The Difference Between SEO and SEM

 In Blog, Search Engine Optimization

…And how they can improve your online marketing strategies

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) are both strategies used in the realm of Internet marketing. However, they are not interchangeable. While both aim to achieve visibility, they serve two very different purposes. SEO elevates your rankings in search engines while SEM uses PPC campaigns and other advanced strategies to lead more users of Google, Bing, Yahoo! and others search engines to your site.

Depending on your marketing goals, you may use SEO, SEM, or both as part of your campaign. Each tool has its own unique advantages. The key to success is pinpointing the right search engine strategy for the results you’re looking to generate.

Understanding SEO

Forget the idea of “build it and they will come.” Designing a mobile responsive website isn’t enough to draw online traffic. After your website is live on the Internet, you have to make it easy to find for your current and prospective customers. That’s where SEO comes into play. SEO is a long-term marketing strategy that helps elevate your website’s search rankings under relevant and geocentric key terms. In laymen’s terms, it helps push you to the top of the list of websites brought up in searches relevant to your website’s content.

This is considered “free” traffic. When you’re optimizing your SEO, you aren’t paying Google to elevate your website’s rankings. You earn it by providing Google’s constantly evolving algorithm with credible and relevant content.

There are many ways you can increase your SEO relatively quickly, especially if your online presence is new. However, to really establish your website as a credible source that consistently ranks on the first page of relevant searches, you have to continually update and maintain your content. You should consider this an ongoing process that is consistently maintained.

Writing for Search Engines vs. Writing for an Audience

Writing search engine friendly content isn’t as intuitive as some may think. There are certain strategies SEO content writers utilize in order to gain Google’s favor. This can include catering your titles, subheads, and content to contain certain keywords and phrases as well as using HTML and tags to help communicate to search engines what your page or post is about.

A good copywriter is stealthy in their integration. They fashion their HTML and content to reference the right words and phrases without making it obvious to the reader. In fact, this article is doing all of those things right now. The key is to be able to write both for search engines and your audience, and that starts by focusing on relevant, accurate, and informative content.

You’ve probably seen poor SEO optimized content before. It repeats the same words or phrases whether it makes the paragraphs read well or not. Sometimes older, outdated websites will even place a plethora of keywords in the bottom of their site layout just to score a higher ranking on search engines. Not only does this make your business look bad, but it can also be very frustrating for web browsers. Search engine users are looking for content that answers their questions or provides the solution they’re looking for, not convoluted information presented in a way that makes it difficult to read and decipher.

Thankfully, times have changed since this form of SEO optimization was popular. Now this approach to SEO can actually hurt a website’s ranking more than it helps. When viewers stumble across poorly drafted content or pages that are irrelevant to what they are searching for, they quickly click out of the page and search for a better source. This “click in, click out” experience heavily increases your bounce rate, which tells the search engine that your page doesn’t align with what users are looking for and thus causes it to push your ranking down.

Today’s Google Algorithms Seek Relevant Content

Over the years, Google has updated its algorithm to make search engine results more and more relevant to the user. They now penalize sites who use manipulative or “spam-like” keyword and keyphrase strategies to discourage poor SEO practices and provide web users with better results for their search.  

So what gets you to the top of the list? High quality, relevant content and a positive user experience. This is now Google’s number one focus. In fact, it is prioritized even before keyword and keyphrase relevance. That means pages that were once ranking due to high keyword or keyphrase matches are now dropping below older pages more centered on providing rich and relevant information about the subject searched.

When producing your content, make sure you’re focusing on keywords and keyphrases that are truly relevant to the content you’re writing. For example, you don’t want to try to rank for “best web designs of 2017” if your content is really about why you provide the best web design services in the area. Instead, feature a thorough showcase of what you believe are the best web designs of the year. Share screenshots of the layouts and explain why they rank the way they do. At some point in the article or blog post you can always backlink to your services as a credible source providing input on the subject. You just want to make sure your “sales pitch” ties in with the subject matter.

On-Site SEO vs. Off-Site SEO

Okay, so we’ve thoroughly covered On-Site SEO by discussing the keyword and content strategies for pages and blog posts on your business’ website. But did you know your SEO ranking isn’t solely determined by your online real estate? Off-site SEO matters, too. This refers to outside links that lead to your company’s blog posts, content pages, or homepage.

Why does this matter? It all comes back to relevancy. Google is going to prefer a well-recognized source over a website that generates little traffic and has little-to-no recognition throughout other areas of the Internet. Thus, part of a good SEO strategy is building your brand’s credibility through backlinks provided by other websites.

There are various ways you can do this, such as:

  • Accepting PR opportunities where writers share your expertise as part of an article posted on news outlets or various high traffic websites, and link back to your website as a source
  • Guest blogging on various websites with backlinks to your own website or posts
  • Send out press releases to news outlets on stories related to your business that are newsworthy (Click here to learn how to write an effective press release)
  • Continually monitor your site for broken links and update accordingly so that you provide other Internet users with a reliable source to backlink

When to Focus on SEO

You want to focus on SEO as a long-term way to build traffic to your site, elevate your brand’s credibility, and make your site easy to find under the searches that are relevant to your blog posts, services pages, or business.

