SEO and SEM are often used interchangeably in digital marketing, but they are actually different terms that mean different things.
What Is SEO?
SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of helping your website rank higher ORGANICALLY on search engines. There are generally two types of SEO, on-site and off-site SEO.
On-site SEO is generally stuff you have complete control over. It's also what's known as technical SEO, because it's more focused on the technical aspects of your website.
This includes editing the metadata on your site (H1 tags, adding alt text to images, and having a meta description of your site). Editing the metadata is editing the background information of your website so that a search engine can more easily “crawl” or read your website. The clearer your metadata is, the easier the search engine can help you rank.
Another aspect of On-site SEO is page loading speed. The faster your page loads, the more likely your customers are to stick around and read the content on your website. This can be improved by making sure everything on your site is loading properly.
The third aspect of on-site SEO is the content on your site. Is it written well for the keywords you want to rank for? Is it engaging? Is it relevant? All of those topics are important to make sure your website ranks highly on Google.
There are many more aspects to on-site SEO, including having clear and concise URLs or having social sharing integration, but these are a few of the basic things that you can do to start having your site rise through search engine rankings. Getting on the first page of Google should definitely be a goal for your SEO strategy, as that is where most clicks are going to be found.
Off-site SEO is the stuff you have less control over—such as blog posting, social media channels, and links to your website—but is still very important to your organic results. While you may not have complete control over it, there are many ways to take control of your off-site SEO.
One of the most important aspects of off-site SEO and SEO, in general, is link building. Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to you and your content. But not all links are equal. Links from “higher authority” websites are generally better. A higher authority website is a website that often has many sites linking to it. These are called backlinks. Think wikipedia.com. When a high authority website links to you, it increases your authority in turn, which will allow you to rank higher.
Not every site is relevant to yours though. You ideally want links from sites that are relevant to your industry. Having a high authority tennis site link to your food blog is not the same as having a famous chef’s website link to you.
Writing quality blog posts, having interesting and new information, and guest blogging are all valid tactics to getting new links to your website.
Other off-site SEO tactics include getting people to share links to your site on social media and having social bookmarking sites (Reddit, StumbleUpon, etc.) link back to your site. Even no-follow links (links that won't boost that authority of your site) can be useful for organic search. The more people sharing your link will inevitably lead to the link ending up on the sites that do have domain authority.
People talking about your link, even if they cannot give you a backlink themselves, is often an effective strategy to get long term viewership out of a single post. All of these things will help to increase your website's ranking on search engines.
What Is SEM?
SEM or Search Engine Marketing is the process of posting paid ads on search engines to increase visibility to relevant customers.
SEM also uses SEO tactics to be successful. Paid search is usually what people are referring to when they say SEM, but a successful SEM campaign also includes tactics that increase site ranking organically as well.
Paid search is the process of purchasing an ad on a search engine. Most of these ads occupy the top three spots of a search. The advertisement appears like a normal search result, with the small exception of having an “ad” disclaimer in the corner.
PPC or pay per click is often what people are referring to when they talk about paid search. This is where you pay a small amount each time a customer or searcher clicks on your advertisement. There are many other important terms, including cost per conversion, cost per impression, and more, but you’ll hear the term PPC ads thrown around a lot.
A few of the most popular services people use are Bing Ads and Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords). With these tools, you go in, set your budget, write the copy of the ads, set up keywords you want to target and post the ad.
There are generally two types of ad campaigns that businesses run. Display ads and search ads.
Search ads are the first three results that pop up in most Google searches. They're paid ads that are used to get the right people to your site. The people who see search ads are generally people who are already interested in that keyword and things related to it.
There are a few ways to get the top spot with your search ad. Your ad should be relevant to the keyword and you need to outbid the other advertisers. The top spot gets the most clicks, so it is very valuable to get in your PPC campaign.
Display ads are the second type of ad that people usually use.
The major difference between the two is that Display ads pop up around the web on different sites and are more variable than search ads. The placement of ads is chosen entirely by Google, though you get to choose what kinds of sites and what keywords you would like to target.
Search ads have a greater chance of converting, but Display ads can usually be seen more. There's a whole lot more that goes into PPC marketing, but these are a few of the basics.
