What are your goals? What is your time frame?
Do you want a better web presence? Do you want a higher conversion rate?
What is your budget? Do you even have a budget?
Your answers are going to determine which path is going to be better for your business.
What is SEM vs. SEO?
SEM stands for search engine marketing. SEO stands for search engine optimization. Although you might see them used interchangeably with search marketing, the truth is that they are not the same.
SEO is a part of SEM. SEM is an entire marketing strategy that encompasses paid advertising as well as SEO, which is more organic and takes time to build.
To answer the questions above, if your goal is all about increasing conversions, SEM is going to be your best bet. If you don’t have a budget but have all the time in the world, then SEO is going to be a better choice.
Search Engine Advertising
When it comes to SEO vs. SEM, let’s focus a bit more on search engine advertising. It’s the next step when SEO just isn’t working as fast as you’d hoped.
Search engine advertising falls under the SEM umbrella. It works to build your customer base more quickly than SEO alone.
The easiest way to think about the process is to imagine the paid ads that show up on Google when you look for something. They each have an “Ad” label. That’s search engine advertising.
Paid advertising is an immensely popular form of advertising online. The most common method is the pay per click approach.
How your particular ad shows up in a search result depends on what is known as your quality score. The quality score is determined by services like Google Ads and results in your placement online.
It all starts with you deciding on a monthly budget. You then create the ad. It must connect to a landing page. Once it has been completed, you’ll get a quality score.
A good quality score means that you’ve got a better chance of appearing in search engine results.
SEM vs. SEO Meaning and Applications
People want to know what the difference is between SEO and SEM, but by now, you can see how they’re related, yet still different.
SEO is a great stepping stone if you have absolutely no budget to work with, but be prepared for it to take some time.
You’ll have to be consistent with things like original content and link building to build your credibility.
SEM, on the other hand, will cost you some money. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but you do need to be ready to invest in advertising. While it includes SEO, it covers so much more.
SEM for Beginners
To get a handle on SEM, we’re going to walk you through a basic primer on what SEM is and why it works.
Before we get started, make sure you pay attention because if you’re not using SEM, your business is losing out.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing is one of the more effective ways your business can grow and stay competitive within the marketplace. To help you understand, here’s a quick glossary of some of the lingo you’re going to see.
- PSA – Paid Search Advertising
- PPC – Pay-Per-Click
- CPC – Cost Per Click
- PLA – Product Listing Ad
- SERP – Search Engine Results Page
Imagine Googling for a keyword like “SEM vs. SEO” – you know you’re going to get results that are relevant to what you looked for on the SERP.
You’ll also see PLAs about the topic that you searched for. Those ads that you see are part of the PSA that SEM uses.
Advertisers will use services like Google Ads by bidding on keywords. Google’s algorithms compare the quality of the ad and give you a score. Those scores compete with others and the better scores tend to have better placement in SERPs.
You’ve seen these ads before if you’ve ever used a search engine. They are also known as PPC ads where you only pay for the ad when it gets clicked on by a potential customer.
Getting the Keywords Right
Keywords are crucial to your success when it comes to search engine marketing. Users search for specific words and phrases to find what they’re looking for.
If you want searchers to find you by a PPC ad or within the first five listings on a SERP, then you need to do your homework.
There are a variety of tools available for free where you can do your research. Google has a keyword planner, and so do other sites that will give you what you need.
You need to zone in on the right keywords because they drive what is called search intent. There are certain words that indicate whether or not someone will want to purchase your product or service.
Having the right keyword coupled with the correct search intent is the difference between finding new customers or losing potential clients.
Knowing what the keywords are is not enough anymore. You also need to know how to combine keywords with the ad text to have a better click-through rate.
All of that is achieved when you know how to handle your keywords.
SEO For Beginners
Doing research for keywords is where SEO and SEM overlap. Understanding how SEO works can help you get started spreading awareness if you’re on a limited budget.
To start with, SEO focuses on growing brand awareness in non-paid search results. While the majority of information tells you that it’s all about the keywords, that’s only mostly true.
The reality is that SEO is also about making your website consumer-friendly, too. How do other websites link back to yours? Is the site easy to navigate?
Search engines will push traffic to your site via the SERP. If it can’t find you, though, then your site will never make it back to a results page at all.
That’s where knowing where words need to be is useful – the title, headers, content, etc. It all makes a difference.
Search Engine Optimization
There is a bit of a learning curve if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty details of SEO. The basics say that a user searches for a keyword or phrase, then results come back.
From there, you know that having the right keyword in your content or site is important so your page has a chance of being returned.
Yes, the relevant results are what you see when you search for something. What you may not realize is the way they come back to you. SEO is a combination of relevance and popularity based on algorithms.
To help you better optimize your sites, search engines often have guidelines that they recommend. Bing says you need original content and people-friendly URLs. Google says a clear hierarchy needs to exist as well as static links.
Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a genuine understanding of search engine optimization, but it’s enough to get you started.
Getting the Tags Right
You’ve probably seen meta keyword tags mentioned, but their importance is debatable. First, these tags aren’t really used anymore because people abused them. Thanks, spammers.
There are other tags that are crucial for SEO, though, so don’t dismiss all tags as unimportant. The title tag, as well as the meta description tag, cannot be overlooked.
Meta title tags give you the web page title and are usually what you see on the SERP. It’s the clickable link to the result you see.
Ideally, you don’t want them to be any more than 60 characters for the entire title to show up in a search.
Meta description tags are what you see as a summary for the site you’re looking at on the SERP. Having a good description can encourage better click-through rates. Do keep in mind that you don’t want anything longer than about 160 characters.
SEM vs. SEO – Knowing Which One to Focus On
You’ve got a lot of information to get you started on understanding the differences between SEM and SEO. The question is, do you know how to pick the best one for your situation?
Let’s imagine a couple of different scenarios.
Ken built a new site, Widgets-2-U, and he’s offering premium prices on top-notch widgets. He has an advertising budget of $150 per month to start. His goal is to have his site provide his primary income.
Sheila wrote a cookbook that she wants to sell via her website, Cooking with Gizmos. She also wants to offer her menu services, but it’s all more of a side job. Her primary job takes care of her financial needs, so if this takes off for her, it’s a bonus.
Ken needs to build his customer base with a quickness, so he may not be able to wait for long.
Sheila, on the other hand, has time to spare.
What do you think they should do?
Go ahead. Think about it.
The best advice for both of them would be to embrace SEM. However, if Sheila wanted to focus more on SEO as opposed to paid advertising, it would make sense for her.
Ken, though, needs to go forward with paid search ads because he needs a faster turn around. Lucky for him, he can name his budget and adjust it as necessary if he goes forward with using Google Ads.
Making the Choice
You don’t need to pick one or the other right away unless you want a quick ROI. Advertising will hands down do that for you much faster.
That’s what it all boils down to in the grand scheme of things – time and speed. If you want to increase the amount of customers you have or raise brand awareness, SEM is the best choice to make. At least that’s the one if you want things to happen fast.
If you’ve got the time to take things slowly, then by all means, study up on SEO. Learn how best to implement search engine optimization. Test a few theories and work to make it happen.
Just know that SEO takes time where SEM adds in the paid advertising that will bring you more people faster.
Be sure you think about your budget, your goals, and where you want to be with your product or service. Once you have that figure out, you’ll be in a better headspace to make the best decision.
In this SEO vs. SEM battle, what have you used so far?
We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.