Ever since marketers laid hands on Online Marketing to promote their businesses on the internet, two acronyms have become a part and parcel of every communication-
SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
SEM (Search Engine Marketing)
If you are a beginner in the field of Digital Marketing, it is imperative to understand the key differences so you can effectively execute your brand campaigns.
Defining SEO & SEM
Officially, Search Engine Land describes them as:
SEM – “the process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.”
SEO – “the process of getting traffic from free, organic, editorial or natural search results on search engine.”
Traditionally (and theoretically), SEM is a superset of SEO. For years, SEM was driven using SEO and PSA (Paid Search Advertising). However, as marketing practices evolved, and so did marketers, SEM came to be known and practiced more as a PSA while SEO branched off as an individual area of focus.
To simplify it, let us look at it this way:
Take yourself 20 years back when marketing did not include digital media. Businesses were dependent on publicity which was either paid for (advertisements in local/national dailies, spots on TV and radio) or unpaid (public relations, word of mouth, etc.). Consider SEO as a word-of-mouth promotion on a digital platform, the mouths now being replaced by eyeballs of thousands of millions of readers and page visitors. And SEM, on the other hand, would include buying an ‘ad spot’ on search engines, which can target a specific audience.
Keeping up with Google’s constantly changing algorithm and the changing ways in which people use and consume content digitally, SEO and SEM strategies need regular adjustments. In the parlance of current marketing concepts, it would be more justified to treat and understand SEM and SEO as separate entities to be used in your online marketing strategy. Here’s a detailed look at both of them:
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO, in simple terms, is the process that can help you improve the visibility of your website in the search engine’s unpaid results (organic). Any increment in your website’s ranking in results page will help increase the number of sessions/users.
SEO is made up of two key pillars- On-page and Off-page SEO (also known as On-site or Off-site).
What is On-Page SEO?
On-page SEO is the practice of optimizing the content on the web page and HTML source code with relevant keywords. The most significant on-page factors that affect search engine rankings are:
- Metadata – title tag, meta description, heading tags (content heading and subheading respectively), image ALT tags.
- Page content – related to the product/service.
- Optimized URLs – well formatted page link using your keywords.
- Social Integration – enabling social sharing within your page content.
Off-page SEO is the process of improving website ranking by getting links from relevant and authoritative websites. Here are some ways to build quality links for your website:
- Blogs – create high-quality and informative content that users want to link.
- Social sharing – encourage users to share content on their social media page.
- Social bookmarking – create buzz by participating on content aggregator sites like Reddit, Stumbleupon, etc.
- Social Q&As: follow topics pertaining to the subject matter of the brand and respond to queries on sites like Quora or other similar forums.
What is Search Engine Marketing?
SEM involves gaining website traffic through paid advertisements on search engines like Google. A successful SEM exercise consists of-
- Creating ad groups: Check the viability of your keywords and their variations through Google AdWords.
- Custom audience: Define an audience based on geographical parameters such as city, state or country.
- Create a budget: Define your overall budget and accordingly set some aside for your campaign.
- Monitoring metrics: Evaluate the clicks, impressions, average CPC (cost-per-click) and CTR (Click-through-rates).
Summing up, here are the key differences between SEO and SEM:
|The process of gaining traffic from free, organic, editorial or natural search results on a search engine.||The process of gaining website traffic by purchasing ads on search engines.|
|Comprises of on-page and off-page (aka “on-site” and “off-site”) activities as its two main pillars.||Comprises of earning search visibility through paid advertisements on search engines like Google.|
|Requires continuous effort of generating relevant and topical content for social media.||Is a one-time setup and continuous effort of optimizing the campaign.|
|No third-party ad spends.||Ongoing spends for the duration of ad campaigns.|
In a nutshell, SEO and SEM play a pivotal role in the success of your business. Understanding these techniques can help marketers develop a comprehensive strategy to help the brand gain more users on their website. Search engines are the ‘go-to’ option for most people looking to buy products/services. Businesses optimizing their content and focusing on search engines as a part of their marketing strategy definitely gain more website traffic than the ones who don’t.