Remember, this is free traffic you’re building by scaling your website’s content up the Search Engine Results Page (also known as SERP). While SEM quickly places you at the top of these searches, it costs money to throw your link up at the top of the search list. The idea of SEO is to consistently build your organic reach by gaining Google’s favor, thus saving you money in the long run while establishing your site as a credible source above your competition.

Understanding SEM

SEM is another facet of Internet marketing that is great for boosting your web traffic. It goes above and beyond organic SEO, but that doesn’t automatically make it “better.” These tools are best used in tandem with one another as part of an overall strategy for Internet marketing.

Think of SEM as online advertising. You can purchase the “top results” in search engines using PPC or other campaigns. These ads place your link as a top “search result” based on the keywords or keyphrases you designate to your campaign. They look a lot like regular search results except for the subtle “Ad” tag placed beside of them.

Before you start your campaign, it’s important to conduct keyword research. This involves using an algorithm to determine how certain keywords and keyphrases rank in relevance to your content. Your content must match the search query it’s looking for, or else your ad will be penalized with less exposure.

On certain platforms, such as Google Adwords, you have to constantly maintain your keywords by filtering out irrelevant phrases and terms, or adding new ones that would better reach your audience.

Some of this is trial and error. The more you do it, the better you will get at projecting winning keywords and keyphrases for your campaigns.

PPC and Google Adwords

ppc and google adwords

When people think of Pay-Per-Click (PPC) campaigns, the first service that often comes to mind is Google Adwords. They are the leading paid search engine advertising platform. Most businesses with an active Internet marketing campaign utilize Google Adwords or have in the past.

Why? Because when it comes to search engine options, Google is king. According to Net Market Share, 77% of the market share favors Google—a number that is steadily on the rise! When you want to increase your web traffic fast, you go to where the browsers are. Google Adwords allows you to create an ad that looks like a search engine result, then bid for the first and second spots on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).

There are also other PPC campaigns, such as the ever-popular Facebook Ads. This growing advertising platform has also proven to generate traffic and great ROI, so long as you execute a well planned campaign to the right audience.

There are comprehensive “how to’s” that go in depth on effective strategies for this form of marketing. In fact, we recently conducted a Digital Marketing 101 Workshop where we covered what businesses need to know in order to execute an effective PPC campaign.

The Advantages of Paid Traffic vs. Organic Traffic

Okay, so you understand that PPC campaigns open up the digital highway and increases your website’s traffic flow. But did you know there are other advantages? PPC allows you to target a specific audience by age, location, demographic, interests, and more!

By being more specific in who you want to target, you improve your odds of gaining traffic that will react positively to your call-to-action. You can even retarget recent visitors to your site by using pixels.

Facebook has really mastered this approach. In fact, they even created their own Facebook pixel to optimize your reach.This method is known as “remarketing.” Consider the last time you shopped on Amazon, found a product, but after some hesitation decided you would think about buying it later.

The next day you log onto Facebook and notice that same product is showing up in your newsfeed, then in an advertisement on your favorite site! These little reminders keep the product top of mind until the temptation is just too much. You pull up a new tab and hop back onto Amazon to buy the product!

That is remarketing. It gives potential buyers a second, third, and fourth chance to follow through on a purchase they weren’t quite sure about. You can even use it to tempt recent buyers into coming back for more.

How? Use that retargeting to share similar products and offer a limited time coupon code to give them incentive to return immediately. These little temptations can go a long way into following through with those “almost sales” or building a long-term customer out of a one time purchase.

Pairing SEM with Landing Pages

SEM often links to a special type of website called a landing page. Landing pages are single page websites geared toward a single call-to-action. It is not your main website. Unlike your “official website,” a landing page is meant to deliver a single campaign message. Think of it as an interactive advertisement. The copy, images, and video media work together to tell a story and tempt the viewer to follow through on your campaign’s objective.

Whether it’s to sell a product or service, gain subscriptions, download an ebook, or increase calls and inquiries, landing pages keep viewers from getting distracted by other pages and information that may steer them away from your campaign’s purpose.

This landing page would become the link for your PPC ads. These ads can run on multiple platforms, including Google Adwords and Facebook Advertising. However, you want to keep in mind that you’re looking to draw a specific audience.

Ask yourself, where would my target customers or clients spend their time? Would the most likely buyer be searching for my product on Google? Or is it better to lure them in on their downtime via Facebook? These are just a few of the many questions you should ask yourself prior to launching a campaign.

Identifying your audience and their primary buying habits will help you pinpoint exactly how and where to initiate your PPC ads.

Bringing SEO and SEM Together

As we stated before, Internet marketing doesn’t have to consist of one search engine marketing approach or the other. In fact, a good campaign utilizes SEO, SEM, Landing Pages, Social Media, and more. Use them in tandem with one another to build your brand’s credibility, expand it’s reach, and/or generate new traffic and business. Doing so will help you achieve the best results.

iPartnerMedia specializes in these campaigns. If you’re looking for an expert to help you with your SEO and SEM execution, or even planning your campaign from scratch, be sure to contact us at 239-449-4749. We can schedule a complimentary consultation to discuss your business goals.

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