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The Differences Between SEO and SEM, and Why You Need Both!

You've been trying to rank your websites in Google for any length of time you've no doubt come across the terms SEO and SEM. (Search Engine Optimisation and Search Engine Marketing) What many fail to understand is that there are subtle yet key differences in SEO And SEM, and both are essential for your site and brand to move up in the search engine results pages. (SERPS)

Let's take a deeper dive to better understand what the key areas we need to implement are, and what's not so important.


What are SEO and SEM?

The main difference between SEO and SEM is that:

  • SEO utilises technical, organic strategies to get your pages found in search.

  • SEM utilises paid traffic strategies to get your pages found in search.

Let's break down SEO first. There are basically three elements within traditional SEO:     

  • On-Page SEO includes keyword optimisation, content creation, internal linking     

  • Off-Page SEO includes external link building, local and directory listings    

  • Technical SEO includes site architecture, speed, mobile, and searchbot crawlability

Each of these is an important contributor to the whole of SEO, working together to deliver a page that Google will want to rank highly.

SEO can take months to bear fruit, but is the best choice for long-term search engine rankings and viability. It is a task filled with ongoing tweaking, constant content creation and the need for an overall strategy guiding the ship.

SEM is similar, only different!

SEM uses paid ads to deliver traffic to your pages. This needs to be strategised well, as you are spending money to make this happen. The keywords utilised for paid ads can and should overlap the main keywords you are optimising for in SEO.

These ads can be used to promote new content, drive targeted visitors to offers, or to enhance brand and audience reach. There are many ad platforms that can be used for this type of purpose, with most using Google/YouTube Ads, Facebook/Instagram Ads, or smaller but many times more effective places like Pinterest, LinkedIn and others.

Why ideally you want to employ both SEO and SEM

The case for using elements of both SEO and SEM is quite strong. For example, you could decide to go solely with SEM and simply run ads to your landing pages. While this has the advantage of bringing immediate results (visitors) who are searching for your specific keywords, and may bridge the gap while you're performing the time-intensive task of getting your SEO up to speed.

Also, SEM has the added benefits of helping you discover your searcher's intent, which is where all of search is headed in 2021 and beyond. Oh, and one practical aspect of SEM is that searchers are far more likely to see your ad, especially when your website is new and you haven't yet achieved many organic rankings. People are conditioned to look and click at the top of Page One of Google, and while your page may never get there, your ad can be there tomorrow.

There are a few other factors to consider as well. Not insignificantly there's the cost associated with running a viable ad campaign, (or several) and the inevitable testing and the fact that you may well have to go through many incarnations before you come up with a winning ad. On the flip side, if you concentrate entirely on SEO, this as mentioned can take quite a bit of time. It's harder to test different versions of pages, (as opposed to ads) and while this can definitely yield better long-term results, creating content for a website requires a multi-faceted skill-set that can be hard to acquire or pay for.

That's why we feel there needs to be both disciplines at work at the same time. Continually creating content and optimising organically for search, while utilising paid ads to perform specific jobs, and bring visitors to new content and offers. One under-emphasised benefit of SEM is that the fact that visitors are coming to your well-optimised page is a benefit in itself for the ranking profile of that page, helping it to rank better organically. Moreover, you are hedging your bets somewhat by having a two-pronged strategy, and give yourself more options down the road.

The case for separate (but working together!) technicians

So at this point, you may well be wondering who am I going to get to do all this? Most of us are not able to take the time and expense necessary to become professionally proficient at these dark arts, and we need to outsource this out to staff, outsourcers or an agency. While this can depend on cost and time, there are a few best practices you'll want to follow when it comes to having others do this work for you.

First of all, don't employ one person to do both jobs. This is akin to having your hairstylist perform oral surgery on you: same head; wildly different jobs. That said, that people you select need to work toward goals that you've determined for them. Each can definitely have a major impact on the other's work, so keep everyone on the same page moving forward.

The bottom line: 5 goals for your SEO/SEM

  1. Designate two separate individuals or teams for each discipline.

  2. Create a cohesive and complementary plan for your website

  3. Perform keyword research for both, and find areas of strength for each

  4. Create content with both strategies in mind.

  5. Use SEM to promote SEO

Implementation of these strategies can have both an immediate and long-term benefit in your search marketing.


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