Search engine optimization (SEO) falls under the umbrella of search engine marketing (SEM). These are strategies that are used in the digital marketing arena to increase traffic and online visibility of websites.
It is far easier to describe the similarities between SEO and SEM than it is the differences:
- Both are designed to increase traffic or visitors to a website.
- Both increase online visibility.
- Both aim to increase search engine results page (SERP) ranking.
- Both use digital or online methods to market a website.
- Both use on-page and off-page techniques as part of an overall strategy.
- Both types of strategies involve a number of different techniques that are most effective when used in concert with one another and tailored to the unique needs of a specific website.
1. Organic Vs. Non-organic
SEO focuses mainly on using organic digital marketing techniques to drive traffic to a website naturally. These techniques are also referred to as “white hat” SEO techniques and rely primarily on understanding and working with search engine algorithms to increase search engine rankings.
While there are “black hat” SEO techniques available, these often do more harm than good and will negatively impact rankings in the long run and could even result in the banning of a web page or website by a search engine.
SEM, on the other hand, does not rely purely on organic methods to drive traffic to a website. It mixes both organic SEO methods as well as other strategies that will increase the online visibility of a website.
2. Paid Vs. Unpaid
SEO does not use paid for advertising in order to drive increase website traffic. As mentioned above, it relies mainly on organic methods to increase website traffic rather than using paid strategies.
The main aim is to improve search engine rankings and paid advertising does not have a great impact on this goal and in some cases, may even have a negative impact.
The latest research shows that ads placed by search engines for specific sites are more likely to be ignored by search engine users than organic results.
SEM does use paid advertising in order to enhance the online visibility of a website. There are different types of strategies that they use with regards to paid advertising.
Placing ads directly with search engines ensures increased visibility as do adverts placed on other websites. Advertising plays a big role in marketing and using it the right way in digital marketing can reap big rewards.
3. Cost Vs. Value
SEO is considered to be the most cost-effective marketing strategy available – both in the digital and traditional sense.
Some techniques can be employed on a DIY basis making it available to everyone while others may require the assistance of an SEO consultant agent or marketer.
However, the long-term value of using an expert in SEO does provide greater value for money and it is recommended to achieve the best results.
SEO provides a high return on investment.
Unlike SEO, SEM can be quite costly. Every aspect of an SEM will need to be paid for and it includes paid for advertising. However, this does not mean that it does not provide value for money and is a very effective marketing strategy to increase online visibility.
Not every business will have a budget for SEM.
4. Long-Term Vs. Immediate Results
SEO is a long-term, ongoing marketing strategy that takes time to show results. Although in some cases an increase in search engine ranking can be quick, it may take time to achieve a first-page ranking or that coveted #1 spot on a results page.
The results are however consistent and easy to maintain meaning the strategy will provide a good foundation for sustainable rankings well into the future.
SEM techniques can show an immediate increase in online visibility. In addition, the long-term results of SEO ensure that the strategy is also maintainable over the long-term.
The main difference between the two is that SEO focuses on increased search engine rankings whereas SEM aims to increase total online visibility – both with the overall goal of driving greater volumes of traffic to a website.
Although SEO can be used as an independent digital marketing strategy, it will provide the greatest value as part of an integrated SEM campaign. In the same way, SEM will provide the most effective results when using SEO as part of a comprehensive marketing strategy.
If you need a little more information on the differences between SEM and SEO, here’s a brief video that goes over some other areas not covered here: