SEM and SEO: what’s the difference?

If you’re a newbie online marketer just starting to find your way around the web, it’s likely that you’ve come across the terms SEM (which stands for search engine marketing) and SEO (which stands for search engine optimization) on a regular basis. But what is the difference between these two terms, and what can a marketer do to find out which one is right for their online needs? This article will explain.

Search engine marketing

The core difference between SEM and SEO is that the former requires payments to Google or another search engine in order to get up and running. (SEO, as will be explained below, often does require some kind of paying, but for different ends and goals.) SEM is not as simple as it sounds: it’s certainly not a case of setting up an ad and watching the conversions (or new customers) roll in. In reality, it will require a lot of optimization and experimentation before the perfect advert can be found. This, in turn, can start to cost more money – leading many marketers to consider the SEO option instead.

Search engine optimization

SEO is the task of going through a website organically and tweaking it in particular ways to reflect the priority of the Google algorithm thatranks results – and, crucially, without the need to have it listed as a sponsored result in Google searches. For those organizations thatare looking to differentiate between the two approaches on terms of price, this might seem on the face of it like a better option as it will not incur an ad fee to Google. 

However,it does, of course, require time and skill – and this is something that you will have to pay for, either by paying an existing employee or by outsourcing the work to someone external. The same goes for if you choose to buy guest blog posts, which is a well-recognized mode of getting more links to point towards your site and hence get rewarded by Google. If you need to differentiate between the two, it’s worth deciding based entirely on which side of the sponsored content line you want your site to appear: some organizations are dead set against appearing to have paid for their place, while others are frustrated by the amount of time that an SEO campaign can take. In short, it’s your own strategic decision to make.

Confusing SEM and SEO is a rookie error for many new marketers, but it’s one that can cost you a fortune in lost revenue if you choose an option that is wrong for you. Some marketers choose to reject one or the other approach outright, perhaps based on a particular strategic priority such as how long it will take for the results to be seen. Others, however, might perform a mixture of the two approaches. By finding a way that works well for you and your firm, you can ensure that you get the most value possible out of your online marketing project.

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