Understanding the difference between SEO and SEM can save you marketing dollars. More importantly, it can help you use both effectively to grow your brand and stand out from the 70 percent of small businesses that have no SEO-SEM strategy whatsoever.

In the following article, we’ll discuss the key difference between SEO and SEM and how to use each to your advantage. Let’s begin!

1. Paid SEM Is Instant

The first thing we should delineate when referring to search engine marketing is what people are really referencing. They’re usually talking about the ads that lead off search engine results pages or SERPs.

These ads are paid. You don’t have to be an SEO expert to use them effectively. You just need a budget. The results, for better or worse, are instant.

2. SEO Is Organic and Takes Time to Develop

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Search engine optimization, on the other hand, isn’t something you’re going to master overnight (or ever, really, considering how much algorithms are tweaked). You need to play the long game.

That means targeting the right keywords, or the search terms users in your niche are entering about a topic. Developing content that answers their questions and addresses pain points will cut bounce rates, build reputation, and make your brand a go-to resource.

This can take hundreds of hours of brainstorming, keyword research, content development, and more. There are no shortcuts.

3. SEM Is Partly SEO

Another factor to consider with the question of what is SEO is how it informs SEM. Essentially, search engine marketing is comprised of SEO. That’s because it returns organic results with quality rankings based on how well the pages are optimized for their users’ experiences.

The other part of SEM is pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which we covered in No. 1 above. While PPC and SEO differ by definition, marketers use SEO to help their paid ads gain traction.

4. SEO Has Far More Individual Ranking Factors

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Again, what is SEM if not a mix of paid advertising and organic SEO returns? On its own, it has far fewer ranking factors than SEO. That’s because SEO has a lot more moving parts under the hood of the website.

  • Internal links
  • External links
  • Keyword tags
  • Image tags
  • Video tags
  • Consistent contact details across all web pages and social media platforms

The list goes on. It will not get shorter any time soon.

5. SEM Gets Visitors While SEO Turns Them Into Customers

When weighing the difference between SEO and SEM, it can pretty much be summed up like this. Your SEM is the window display. The SEO represents the shiny trinkets being displayed that you just can’t wait to get your hands on and pore over.

SEM will call attention to the best content. However, the best content needs strong SEO to stand out and earn that position on the SERPs.

6. Think Locally For Best Results

seo keywords

Last but not least, as Denver-based Get Found Fast notes, SEO is becoming more and more about local targeting. That’s because local keywords have less competition on a niche-by-niche basis, and that makes SEO marketing more affordable.

Good local SEO means good local SEM. As you pursue both, think about how you will distinguish your efforts from the rest of your local competition.

Use the Difference Between SEO and SEM to Your Advantage

Yes, there is a difference between SEO and SEM, but it’s not one or the other. It’s definitely a “both-and” situation that can only be well-used if you know the strengths and purposes of each.

Best of luck as you build your SEO-SEM strategies. For more online marketing tips and info, check out some of our additional posts!

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