You may have seen these two terms floating around online: SEO and SEM. Aside from the one letter at the end of each word, there’s no difference between them, is what you may be thinking. Right?

Not so! SEO and SEM are actually very different from one another, and you shouldn’t confuse one with the other. Doing so would result in losing out on two important means of directing visitors to your website and gradually turning their visits into click-throughs, sales, and leads.

Let’s tackle this confusion together by learning what SEO and SEM are and their major differences.

First, SEO

This term is actually short for search engine optimization. It’s the main practice used to guide search engines into ranking your website on search engine result pages (SERPs) using keywords that relate to your website.

There are two main forms of SEO that exist: one is called local SEO, optimization targeted to customers nearest you in a physical sense. The other is national SEO, which is optimization targeting select or all countries around the world. The demographics of the customers you are trying to reach out to will determine whether you need to optimize your website for local or national SEO. It also depends on your location. For example, a dentist in Coquitlam will have a better time with local SEO than national, whereas an ecommerce business that sells gifts to multiple countries will benefit more from national SEO.

SEO is also far more complex than one may realize. It is not an easy fix if your rank is suffering on SERPs (see our previous blog post about the subject of companies who insist it is). Rather, the entire process is a gradual improvement made to your website and it takes time for Google to rank it. By the time you are reading this post, Google has probably changed yet another algorithm (it happens), which is why updating your website and keeping an eye on your SEO is so important.

It’s also very important to note that there are two types of SEO “tactics” out there that you need to be aware of: black-hat and white-hat. Black-hat SEO are the exact sneaky strategies we’ve warned about many times; these people want only one thing from you, which is your money, and the steep price to pay is your online reputation and website. White-hat SEO, on the other hand, is what you can expect from our company.

If you’re wondering what else can be done in terms of white-hat SEO, do the following:

  • Keyword research must be conducted if you want to properly optimize your website, and these keywords can be used to help create unique content (bear in mind not to stuff the keywords into them, otherwise Google will notice your website in all the wrong ways!).
  • Google Analytics can help you determine how well your website is doing as far as SEO goes.
  • Publishing unique, high-quality content regularly is also an organic way to boost your rank without resorting to advertising. You do not need to optimize the content so much; keep your readers in mind instead of search engines when creating it.
  • Having a Google+ profile with a NAP (name, address, and phone number) as well as a link to your website will assist with local SEO.
  • Having a consistent NAP on your social media accounts—and being active on these accounts—will inform search engines you’re trustworthy.
  • Having a responsive and well-designed website will work wonders for your SEO too—especially since Google picks up more on responsive sites with fast loading times!
  • Paid ads on search engines can help, but organic SEO is easier to do and less costly.

Speaking of paid ads, let’s talk about SEM now.

SEM and What it is

This term is short for search engine marketing, the practice used to create what we know as paid ads on Google (alternate names include cost per click or pay per click, or CPC or PPC advertising). Using the same principles as SEO—using keywords, making several adjustments, and applying changes gradually as opposed to instantly—SEM can help market your website and when done right it can reap several benefits for your website.

That being said, you must understand that it comes at a cost. There is a reason SEM is often referred to as PPC: those advertisements you see on Google when you search for something are paid for by the advertiser when you click on the ad. This means the more clicks the ad gets, the more you pay for it. When done right, its benefits include more click-throughs, sales, and leads on your website. SEM is especially handy if, for instance, you have a product to sell or a service you know  people want and need, and the keywords you’ve researched and are using in the ads are the ones that target their ‘pain points’ exactly.

Like SEO, SEM is necessary in that it helps your website out if your organic ranking on Google is struggling. However, you need to know how much of a budget you are willing to spend on PPC ads on search engines, and that can be difficult to determine if the task is placed into the wrong hands—even costly. If your ads are not generating the leads or sales you want, you may have just wasted money instead of earning in double what you’re paying.

This is why we insist every website has SEO rather than only SEM. When combined, they are excellent in giving your website’s ranking and interest in your company a solid boost. But relying on SEM alone will not be enough to help your website rank well on search engines. Eventually the money you spend on paid advertising will run out and your ads campaign will be paused.

Organic SEO can help keep your website up on Google’s front page even after you’ve put your SEM campaign on hold, which is why we’re so insistent that you have it. For any business looking to last in the long-term, SEO is a must, while SEM is a luxury. Bearing this difference in mind will help you save money.

We hope this explained enough about the differences between SEM and SEO. If you’re still confused, or need assistance with either of these two means of getting your website noticed, contact us at V3 Media. SEO in particular is one of many skill repertoires we offer to confused clients!