SEO vs. SEM in Digital Marketing: What’s the difference?

February 19, 2020
SEO vs. SEM Digital Marketing

Looking at your digital marketing plan?

Here’s what you know: You need more business and you believe in the power of digital marketing.

Here’s what you don’t know: How do I get more business and what are these terms I keep hearing like SEO and SEM in Digital Marketing?

Here’s what you need to know: Your business goals! Who is your target market and what do you want to teach/tell/sell them?

In the competitive internet world full of ever-changing algorithms and elusive audiences, many business owners aren’t quite sure where to dedicate their digital marketing budgets. There are multiple options from which to choose, but in most conversations about online marketing, you will usually hear two different abbreviations: SEO and SEM. In order to be an educated consumer of digital marketing, it is important to understand the definitions of these terms, how to manage your digital advertising strategies, and what results you can actually expect. Here are the definitive questions to ask to define SEO and SEM: Do you pay for ranking directly through search engine ads (SEM), or do you earn ranking (SEO) through being the most relevant site for a specific search term? Let’s explore this a bit further.

What are the definitions of SEO and SEM in Digital Marketing?

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is the process of earning website traffic from free, organic, editorial, or natural search results. SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is the process of winning website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. You may hear debates that SEO falls under SEM as the traditional approach to “marketing” would naturally include any and all methods to increase your business’ exposure. However, as time has progressed, along with new technologies and strategies from the powerful search engines, marketing language has separated the two. In truth, both strategies can provide success for your business and when managed and monitored effectively, you and your marketing agency will see the trends that prove success for your unique business needs.

Let’s explore SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

SEO increases organic traffic with Search Engine OptimizationGoogle and other search engines pride themselves on returning the most relevant results based on the intent of the inquiry made by the user. If a shopper is looking to buy running shoes, and your store sells running shoes, your SEO plan should be to make your website speak the most about running shoes out of every other site out there.Think about the intent behind a sneaker search. Your buyers are seeking information about which you are the expert. It’s your website’s job to answer those questions, excite the visitors with new and relevant information, and secure their decisions with support details that will encourage them to return for future purchases.

According to
• Ranking highly for organic search results is crucial; between 70% and 80% of users completely ignore paid advertisements
• 94% of all mobile and tablet search traffic comes from Google.

Elements of SEO

Many factors go into this digital marketing approach; much of the strategy can be controlled from your visible website. Optimizing your website about running shoes with well-structured pages showing quality images of your inventory and enhanced content allow your customers to make an informed decision about what shoes to purchase. These are improvements your visitors and the search engines will both approve of. There are also many recurring technical adjustments to the backend of your website required to achieve the ultimate results. As website visitors, your customers see the images and information, but the search engines see certain codes, title tags, and meta data that align the “visible content” of a site to the search terms your website visitors are using to find information, services, or products.

These are just some of the techniques you or your marketing agency can use to increase your rankings through SEO. In doing so, your website sings the continuous song of running shoes and the search engines begin to deem you an expert, authoritative, and trustworthy source on running shoes which, in turn, will bring you a continuous flow of “free” online traffic. You will hear SEO referred to as an “organic” approach. This path takes some time to achieve results, but if you plant the right seeds, nourish their growth, and monitor the results, you will “organically” grow with great online success. However, this can be considered a drawback if you are looking for more immediate results. This is where SEM can complement the growing SEO strategy, more aggressively promote an immediate offering, or offset the waiting game of organic growth.

How does SEM (Search Engine Marketing) increase online traffic?

SEM Search Engine MarketingSEM involves using paid advertisements to gain visibility on search engines. These ads are usually referred to as “pay-per-click” (PPC) or more historically “cost-per-click” (CPC) ads. This kind of advertising allows you to target search engine users based on their exact or related search queries. You know your best buyers, and with well-considered strategies, you can identify and address them directly through SEM. Focusing on demographics, economic intent, and purchasing history, you can ensure your budget is spent specifically on the folks you want to talk to. Let’s go back to the running shoe scenario. If you were looking to promote a seasonal sale or perhaps opening a new location, a paid ad campaign is a winning approach.

When utilizing a paid ads strategy, you can increase the visibility of your webpages and related blog posts on demand as you need them, much like turning a light switch on and off. When you are participating in a paid SEM campaign, your ad can appear at the top of the search engines based on particular factors like the keywords chosen, demographics of your audience, and an auction system that is mostly budget-based. Turn on the ad, you have the chance to be number one! Stop paying for said ad, your top-ranked listing is turned off. There are many tactics to this SEM approach to monitor success and manage your budget. A/B testing allows us to use ad “A” in one pass and then use ad “B” with slightly different key wording or phrasing to see which ad wins the most visitors and generates the best results.

SEM uses paid ads for digital marketing strategies

According to
• More than one-quarter of people (26%) click on a paid search ad because it mentions a brand they are familiar with.
• Three-fourths of people (75%) say paid search ads make it easier to find the information they are searching for on a website or search engine. Read more about SEM stats that may be helpful.

How do I know what keywords to target?

Depending on your immediate budget, you can choose keywords based on their competitiveness. Google Ads has a tool call the Keyword Planner that helps identify your best terms and phrases to promote in your ads. The broader a search term is, the more expensive it may be if there are many other companies vying for the same position. Like all marketing budgets, an SEM campaign needs to be carefully monitored and dynamic in order to achieve success. If your ads are in “set it and forget it” mode, how will you know if you are targeting the correct key words and audiences? That is the beauty of digital marketing, you can track, learn, and change according to your needs as well as the demands of your online market.

How do you choose between SEO or SEM digital marketing strategies?

We now have access to many SEO and SEM digital advertising tools that help in determining the best search terms in targeting the online audience that is right for you. Campaign monitoring through Google Analytics and Google Ads reports are excellent ways to track how many people have seen, clicked, or even called from your website based on your SEO and/or your SEM campaigns.

Do I really have to choose between SEO and SEM?

It is important to note, SEO and SEM are not mutually exclusive. In fact, there are many cases where the most success comes from creating a digital marketing campaign that uses both to complement each other.

SEO SEM Strategy HelpWhoa! You may ask, “I can plant the organic SEO seed, and while I am waiting for the crop to grow, I can announce to my specific buyers right now about the amazing things I offer?” Yep! That’s where a great digital marketing agency comes in. Knowing how to reach those folks, telling them what you do, and asking them kindly to interact with your presence online is what we do best. You get to stay focused on what YOU do best!

Who can help design the best SEO/SEM strategy?

Between your expertise and the professional guidance of Results Repeat, we have the right combination for success. We have extensive experience creating purposeful campaigns that have successfully brought our clients more business year after year. You found us online because you are in the market for what we do best.  We have just repeated another successful result! Our digital marketing team is ready to learn about your business goals and to partner with you to achieve exciting results. Contact Results Repeat today!

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