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SEO vs SEM: What's the Difference?

Over 90% of activities online start with a search engine like Google. With the right digital marketing strategies, you can reach these customers. Better yet, you can reach consumers who already have an interest in your product or service.

Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) can help you appear in front of ideal customers. What is the difference between SEO vs SEM, exactly? How can both benefit your business?

Keep reading to find out! In this guide, we'll review everything you need to know about these digital marketing strategies.

Then, you can boost your ranking on search engines to reach more customers.

Get started with this comprehensive guide into the difference between SEO and SEM today!

What is SEM?

About 81% of consumers search online for a product or service to buy. Another 74% have purchased products online. With search engine marketing, you can reach these online consumers.

What is SEM, exactly?

Search engine marketing involves multiple digital strategies. These strategies help businesses expand their reach on search engines like Google.

Search engine optimization is a type of search engine marketing. You can utilize other strategies to reach consumers on search engines, including:

You can also use different ad formats. For example, PPC ads can appear as call-only ads, text, animations, videos, and HTML-5 ads.

When someone clicks on a PPC ad, you'll pay for that click. The cost-per-click (CPC) can vary based on competition. You can have your PPC ads appear on Google based on keywords or demographics.

PPC allows you to use precise targeting to reach your ideal customers.

PPC advertising can become costly if you lack experience, though. It helps to work with an experienced digital advertising or marketing agency. They can help you make the most of your budget.

An experienced marketing agency can design, manage, and optimize your campaigns.

PPC ads aren't exclusive to search engines, though. You can also create ads for Facebook, Tiktok, LinkedIn, and Instagram. Creating eye-catching visual ads can help you attract more people to your business.

You can also use remarketing ads. Remarketing ads are visual ads that appear in front of previous website visitors. You can use these ads to bring people back to your website.

That way, you can increase sales and improve your ROI.

You can also create personalized ads. You can prompt specific images to appear in your ads based on the products your website visitors looked at. These ads could help you reduce cart abandonment.

SEM Campaigns

Before creating an SEM campaign, it's important to learn more about your target audience. The better you understand your customers, the more likely you'll create appealing ads. Otherwise, generic messaging might fail to spark their interest.

You can target your audience based on age, gender, household income, and other demographics. You can also use a location radius to zero in on your customers.

It's important not to make your targeting too narrow, though. Narrow targeting could limit your customer pool.

Going too broad, on the other hand, might make it more difficult for you to focus on your target audience. You could waste time and money as a result.

Once you determine your targeting parameters, you can organize your campaigns. In Google Ads, you'll create campaigns with ad groups. Each ad group can contain one or more ads.

Organizing your campaigns will help you make more informed decisions moving forward. You can determine which keywords and ads are performing well. Then, you can make changes to your underperforming ad groups.

It's important to review the performance of your campaigns regularly. You'll pay each time someone clicks or sees your ads. You could blow through your budget faster than intended.

Making changes to your campaigns can help you optimize your ad language and targeting. You can also determine which search terms prompt your ads to appear. Then, you can create a list of negative keywords.

A negative keyword list will ensure you don't appear for certain searches.

For example, a residential window repair company won't want to appear for searches for "Windows on PC." Your negative keyword list will help you avoid unnecessary costs.

The Benefits of SEM

Before we compare SEO vs SEM, let's talk about the benefits of SEM alone.

SEM allows you to utilize different strategies to reach customers. You can experiment and determine which ads appeal to your customers. Then, you can spend more time and money on those campaigns.

You can also use SEM marketing on different platforms. For example, you can decide between Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or LinkedIn advertising. Choosing different platforms will help you focus on your ideal customers.

If you want to target business executives, you can spend more time on LinkedIn. If you want to reach younger buyers, focus on Instagram or Tiktok.

Other digital marketing strategies, including SEO, can take time before you experience results. With SEM, however, you can create campaigns and display your ads today. Once people start clicking on your ads, you can start generating leads and sales.

