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SEO vs SEM : What’s the Difference?

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Whats the Difference

Two of the content marketing industry’s most important terms — search engine optimization and search engine marketing — are often used interchangeably. They shouldn’t be. While SEO and SEM share a few key commonalities, they take two vastly different approaches to building an online following. Below, we explore the SEO vs SEM divide — and help you determine which approach is better suited to your company’s marketing strategy.

SEM: Paying for Search Engine Traffic

Most people regard search engine marketing as a paid strategy, in which businesses pay to reach customers directly. A common example is pay per click (PPC) campaigns, in which advertisers pay a fee each time a user clicks on their ad. SEM remains an effective approach, particularly among companies seeking immediate improvements in search engine visibility. Those unable to invest the considerable time and effort into developing optimized content may benefit from SEM campaigns while determining how to proceed with an overarching optimization strategy.

SEO: The Quest for Organic Search Results

While SEM can be regarded as a paid strategy to drive traffic to your site, SEO involves the quest for organic traffic that is technically free. While keyword research and other optimization strategies may require a financial investment, you won’t directly pay for the traffic you secure via SEO.

Although once thought of merely as the use of targeted keywords, SEO now encompasses a variety of strategies aimed at driving organic traffic from major search engines. Examples include:

  • Optimized metadata (including meta tags and descriptions)
  • URL formatting
  • Social media sharing
  • Social bookmarking

Some of these strategies have a more direct impact on how pages rank within search engine results than others. With today’s complicated algorithms, several factors come into play, including website quality, popularity on social media, and even mobile optimization.

SEO Vs SEM: Which Is Better for Your Company?

Many digital campaigns employ a combination of SEO and SEM tactics. Some companies invest more of their efforts into organic search results, while others prefer the relatively straightforward nature of SEM.
As you consider your preferred balance between SEO and SEM strategies, keep in mind: many businesses find considerable online success despite neglecting to invest in paid campaigns, but few are able to attract a long-term following without the continued influence of SEO. Think of optimized webpages as a gift that keeps on giving; while occasional updates may be warranted to account for shifts in search engine algorithms, effective SEO strategy eliminates the need to pay for every impression. Yes, it takes effort to develop a robust SEO strategy, but it provides a considerable return on investment.

Search engines should play a chief role in your company’s digital marketing strategy. Whether you seek organic traffic via SEO, pay directly for traffic with SEM, or cultivate a combination of these two predominant approaches, it’s crucial that you harness the power of search engines as you seek to draw new customers to your website.

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