk fraudulent clicks and unwanted clicks driving up costs and complicating analytics that could be helpful in the future.

3) SEO and SEM Sustainability

The final difference is sustainability for SEO and SEM. SEO is a sustainable digital marketing strategy that holds long-term results – 24 hours per day, seven days a week. Seeing results from SEO takes time and effort, however, once the high ranking happens, it’s difficult for competitors to make your position (dramatically) drop from Google.

Unfortunately, SEM does not have long-term sustainability like SEO. The minute you stop paying for your PPC advertisements at the top of SERP queries, your traffic will decline. To keep SEM sustainable, you must keep allocating budgets to ad campaigns to maintain a good flow of traffic and visibility.

Optimize SEO and SEM Performance with Premiere Creative!

SEO and SEM are two essential components of a successful marketing strategy for your business. Even though SEO and SEM have some similar aspects. Both approaches contrast when it comes to their cost, allowing for testing and revisions, how visible the website is after implementing SEO and SEM tactics, and their overall sustainability. For those who work in the digital marketing profession or own their own business and are trying to branch out in the digital marketplace, deciding on the best strategy depends on the goals and budget available.

Are you ready to start your SEO or SEM journey? Premiere Creative, a full-service digital marketing agency, has deep expertise in white-hat SEO techniques. Whether you seek to gain the top rank on search engine websites or reach new customers, the digital marketing experts at Premiere Creative are here to help! For more information about our SEO optimization services, dial (973) 346-8100 today!