SEO verses SEM: What Are the Differences?

SEO and SEM both pertain to search engines. SEO or search engine optimisation is about optimising content to improve search rankings on Google. SEM or search engine marketing, is about using paid strategies such as pay-per-click to gain visibility on search engines.

Both work together to reach audiences through search engines, yet have very different ways of doing so. We'll walk you through in more detail of what both SEO and SEM involve, how they work and when the best times are to use each one.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimisation or SEO is the process of increasing organic traffic to a website by raising its visibility in search engine results. This requires focusing on the content within a website, as well as an off site strategy. Google uses over 200 signals when choosing which websites to show search engine users. Their ultimate aim is to present the best possible answers for their audience, which means they will be looking at your:

  • on page SEO - this consists of a variety of factors, including URL structure, internal links, title tags, content, meta descriptions, images, filenames, keywords, and headings. 
  • off page SEO - this consists of several factors, including link building from other websites, branding, social media marketing and customer reviews or testimonials.
  • technical SEO - refers to white hat SEO, which means the site is easy to navigate, mobile and browser friendly, follows Google's rules and contains quality content.

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing or SEM is the process of using pay-per-click ads from a search engine to get your website page in the search results. Specific keywords are targeted and when these keywords are searched for in a search engine, the website link is shown as an advertisment. Pay-per-click or PPC ads work by you paying a fee each time your ad link is clicked upon. 

PPC is set up through a search engine like Google Ads, and as such, they will be the one invoicing you for clicks. You will need to undertake keyword research to decide which words to focus on, set a bid per click, create an ad and choose your target audience. The more competition there is for a keyword, the higher the price per click you will pay. 

Similarities and Differences Between SEO & SEM

There are several key similarities and differences between search engine optimisation and search engine marketing. 

Similarities Between SEO & SEM

The similarities between SEO and SEM are that they both:

  • help a website to appear in search results
  • target keywords
  • need to have a dedicated target audience
  • help to increase traffic to a website
  • require ongoing testing and optimisation to keep ranking well

Differences Between SEO & SEM

The differences between SEO and SEM include the following factors:

Factors Search Engine Optimisation Search Engine Marketing
Ads No ads are used to be found in search results, and search results can have featured snippets. Ads are used to be found in search results, and these results feature the ad wordings.
Value Over Time Takes time to rank, but is valuable over the long term. Immediate results are achieved, but when you stop the ads, you stop the traffic.
Website Testing Is not suitable for using to send traffic to test areas of your website. Is suitable for using to send traffic to test areas of your website.
Payment No payment is required when a visitor clicks through to your website. You will pay each time a visitor clicks through to your website from an ad.
Audience The search result does not target a highly specific and selected audience. The ads are targeted to be seen by a high specific and selected audience.
Impacts SEO takes time, as content needs to be indexed and then ranked by search engines. SEM is immediate, as once the ad is live and shown, click throughs can occur instantly
Click Through Rate (CTR) The CTR of SEO is higher. The CTR of SEM is lower.

Choosing Between SEO & SEM

So, should you be using SEO or SEM to drive traffic to your website? You can actually use both, but if you had to choose, then it would depend upon your:

  • Goals - are you wanting to sell more of a product right now, or are you happy to have it found by search engines in several months time? For instant traffic, choose SEM. For long term traffic in the future, choose SEO.
  • Budget - if you can afford to and are happy to pay for traffic to your website, choose SEM. If you have no budget, or don't want to spend money on advertising, choose SEO.
  • Website's current performance - if your website is relatively new, or you are introducing a new product and want traffic now, SEM may be the way to go. If you are happy to wait for traffic regardless of whether you have a new or an existing website, choose SEO.
  • Visitor data - SEM provides you with highly detailed analytical data about visitors, and while SEO does provide data too, there is less detail.
  • Competition - if there is a lot of competition for your keywords, there will be high costs per click with to SEM. SEO clicks are free, though it can be challenging to rank on page 1 with a highly competitive keyword. 

Where to next? Learning to use either search engine marketing and search engine optimisation is time consuming. Our comprehensive SEO Resources have lots of helpful information on understanding and learning to do your own SEO. You could also work with one of the many professional SEM and SEO providers. 

Tags: seo  

Posted: Friday 16 September 2022