SEO Vs SEM: Differences And Similarities Between The Two Building Blocks Of Digital Marketing Strategy
Marketing has significantly evolved over the last decade. There has been a huge rise in the options available to the businesses for marketing their products and services. However, the rise in options has also led to a growing complexity in the marketing jargon. Many terms have been introduced which can be very confusing for young businesses. It has been seen that many marketers are also confused about the correct meaning and usage of the terms. One such example of terms is Search Engine Optimisation or SEO and Search Engine Marketing, or SEM.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization or SEO basically refers to the process by which a website or an online business maximizes the number of visitors organically by making sure that the rank of the site is high in the list of results which are returned by the search engine.
A huge part of your website’s SEO involves creating high-quality content which will be useful for your target audience. Thus, gradually the organic traffic of your website increases. The Google Algorithm is changing very frequently, which has also pushed the SEO industry to keep pace with it. Despite these changes, one aspect of SEO remains the same that it constitutes both on-page and off-page activities. It is these tactics which confirm that your landing pages, blogs, and even web copies are properly optimized for search.
Why SEO Is Better:
- You spend on your resources once and reap benefits forever.
- Once you achieve success in your SEO, it is a formidable competitive advantage that is not easy to replicate in a short period.
- It is expected that in the long run, the cost per visitor will be a small fraction of what you will end up paying for SEM campaigns.
What is SEM?
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a digital marketing technique undertaken to promote websites by making an apparent increase in their visibility in SERPs or Search Engine Result Pages by paid advertisements.
SEM uses pay per click (PPC) campaigns like Google search ads. The advertisements under SEM are usually reflected on SERPs above various organic listings. This leads to an increase in the visibility of the web pages of your online business. Some examples of SEM activities include:
- Starting advertisement campaigns keeping in mind a particular audience.
- Creation of ad groups with target variations of keywords.
- Creating an ad budget.
- Monitoring of metrics like clicks, impressions, average cost per click, click-through-rates etc.
The most important feature of the traffic generated by SEM is that it uses a pull marketing technique. It targets people through keywords, or in common terms, the search query user inputs into the search bar. It is a known fact that search engines are used by people when they look for solutions to various problems or are looking for answers to some specific questions. They type in user queries and these queries are known as keywords in the digital marketing space. It is the degree of relevance of various keywords to the pay-per-click advertisements which enhances the quality of SEM traffic in comparison to other sources.
Why SEM Is Better:
- SEM campaigns start yielding results instantly, while SEO can take months.
- You know exactly what you are paying for, and you can measure the return on investment (RoI).
- Once you hit the winning formula, you can keep scaling up your SEM strategy with great ease.
- You get to control how your brand name and other attributes are treated.
Similarities Between SEO And SEM
Before venturing into the differences between SEO and SEM, it would be wise to first understand the fundamental ways in which both these strategies are similar. SEO and SEM hold a deep kinship with regard to various factors including traffic creation, lead generation, and specific keyword targeting.
In other words, both SEO and SEM aim to boost your website’s ranking while building brand awareness. However, this is precisely where the resemblance between these digital marketing strategies ends.
Basic Differences Between SEO and SEM
The basic/fundamental difference between two of these most important digital marketing strategies is that SEO is an organic and long term activity while SEM being a part of PPC Campaign, is a paid and short-term activity.
SEM is an umbrella term and is usually used for paid search while SEO is used for organic search.
- Search Placements: Search results which show up as a result of SEM are usually identified as ads and are placed at the top of the search page along with an ad icon, while the ones which occur as a result of SEO activity are seen below the search ads.
- The Appearance of Search Results: It has been seen that there is a difference in the appearance of search results in both cases. In SEM, ad extensions like phone numbers, callouts, other links etc. are often included in the search results while in case of SEO, featured snippets are seen to appear with the search results.
- Target Audience Selection: Specification of the target audience is only possible in SEM as it comes with a plan for connecting with the selected audience. You can select your audience specifically by using various filters like age, location, income etc. Thus, you have control of who will exactly be able to see your search results. SEO is not endowed with any such feature.
- Impact: SEM strategy works on paid ads so the results can be put before your target audience in a few clicks which means that as and when your campaign is launched, your ads start to figure in SERPs. Their visibility is also in your hands as you can optimise them for increasing the visibility or even turn them off to put an end to showing them any further. SEO, on the other hand, takes time to build up and show the desired results.
- Testing: SEM offers a better strategy for testing. It is because the paid ads by SEM can be turned off or on at any time of your choice. SEM allows you to revise your ad copies, target new audiences, etc. to measure campaign effectiveness. There is no such option when it comes to SEO. The most you can do is experiment with the kind of content you produce.
- Adding Value: SEO in contrast to SEM, adds value to the strategy and your online business gradually over time. This thus leads to lasting results. This is not possible in the case of SEM. SEO also has a better click-through rate than SEM. This is typically true for the first few organic results of the SEO.
- Visibility: In the comparison between SEO Vs SEM, SEO holds an edge in terms of visibility, if you are ranked on the first SERP. Research has revealed that 70%-80% of search engine users focus only on the first few organic web results. Nonetheless, if you are not ranked on the first page, SEM is likely to outperform your visibility, particularly with regard to CTRs.
Using SEO And SEM Together
SEM and SEO (Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization) are vital components to optimize a brand’s website for discovery in search engines. The right combination of both of their strengths is truly the key to maximizing this important opportunity.
Here are a few reasons you should consider combining your SEM and SEO strategies:
- Visibility – One of the most important benefits of combining your SEO and PPC efforts is your search rankings. Most marketers know that coming at the top of SERPs is incredibly important for keeping brands top-of-mind in consumer searches. But a quick search for just about any product or service will show that the top two or three results on SERPs are generally PPC ads. So it stands to reason that integrating your SEO and PPC strategies means that both your paid search and SEO efforts are working in conjunction with one another to boost your brand right up to the top of search results.
- Value – Integrating your paid search and SEO strategies also means getting the most for your money in terms of PPC. Not only will your brand see free traffic from SEO for your high ranking terms, combining your paid search and SEO can also work to supplement traffic for your lowest ranking pages. Paid search is guaranteed–as long as you have the budget. When combined correctly, aligned PPC and SEO strategies mean brands get all the great free traffic that comes from SEO while also reaping the benefits of paid search for terms that might not be getting much action.
- Control – Combining your paid search and SEO strategies means the best of both worlds. It helps you in controlling exactly what messages searchers receive. With paid search, your brand can write ad copy to drive conversions. In SEO content, your brand can remain present in the navigational aspects of the buyer journey. With paid search, your businesses can switch out ads whenever you need a boost, like during sales or special promotions. Then SEO content can serve as an anchor for customers who are trying to find your brand online.
- Get more clicks – Of course, the main goal of both SEO and PPC is to get clicks. Thus one should not rely solely on high-ranking organic search results. But combining your paid search and SEO is about more than just getting clicks (although clicks are incredibly important). It’s also about meeting your customers wherever they are in their buyer journey and giving them the information they need to build the foundation of a relationship with your brand.
The Bottom Line
After going through the above points you can make a more informed decision about the choice of your marketing strategy. What you need first, is an in-depth knowledge about the extent of competition in your industry. Secondly, you need to understand how far you are prepared to dive in terms of marketing considering the budgetary limitations. You may also want to see the strategies which are being used by your competitors, like what kind of search terms are getting them their organic ranks, or what terms are they using to drive paid traffic. You need to weigh your long-term goals and underlying vision when making the final decision.