Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are the peanut butter and jelly in your digital marketing sandwich. Yes, you can use just one, either SEO or SEM, but like PB&J, they create something extra special together.
The first step to developing a top-notch search strategy is knowing the difference between SEM and SEO. Next, you need to know how to use each to get search engine traffic. Keep reading to learn more about how SEO and SEM work and how to make each one work for your brand.
What Is SEO?
SEO, aka search engine optimization, improves a website to appear higher in organic search engine results. Organic search refers to the results you get when a user types in a keyword phrase or question. It’s not the same as paid search engine ads.
Most users find the information they seek through an organic search, making SEO a crucial strategy to improve your website traffic and land more leads.
How SEO Works
Search engines have crawlers that move across the internet, analyzing websites. The crawler uses information on each site, including internal and external links, to learn as much as possible about it. The crawler determines a site’s quality and relevance to a particular search based on what it finds.
The process of SEO involves preparing a site for the crawler. Usually, there are four parts:
- Keyword research: Keywords still matter for SEO. As you prepare your website, find out what keywords your intended audience uses and create content around those keywords. You don’t want to go overboard here or “keyword stuff.” But focusing a webpage or blog post around a commonly searched keyword phrase will help your SEO.
- On-page SEO: Using keywords is part of on-page SEO, which focuses on creating content your visitors want to see. Other on-page SEO elements include user-friendliness, optimized images, scannable blog posts, and mobile-friendliness.
- Off-page SEO: Things that happen beyond your website can also improve your SEO. Off-page SEO refers to those factors that improve your search results but don’t exist on your webpage. A common factor is backlinks to your site, ideally from authoritative or legit sites.
- Technical SEO: Think of technical SEO as all the behind-the-scenes details that ensure your site ends up on the search engine results page (SERP) in the first place. It involves allowing crawlers access to your site, enhancing your site’s accessibility, and indexing your site.
What Is SEM?
While SEO focuses on organic search, search engine marketing, aka SEM, is about paid advertising. Those “sponsored” results or ads you see at the top of the search engine results page are an example of SEM in action. Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising is a common component of SEM.
How SEM Works
Like SEO, an SEM marketing strategy is made up of several key steps:
- Keyword research: Keywords matter as much for SEM as they do for SEO. You want to use the keywords your users are most likely to search for.
- Bid setting: Unlike SEO, SEM/PPC requires you to pay when visitors click on an ad. You have some control over how much you pay, though, and can set your bids upfront.
- Ad creation: The goal of PPC/SEM is to get users to click on your ads and visit your site. Your ads need to be eye-catching and compelling.
- Audience targeting: With PPC, you can decide which type of audience sees your ads based on location or other demographic details. Audience targeting helps you increase the relevance of your PPC ads and maximize your SEM campaign.
How to Choose Between SEO and SEM
The good news is you don’t have to choose between SEO and SEM. The two marketing strategies can work wonders for your site’s search engine presence, helping your brand reach its goals.
One of the big differences between SEO and SEM is the cost. You do have to pay for SEM but not SEO. If you can do one but not the other right now, here’s what to consider when making your choice:
- Your goals: Think about what you want to get out of your SEO or SEM campaign. Are you targeting top-of-funnel users at the beginning of their journey? Or do you want to connect with people who are ready to buy? The answer can be both, in which case a mix of SEO and SEM will work for you.
- Your timeframe: Are you jumping into digital marketing for the long haul or want a quick boost? Do you want to improve your website in the long run?
- Your keywords: SEM and SEO depend on keywords, but the type of keywords you’ll use differs. If you find that informational keywords work best for your brand, SEO will pay off. But if the best keywords for you are hard to rank for, you will want to use PPC/SEM. The same is true if you use ad-heavy keywords.
When to Use SEO vs. SEM
If you still need help deciding whether to use SEO or SEM, here’s a quick cheat sheet.
Go With SEO When:
- You can wait up to six months to see results, like leads, traffic, and sales.
- You want a digital marketing strategy that doesn’t depend on ad spend.
- You can stay on top of your SEO (or hire an SEO agency to do it).
Go With SEM When:
- You need traffic, leads, or sales STAT.
- You want to improve your presence in competitive search results.
- You have the time and energy to manage your PPC ads (or you can hire an SEM agency).
The Benefits of Using SEO and SEM
Remember, SEO and SEM are like PB&J. They work on their own but work best together. The benefits of both include:
- SEO has no ad spend
- SEO works around-the-clock
- SEM is immediate
- SEM is targeted
- SEM is cost-effective
Zero Gravity Marketing Can Handle Your SEO and SEM
Zero Gravity Marketing is here for you if you need help building a long-term digital marketing strategy that incorporates SEO and SEM. We offer SEO and SEM packages and a full range of digital marketing solutions. To learn more about our services, sign up for your FREE digital marketing analysis.