The simplest way to explain the difference between SEO and SEM is to define our terminology. Let’s begin with basic definitions, and we’ll go into more detail afterwards about how each works.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This refers to optimizing the information on a website so it ranks higher on search engines, including Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing. SEM does include SEO, but also utilizes targeted paid search, popularly known as Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
Both SEO and SEM are critical parts of an overall digital marketing campaign.
How Does SEO Work?
A strong SEO strategy can lead to an increase in organic traffic, and involves identifying the keywords or keyword phrases your target market uses to find your service online. For example, a dentist office in Raleigh may want to be found for “Raleigh Dentist,” but also for specific services they offer, such as “Raleigh Sedation Dentistry,” “Raleigh Teeth Whitening,” and “Raleigh Oral Surgery.” By optimizing your website to rank on search engines for these keywords, you will show up first when potential clients search for the services you offer. Without having to pay for advertising, your site will bring in free, organic traffic.
On-Page SEO Strategies
There are many elements to creating a page that ranks well on search engines. Google wants to serve the best possible content for each user’s search query; that’s what makes them a valued search engine. Your website’s job, therefore, is to communicate to Google’s crawlers that your page is the optimal page for your chosen keywords.
Here are just a few elements of a solid on-page optimization strategy:
- Keyword-relevant H1s and H2s
- Keyword-friendly URL
- Developing keyword-rich content
- Creating regular, fresh content
- Optimizing images by putting keywords in their name and alt-descriptions
- Internal linking to other meaningful content on your site
- External linking to other, authoritative sites
- Social media integration with your other digital properties
- Filling out all meta-data
- Schema mark-up
- Creating a clear call-to-action
- Ensuring fast load speed
- Being mobile-friendly
Off-Page SEO Strategies
There are many ways to signal to Google–and potential clients–that your website and business are relevant, authoritative, and trustworthy. Having your business website listed in the major digital directories, building meaningful social media properties, or having quality reviews from previous customers all communicate your website’s value to Google and can increase your ranking.
Here are just a few elements of a solid off-page optimization strategy:
- Creating a meaningful and complete Google business directory
- Developing a quality backlink profile
- Having authoritative sites link to your site
- Building your site into directories
- Optimizing your social media properties
- Earn quality reviews for your business, preferably on Google on Yelp
How Does SEM Work?
Search Engine Marketing encompasses everything involved in search engine optimization, as SEO is simply one leg of an overall SEM strategy. SEM also includes Social Media Marketing (SMM), Pay-per-click (PPC), and components like reputation management.
However, when most people discuss SEM, what they’re really talking about is paid search, digital advertising, and PPC. In particular, a strategic paid search campaign can dramatically increase your site’s traffic, giving you a leg up on the competition.
Types of Pay-Per-Click or Digital Advertising
- Google Adsense
- Facebook ads and post boosting
- Affiliate links
- Digital advertising on high-traffic web publications or media
How Paid Search and SEO Work Together
Search engine optimization is a major part of bringing in organic, unpaid traffic; however, it can take time to develop enough content to help your site gain visibility and rankings on Google. SEO is the long-haul solution; it will increase as your business grows backlinks, gains quality reviews from happy customers, and builds out pages and blog entries.
Paid search can get your site immediate results. Simply pay for a few valuable keywords, and your site can grab the top spot on Google. Paid search, specifically PPC through Adsense, is targeted; therefore, traffic brought through PPC is more likely to convert. Meanwhile, increased traffic and conversions can lead to quality reviews or links to your content that will benefit your SEO.
Similarly, paid advertising campaigns and boosted posts on Facebook can lead to more awareness about your business’ social properties, and therefore increase your followers. Increased followers lays the groundwork for more organic future click-throughs and conversions.
In these ways, SEO and PPC can work together to maximize your SEM strategies!