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SEM vs. SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are two most important digital marketing strategies. They both help to increase brand awareness and drive traffic to business websites by ensuring that the latter ranks high on search engine results pages (SERP). Both strategies accomplish this via the use of targeted and specific keywords.

The ubiquitous terms have over the years become almost interchangeable to many. However, although the two share many similarities, they are in fact not one and the same and each functions in its own way.

The major difference between the two terms is that SEO improves a business’ search engine ranking using organic methods, versus SEM, which uses paid methods. Some of the more common SEO methods used to ensure a business website is optimized for the SERP, include tactics such as:

  • Optimizing every page with the right keywords.
  • Using the right headers and well-formatted URL’s on every page.
  • Optimizing the site structure to ensure the website is mobile friendly, speed is fast, etc.
  • Having quality hyperlinks linking to credible websites and more.

SEM tactics on the other hand includes all types of paid search advertising, including pay-per-click ad campaigns (PPC), display ads, social media ads, sponsored content and more.

Another key difference between the two, is the length of time it takes for businesses to reap the success of their efforts. SEO is a much slower process than SEM, as the latter yields more immediate results. The moment a business launches a PPC campaign, the ads start to show up on the SERP. And depending on how one choses to set up their campaign, they can get weekly or even daily updates to know exactly how it’s doing, how individuals are responding to it, what may not be working versus what is working well, etc.

SEO is a much slower process as it’s all about finding the right combination of factors, i.e. site structure, content, design, links, etc. that all work perfectly in tandem to appeal to the search engine crawlers that communicates which search results are the best. And when one factors that there are billions of websites online, getting any website to rank highly is certainly no easy feat.

That said, despite its differences, SEO and SEM are inextricably linked, because a successful SEM strategy needs effective SEO. In other words, no business is going to be successful spending money on a well-developed SEM strategy, only to direct individuals to a poorly designed website that is not well optimized.

Let us consider the following scenario. Company X has spent the money needed to run a well-designed Google Ads campaign for women’s athletic running shoes and it succeeds in getting a number of clicks. However, when the individual clicks on their ad, they’re directed to a website that is very difficult to navigate, they struggle to find information on the various price and sizes of the shoes, the checkout process is slow and confusing, etc. The likely result in this scenario is that the individual will leave frustrated and Company X has lost a potential sale.

Before executing an SEM strategy, it is imperative that businesses ensure that their website and all other online presence are well-optimized with the appropriate keywords, tags and headers, links, great content, etc. Also ensure that the website is easy to navigate and if it is an e-commerce that the checkout process is as quick and seamless as possible.

That way, when the business starts running an SEM campaign, they can ensure that individuals who click on their ad will be directed to exactly where they want them to be and they will be able to make a purchasing decision with as minimal stress.

Ready to get started on your next SEM campaign or unsure how to start your first, we can point you in the right direction. Contact us today for more information.

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