SEO vs SEM: A Simple Guide on the Differences

SEO vs. SEM – what are they and what is the difference?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. SEM stands for search engine marketing. The primary goals of SEO and SEM are to increase the visibility of and traffic to your website.

The key difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO relies on organic, unpaid strategies while SEM relies on paid strategies. Keep reading to learn more about SEO, SEM, and discover which is best for your business!

What Is SEO?

There are two kinds of SEO, which you are probably already implementing as a business owner. We’ll explain onsite and offsite SEO.

On-site SEO involves optimizing pages of your website to match targeted searches and help you appear organically in search engine results using these SEO solutions below.

  • Targeted Keywords-incorporating keywords in page titles, image alt tags, descriptions, and headings
  • Simple URLs that include target keywords
  • Social media sharing integration
  • Internal linking
  • Loading speed

Off-site SEO involves anything done outside a website to improve its search engine results.

  • Inbound links on your social pages
  • Sharing content on social media
  • Backlinks-links on other sites to your website

Because SEO relies on organic traffic, it can take three months to even a year to generate search engine result pages, SERPs, high. It is a free strategy that requires patience and staying up to date on the keywords in your industry.

What Is SEM?

SEM involves paid strategies such as pay-per-click campaigns to generate traffic to your website. Google Ads is the most popular SEM provider. Anytime you search for something and a result pops up that is marked “Ad,” that is SEM.

What is happening behind the scenes for the business is keyword research then developing an ad for a targeted audience. SEO isn’t targeted but with SEM you can show your ad to a specific demographic with filters such as age, gender, income, habits, and location.

Investment Differences

Since SEM ads can be turned on and off, their impact is immediate. They can drive people to your website instantly as they’ll appear at the top of SERPs. You are charged per click on an SEM campaign.

Because SEM has immediate interaction, it is better for testing. With SEM you can revise your keywords, copy, audience, and landing page.

Every time you go live with an SEM ad you can monitor the differences in traffic and revenue to determine what works best. This feedback is not available with SEO since it takes months just to generate organic engagement.

SEO vs. SEM, Which Is Better?

The key takeaway here is that SEO and SEM are symbiotic. It is wise to develop an SEO vs. SEM strategy first since SEO is free. From there you will know who to target and what keywords to use for an SEM strategy and simultaneously run SEM tests to then adjust your SEO accordingly.

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