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The Difference Between SEO and SEM

August 8, 2012

Last Updated on - April 20, 2014  

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seo-semIt’s easy to confuse SEO – search engine optimization, and SEM – search engine marketing. Some people insist that the two functions are one and the same. While it’s true that SEO and SEM cover the same territory – online outreach to potential customers, the truth is that the two are complementary rather than identical.  Savvy online merchants and brick-and-mortar business owners alike incorporate both SEO and SEM into their total online marketing mix.

SEO Defined

SEO targets generating traffic to your website from free sources, such as search engine results. A common SEO strategy is incorporating keywords and keyword phases into your website content – terms that people who are likely to use your services would use to conduct online searches.  Effective SEO keywords make it easy for potential customers and clients to find your website because search engines rank websites by how useful they are in relationship to a particular search term. Back links from other websites, that is, links included on other websites that lead to your website are another SEO strategy. Back links are most effective when they are placed on websites that are related to yours.  For instance, including a link to a travel agency’s website within an online travel feature.

SEM Defined

In the strictest sense, SEM includes all of your company’s online marketing efforts.  In that sense, SEO is a type of SEM.  However, in practice, SEM focuses on paid marketing efforts, such as inline, link and banner online advertising, pay per click and keyword buys, much like advertising efforts for hard copy publications, television and radio. Keyword analytics to determine which keyword phrases are most effective, and therefore worth paying for, are an important part of an SEM strategy. Proper ad placement is another important aspect of SEM. For instance, placing an ad for an athletic shoe on a sports related website is a logical buy.  Placing the same ad on a website for library professionals is more of a stretch.

SEO or SEM: Which Is More Effective?

Incorporating SEM marketing strategies into social media platforms can be awkward unless the advertising is very subtle, extremely clever, or both. Likewise, SEM is often out of place on the landing page of your company’s website, although it may be OK to incorporate SEM on other pages of your company’s website, depending on the nature of your business. On the other hand, SEM strategies are well tolerated, even expected on websites that serve as online storefronts.

Using effective keywords is a much less obtrusive approach. In fact, in many cases, keywords can be completely undetectable to customers who visit your website, yet very effective in being picked up by search engines. Likewise, back links that are logically incorporated into website content are often viewed as useful supplementary information rather than as marketing efforts.

How SEO and SEM Complement Each Other

In some instances, deciding between SEO and SEM strategies is an easy call, yet in many ways, SEO and SEM work hand in hand.  For instance, purchasing ad words and keyword phrases is an SEM function.  The actual placement of those keyword phrases within your website’s content is an SEO function.  Using marketing analytics to target websites where back links may be effective is an SEM function.  The actual placement of those back links would be the task of an SEO staffer or consultant.

In actuality, both SEO and SEM strategies are essential to effective Internet marketing. Coordinating SEO and SEM efforts can bridge gaps that might be left by using one strategy alone. For instance, it’s likely that you will find that certain keyword phrases work only with paid SEM marketing while others are better suited for organic SEO keyword searches. You can also allocate your marketing dollars more efficiently, by concentrating them on SEM functions that need them, rather than wasting them on keyword phrases that would do as well or better if they were applied to SEO.

For Further Reading

Does SEM = SEO + CPC Still Add Up?

Google Tweaks Algorithm to Thwart Keyword Stuffing and Link Schemes

How to: Unify Your SEO and SEM Strategies

SEO and SEM: Two Names for the Same Thing?

What Is SEM?

What Is SEO?

About the Author :

Guest post contributed by Peter Nevis, on behalf of Orangeline.com.au. Peter contributes to various websites, he’s a marketing expert and enjoys writing articles about SEO & online marketing strategies.

About the author

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