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SEO and SEM – How do they differ?

November 26, 2014

Search engine optimization or SEO and search engine marketing or SEM are often used interchangeably but actually represent two different things. SEO is intended to enhance a website’s visibility in a search engine’s natural/organic’ or unpaid search results. On the other hand, search engine marketing involves promoting a website by increasing its visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) via optimization and advertising, which means that unlike SEO, SEM includes paid search results.

Even though both strategies are linked, actually they are distinctly different fields with different tactics and goals. Both aim at increased visibility in page results. SEO is about optimizing the websites to get better visibility whereas SEM involves other methods such as PPC advertising to attract more visitors.

SEO and SEM - How do they differ?

  • SEO – This is the process of optimizing websites to get free traffic from the search engines. Optimizing a website can bring more chances of ranking higher in SERPs. It involves on-page and off-page tactics.
    • On-Page – These tactics refer to optimizing pages of the website to make them more search engine friendly. It includes incorporating selective keyword into title tags, meta descriptions, alt tags etc, clean and well formatted page URLs, Google author tag incorporation, optimized page load speed, etc.
    • Off-Page – This refers the tactics that a website employs to acquire votes from other websites so as to build trust in the eyes of search engines. It includes link building, social sharing signals, social book marking, etc.

    Well-implemented, SEO can

    • Create consistent traffic.
    • Create website authority.
    • Increase the website value.
  • SEM – It is a marketing process with the goal of getting more search engine visibility by getting more free traffic or paid search such as Pay Per Click (PPC) listings and advertisements. These advertising links are mainly purchased from Google (Adwords) and Yahoo (Overture). It relies on creating quick, clear advertisements and tactics such as keywords bidding. The three key aspects to search engine marketing are paid inclusions, traditional ads and Pay-Per-click advertising.

SEM is recommended:

  • To generate immediate results.
  • To create highly targeted traffic.
  • To promote a limited period offer.
  • To optimize non designed sites for SEO.
  • To maximize share through clicks.

Even though SEO is slower and broader, it gives high return on investment over long periods of time and encompasses many best practice web design standards. On the other hand, SEM is fast and extremely adaptable. As the search ads can be set up within minutes, most important customers or supporters can be quickly identified and sending them to targeted landing pages can be carried out within just a few hours. Instead of considering them as competitors, businesses count them as collaborators with the primary goal to maximize the amount of relevant and qualified traffic to website.

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