You can also make immediate changes to your campaigns. You can make adjustments, alter your bids, or limit your budgets. Remaining in control can help you control costs.

You can improve your ROI and start building your business as you continue optimizing your campaigns.

What is SEO?

Over 50% of website traffic starts from a search. In fact, SEO drives over 1,000% more traffic than organic social media.

What is SEO, exactly?

Search engine optimization allows businesses to appear on search engines like Google. Your website pages will appear based on the consumer's searches. You can use keyword research to determine what keywords your customers use in a search.

Then, you can create content based on those searches.

SEO Campaigns

You'll need to optimize your website content with search engines in mind. Each page on your website should have a single target keyword. You can include secondary keywords throughout your content as well.

Over time, your SEO ranking will improve. A higher ranking will help you appear in front of more customers. As people continue visiting your website, Google will take notice.

Google studies your visitors, dwell times, and clickthrough rates to determine your ranking. If people visit and leave without clicking around, your bounce rate will increase. A high bounce rate can have a negative impact on your SEO ranking.

You'll need to use different strategies to improve your SEO ranking. For example, link building is an important ranking factor. It helps to have high-authority websites link to your website content.

Google will notice people consider you a helpful resource and improve your ranking as a result.

The Benefits of SEO

Remember, about 90% of online activities begin with search engines like Google. You can appear in front of customers each time they search for your product or service.

You can also create content based on the consumer's search intent. Matching their intent will show consumers you understand their needs. They'll choose your business the next time you need help.

A higher ranking can also:

  • Help you generate more website traffic
  • Improve your brand awareness and recognition
  • Attract leads, conversions, and online sales
  • Boost your credibility
  • Build brand trust and loyalty
  • Improve your ROI

As your ranking improves, you'll appear before competitors in your industry. You can become a credible thought-leader your customers will learn to rely on.

SEO is a cost-effective marketing strategy, too. However, you'll need to create content throughout the year to boost your ranking. You'll need to stay up-to-date with the latest algorithm changes, too.

Otherwise, your ranking could drop.

Here are a few interesting numbers from a recent Business SEO Statistics survey by UpCity.

- 46% Of U.S. Businesses Are Focusing On On-Page SEO

- 16% Of Businesses Noted That Social Media Marketing Is A Key Part Of Their SEO Strategy

- 44% Of Businesses Are Implementing An SEO Strategy For 2022

- 43% Of Businesses Say That Their Current SEO Strategy Is Somewhat Effective In Reaching Their Goals

The Difference

What's the difference between SEO and SEM, then?

When comparing SEO vs SEM, most people look at the cost.

SEO is organic. You don't have to pay to ensure your website appears on Google. You will have to create high-quality content and generate backlinks, though.

It can take time before your SEO ranking improves. It helps to work with an experienced SEO expert who understands the algorithm.

SEM, on the other hand, is a paid advertising strategy. You'll pay for impressions or clicks. If you lack experience with SEM, it can become costly.

While SEO takes time, SEM can ensure you start producing immediate results.

With SEM, you won't have to worry about the latest search engine algorithm changes. With SEO, neglecting these changes could hurt your ranking. In fact, you might unintentionally use black hat SEO tactics.

Google could penalize your website if you use black hat SEO. Your content might not appear on search engines.

Both SEO and SEM can help you boost brand awareness and traffic to your website. You can also use both tactics to generate leads and sales.

In fact, SEO and SEM often go hand-in-hand. You can use SEM to generate more traffic to your website. Google will take notice and improve your SEO rankings.

Then, you can reach even more customers to continue boosting your business.

SEO vs SEM: Your Guide to Stepping Up Search

To recap, what's the difference between SEO vs SEM?

Both marketing strategies can help you reach more customers online. While SEO is organic, SEM is a paid tactic. You can use both together to boost your business.

Remember, it can help to work with an experienced SEO or SEM expert. They can help you save valuable time and money.

Want to work with a pro? Contact us today to get started.

Headshot of Nik Paprocki, head of growth at WebSuitable.
Nik Paprocki
Head Of Growth
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