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The Difference Between SEM and SEO

The phrases SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are similar and sometimes used interchangeably, but SEO and SEM are different services.

Most small businesses owners and marketers know a little something about SEO (search engine optimization) and the different tactics to help your website rank well in organic search engine results. Another important tactic for any Internet business to know about is SEM (search engine marketing), which includes things such as search engine optimization, paid listings and other search engine related services.

While the two phrases are similar and sometimes used interchangeably, SEO and SEM are different services.

SEO SEM Difference

What Exactly is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) can be described as strategies and tactics used to ensure that a site is accessible to a search engine and improves the chances that the site will be found by the search engine.

The goal of successful SEO is to obtain a high-ranking placement in the search results page of a search engine (e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines). Internet users often do not click through pages and pages of search results, so where a site ranks in a search results page is essential for directing more traffic toward the site. The higher a website naturally ranks in organic results of a search, the greater the chance that that site will be visited by a user.

Recommended reading: What is organic search?

SEO is typically a set of white hat best practices that webmasters and Web content producers follow to help them achieve a better ranking in search engine results. Some of these best practices include:

  • Creating and publishing excellent content.
  • Using keywords and keyword analysis.
  • Link building to improve link popularity.
  • Using social media links on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
  • Improving your site's navigation to provide an excellent user experience.

What Does Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mean?

Many people start with a good Web site and invest in SEO, but don’t necessarily follow through with another very important component; and that is search engine marketing.

SEM is a broader term than SEO, and is used to encompass different options available to use a search engine’s technology, including paid ads. SEM is often used to describe acts associated with researching, submitting and positioning a website within search engines.  It includes things such as search engine optimization, paid listings and other search-engine related services and functions that will increase exposure and traffic to your Web site. 

Some of the most common SEM best practices include:

  • Using keywords and keyword analysis.
  • Search engine optimization (SEO).
  • Building ads and content for local listings  and geo-targeted ads.
  • Pay-per-click (PPC)  advertising campaigns.

SEM offers you the opportunity to pay based on clicks (you pay only for each click through from the advertisement to your website or landing page). Ads in a successful SEM campaign will be shown to those consumers specifically looking for your products or services, resulting in a higher conversion rate.

The Difference Between SEM and SEO

SEM is a broader term than SEO. Where SEO aims to provide better organic search results, SEM uses the search engines to advertise your website or business to Internet customers and send a more targeted traffic to your Web site.

For example, when people use a search engine to query "fashion handbags," the organic search engine results is where SEO technologies can assist your website in being more visible. The paid advertising, or sponsored links are the ones prominently displayed above or beside the organic search results is a product of SEM.

SEO and SEM are not competing services. SEO is considered a subset of SEM services. If you want to conduct business on the Internet you need to be visible in both organic and advertised links, which means a small business needs both SEO and SEM.







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