SEO vs. SEM : Understanding the Difference

The terms Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are often used interchangeably, but they are actually different digital marketing services. The main goal of both the SEO and SEM processes is to increase the visibility in search engines but they use different strategies & tactics for getting better ranking in the search results. To describe in simple terms, SEO is about optimizing web property but SEM goes beyond SEO. Read below to know how SEO and SEM differ from each other.

Search Engine Optimization Services

Search Engine Optimization – Defined

In clear words, SEO is the process of optimizing a website in order to get free traffic from search engines. Recent search studies have revealed that 33 percent of searchers go to website ranking #1 in search results. This means SEO has a great importance for online businesses. An optimized website is easily understood by search engines, and hence, website ranks higher in ‘algorithmically’ determined search engine results. SEO works by improving ranking of a website organically. It doesn’t involve paying for better ranking in search results. The two main pillars of search engine optimization are:

  • On-page optimization: This SEO activity involves frequent original content updates; blog posts; incorporating keywords into title tags; headings & meta descriptions; formatting page URLs; social sharing; and sitemaps to get results.
  • Off-page optimization: It includes creating social bookmarking, natural backlink profiles and incorporating keywords in the anchor text.

Search Engine Marketing – Defined

SEM is a broader term that increases visibility of a website in search engines by using optimization and advertising strategies. SEM includes Pay Per Click ads, banner advertising, SEO tactics and other search engine-related marketing methods. A research study has shown that more than 80 percent of Internet users search information about a product or service on search engines. SEM is an effective digital marketing method to capture the interest of these potential customers at the beginning of the buying cycle. A website ranks higher in search results with the combined efforts of these two categories of SEM:

  • Organic Search: This involves optimization of a site by incorporating keywords and phrases in order to rank higher in search results.
  • Paid Search: Often called, Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising because you pay when user clicks on your advertising link present at either top or right hand side of search engines. This SEM activity offers immediate and hyper-qualified traffic to your website. The PPC ads are generally purchased from the Google Adwords or Yahoo! Search Marketing.

Which is better – SEM or SEO?

The argument here is not about which is better. SEO and SEM are not interchangeable or competing services. SEO is a component of SEM services. When it comes to driving traffic to your website, you need to have a strong marketing strategy that will include both SEO and SEM activities. That’s why companies that uses both SEO and SEM services often win in the search engine rankings!

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