Search engine optimization and search engine marketing are terms that are often confused. Many clients ask, what is the difference and do I need both services? I hope to clarify this and illustrate situations where one or both services may be necessary.
Both terms are often used interchangeably by those who don’t understand the distinctions between the two very different services. Occasionally, marketing agencies will package the services together, as certainly one service can support the other, but make no mistake, they are two very different tasks that can meet varied agendas. And if you are on a tight budget, it serves you well to know if you can focus on one at a time to achieve your goals.
SEO is the practice of growing a websites’ visibility in search engine results. Search engine optimization will maximize the number of visitors to a website by consistently over time establishing a websites “authority” so that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. This is accomplished by strategically placing the most relevant keywords and terms on the pages and in inside the meta tags of a website that audiences are both looking for and will spend time reading on that site. SEO also involves off page optimization techniques that cannot be seen on the site but can be seen by the “search spiders” that comb through links between websites to determine the relevance to a search query.
Google frequently updates the algorithm it uses to verify and rank the authority of websites to keep the market fair and reliable for its users and there are several components to SEO that contribute to your search visibility success or failure; from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. These two main driving forces behind SEO are On and Off Page SEO. On-Page SEO includes embedding keywords into website content and Blog posts and is written and optimized, formatting page URLS, improving page load speed, and Social sharing integration within your content. Off-Page SEO includes: Creating high quality, natural backlink relationships, Social sharing signals and Social bookmarking. SEO is also affected by external factors as well such as social mentions, shares and press releases and these are of great concern when you are using SEO for reputation management.
SEM, (warning: this is grossly oversimplified) is paid advertising, such as pay per click (PPC) listings search engines like Google Adwords. Search engine marketing is digital marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) using paid advertising opportunities that are targeted and appear when users search for products or services using specific keywords or phrases. Companies bid on keywords and phrases that are relevant to their desired demographic. Depending upon how saturated or competitive a market is the cost per click can range from 5 cents to $150. Of course, a savvy marketer will understand the value of a lead for your product or business and bid accordingly. As well an experienced marketer will understand your audience behaviors and optimize your advertising by researching and implementing innovative industry terms. SEM can be effectively supported by search engine optimization (SEO), by using a keyword strategy within website content and site architecture to achieve a higher ranking in search engine results pages to enhance pay per click listings. Naturally executing SEO and SEM in tandem can be very powerful, but not all businesses can afford to implement advertising and SEO at once.
Marketers love to debate which approach is more effective. But I believe effectiveness can only be determined by the vertical for which it is employed and the urgency of the client. A “vertical” is any market in which vendors offer goods and services specific to an industry, trade, profession, or another group of customers with specialized needs. An Inbound Marketer will tell you that organic SEO is the best approach, and I wholeheartedly agree that organic SEO will deliver the most interested, wallets open, “ready to buy” audience. However, for many businesses, Search optimization does not deliver results quick enough. For these situations, PPC (a component of SEM) makes more sense than SEO. For example, if you are first launching a site and you need immediate visibility, it is a good idea to create a PPC campaign because it takes less time than SEO. SEO is a great investment for the long game. SEM is the quick and dirty, but won’t have a lasting effect on your search engine visibility. Organic SEO takes longer to show results, however, in the end, it is more cost efficient than SEM and will establish a long-term search credibility that cannot be achieved with temporary PPC campaigns.