As a business owner, you want to get your website in front of as many eyes as possible. More website visitors lead to more sales, so it makes sense that you’re looking for ways to increase your website’s traffic. 

However, a quick Google search for marketing information is enough to make your head spin. There are so many strategies to try, but only one of you!

During your search, you’ve seen SEO and SEM mentioned a ton of times. They tend to be mentioned together, so you start to wonder, “What’s the difference between SEO and SEM, anyway?”

If you’re trying to figure out what makes search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) different, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to discover what’s unique about SEO vs. SEM and how you can use both to bring more traffic to your website.

What Is SEM?

Before we compare these two marketing strategies, it helps to explain what SEM and SEO are.

Search engine marketing, or SEM, is the creation and optimization of paid advertising through search engines. You may have heard SEM referred to as paid search, Google Ads, or pay per click (PPC) ads, too. These terms all refer to the same thing. 

When you create pay per click ads, you target specific keywords related to your business. When someone searches for a particular keyword you’ve targeted, your sponsored ad can appear on the search engine results page (or SERP). Whenever someone clicks on your ad, your PPC account is charged, hence why it’s called “pay per click.”

Some terms are more competitive than others, so these keywords may charge you more for each click. Your cost per click (CPC) can also increase based on page location, campaign type, and other factors. As businesses use SEM, they often develop bidding strategies to get the best leads for their investment.

However, SEM isn’t only about getting your text-only search ad to the top of Google results. Different types of SEM can include YouTube video ads, display ads presented on other websites through Google Display Ads, Google Shopping Ads, and more. 

While Google Ads are the most popular SEM platform, you can also advertise through Bing, Yahoo, Yandex, and other search engines. You can also advertise on social media platforms like Facebook, but while these are PPC ads, they are not considered part of SEM since they are not keyword-based.

What Is SEO? 

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is marketing done to improve how your website ranks on search engine results pages. SEO is referred to as organic, or free, search traffic.

When your website is set up correctly, search engines read every page of your website to determine what each page is about. When a search engine reviews your website, it’s called crawling. During the automated crawling process, search engines determine what keywords most accurately describe each page’s content and your website or business as a whole. 

For example, if you own a jewelry store, a search engine may see keywords like diamonds, engagement rings, gold earrings, or ring resizing as appropriate keywords automatically.

However, not every jewelry store will show up on the first page of search engine results. Search engines aim to provide the most appropriate search results for each keyword, so if you search for “diamonds in Chicago,” you will see Chicago-based jewelry stores that specialize in diamonds or are large local jewelry brands.

SEO is about making changes to your website to rank higher for relevant keywords. In some situations, that means making your website more user-friendly by improving page speed or navigation. In others, that may mean creating more content to target a keyword, like an engagement ring buyer’s guide.

What Is the Main Difference Between SEO and SEM?

Overall, SEO and SEM’s high-level goal is the same: to bring more relevant, qualified leads to your website. They are both powerful inbound marketing strategies meant to attract customers right to your site. But how are they different?

The primary difference between SEO and SEM is that one is free advertising, and one is paid advertising. However, there are some other key differences to note, too. 

While it may take a while to figure out your bidding strategy and message, SEM is still considered a short-term strategy. Many businesses use PPC ads ongoingly, but they can also use them to promote special campaigns, too. Some brands may target the same keywords they want to rank for organically, and other brands may target keywords that they would have a difficult time ranking for otherwise. 

SEM can also be used for brand building and development. For example, you can target a competitor’s branded keyword to place an ad for your company above your competitor’s website in a search engine results page. That way, any time someone Googles your competitor, they’ll see your ad first. 

Contrarily, SEO is often considered an ongoing long-term strategy. It may overlap with your content marketing strategy or website development goals. SEO involves making incremental changes and tracking how your website is ranking for certain terms month after month. 

There are a ton of ranking factors that determine which website ranks where for what keyword. Likewise, there are many ways to increase your chances of ranking. However, it may take more time to see results with SEO than SEM.

How Are You Attracting New Leads?

Even now that you know the difference between SEO and SEM, you may not know where to start. Should you choose one to focus on? Should you try to do both? 

Digital marketing can be complicated and time-consuming. Thankfully, you don’t have to learn it all yourself to bring new leads to your website. That’s why we’re here. 

Want to know which strategies will move the needle in your business? Claim your free strategy session today and discover how to make more sales in no time.