Even if you're not an SEO expert, there are many things you can do to get a higher position on Google. Link building is a tedious task but is a very good way to save on your marketing budget and still get solid growth. Reaching out to different people and sites across the web asking to guest blog, tag you in an article, or even add you to an existing article is an effective way to get long term success. It doesn't have a super high success rate, but every backlink you can get is helpful.
Maybe there's an article that links to your competitor. If you think you're a higher authority on the subject, send an email to the writer with updated or more useful information. The worst they can say is no.
Your business has most likely been mentioned around the web more than you'd think. If you go around to different web pages that mention your business, ask them to give you a backlink. You'll get some immediate visibility for not too much work.
Another effective SEO tactic that you can implement without being very tech-savvy is to make sure your site is full of relevant content that is well written and up to date.
When writing content for your website, you want to make sure you're actually fulfilling the search intent of your potential customers. It's great if you write a three thousand word blog, but if it's not what people are searching for, you won’t end up getting your desired results.
A good way to figure out what to write about or what to answer is to look at popular keywords. Are people searching for what you're writing about? If you're covering those important terms and the questions associated with them, then you'll start to see your number of visitors increase as you're appearing for what people are searching for.
Finally, you want to make sure that your site is an easy to use, speedy experience for your users. This is a clear signal to Google that your site is useful and not spam. Any online business can have a website, but you want to show that you are THE best site out there. You want Google to crawl your site and give it a high-quality score so it can rank above your competitors.
Having relevant information that is well written, good site architecture (no dead links, no ten mile long pages), and quality landing page all give signals to Google and users about what kind of site they're on. All of these things are great ways to get started with SEO, but you'll quickly discover there's always much more you can do!
When trying to use SEM, make sure to have an engaging copy that has a clear call to action. Whether you want someone to make a purchase or just to click on your site, the short copy of the ad needs to get that across.
Your budget is another important part of having a successful paid search campaign. Your budget should be high enough that you can get enough clicks to achieve your goal. If you want to convert customers to buy your product or service, you have to have enough in the budget to deal with a lot of clicks that won’t do anything. If your budget is too low on certain keywords, your ad may not show up at all!
As mentioned earlier, choosing the right keywords is one of the most important things you can do. You should do keyword research before committing to any to make sure they are right for your business If you’re selling golf equipment, posting an ad for the keyword “boats for sale” is not a good idea. You might think that someone buying a boat might have the money to be in your target audience, but Google will realize that your ad is not relevant to the search term. If your ad is not relevant to searcher intent, Google may not allow your ad to show up at all.
While you want to make sure you’re choosing relevant keywords, you also want to choose keywords that fit your budget. Some keywords have a higher search traffic volume than others and are more competitive or expensive.
Insurance keywords are some of the most expensive in PPC campaigns because the competition is so fierce. If you can choose some “long-tail keywords”, which are just keywords that are more specific and tend to have lower search traffic, then you might score some cheaper and more attainable wins than if you simply try to bid on “insurance.”
That doesn’t mean don’t try for those short keywords if you can afford it, but if your budget is low enough to get one or two clicks, it may not be worth it.
Of course, you want to include good SEO practices while conducting your paid search campaign. If your site isn’t well optimized and isn’t very good, your ads may not work like you want them to, which can be a frustrating experience.
Which Should I Use, SEM OR SEO?
While SEM and SEO both have similarities, the main difference between the two is the timeline.
If you’re just starting out and don’t have any web presence yet, SEM can be used to jump up traffic quickly in the short-term, but that only lasts as long as you keep the paid search campaign up.
SEO is a slow burn strategy, as it will increase your traffic over time, but you’ve got to put in the work. It’s cheaper than SEM as you’re not running an ad budget every day, but it takes more time.
In the long run, the best strategy incorporates both. That’s why SEM has SEO elements in it. If you start optimizing your site, you will get the slow burn started and when your paid search campaign starts working, viewers will come to a well designed and thought out website and want to stay longer.
If you have any more questions about SEO, SEM, or just search marketing in general, reach out to us! We’d love to help!