Digital marketing requires businesses to utilize various strategies in order to get as much exposure as possible. Two of the most popular and effective methods are search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO). While these two strategies are often used interchangeably, they have distinct differences. In order to maximize your digital marketing success, it is important to understand the distinctions between the two.
What is SEO?
SEO is the process of optimizing your website content and structure in order to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs). This is done by optimizing keyword usage, implementing high-quality backlinks, and ensuring a site’s structure is user-friendly.
The goal of SEO is to increase organic traffic to your website, meaning you don’t have to pay for ads or other paid content to drive traffic to your site. SEO takes longer to take effect than SEM, but it delivers long-term results that, with proper upkeep and maintenance, can last for years.
One example of a website that utilizes SEO well is Moz (https://moz.com). Moz has highly optimized content and keyword research that drives traffic to its site. On their blog, Moz consistently puts out high-quality, informative articles that attract organic traffic.
What is SEM?
SEM, on the other hand, is a marketing method that involves paying for ads that run on search engines. These ads will appear above, below, or beside the organic search results. SEM can provide quick results, as long as you’re willing to pay for it, but the results will only last for as long as you’re paying.
One of the most popular SEM platforms is Google Ads. Google Ads operates on a pay-per-click (PPC) model, in which businesses only pay when a user clicks their ad. This makes it an efficient and cost-effective way to drive traffic to your site.
An example of a site that uses SEM well is The Home Depot (https://www.homedepot.com). Through paid advertising, The Home Depot is able to dominate the search page when the keyword “home improvement” is searched.
The Differences Between SEO and SEM
While SEO and SEM are both search-based marketing methods, there are distinct differences between the two.
Timing and Duration
SEO is a long-term marketing strategy, and it can take up to a few months to a year to start seeing results. However, once you start seeing results, they can last for years, given that your website is appropriately maintained and updated.
SEM, on the other hand, is a short-term marketing strategy. SEM can bring immediate results and starts working as soon as your ads go live. The caveat is that once your ad budget dries up or your campaign ends, your results disappear.
SEO is a long-term investment that pays off in organic traffic over time. While the upfront cost may be higher, you will see a return on investment as long as you keep your site updated with quality content.
SEM requires an upfront budget for running ads. While the pay-per-click model can be cost-effective, it can also quickly become expensive if not managed properly. It is important to set a budget and stick to it to ensure that you are not overspending.
Placement on Search Engine Results Pages
With SEO, organic content can appear anywhere on the search engine results page. However, the goal is to land a spot on the first page. Landing on the first page requires strategic keyword research, optimized content, and backlinking efforts.
SEM ads, on the other hand, appear at the top of the search engine results page. While this can be beneficial, users are becoming increasingly savvy at spotting and avoiding ads. Google will often list the ads under a blue “Ad” disclaimer (example search), which can also deter users from clicking on your ad.
When to Use SEO and SEM?
It’s important to determine whether SEO, SEM or both marketing techniques are best suited for your situation. Here are some scenarios where each strategy may be most effective:
Use SEO when:
– You have a new site that needs to build up its online presence
– You have an established presence and are looking to maintain or grow your organic traffic
– You have a tight budget and are willing to invest in a long-term strategy
JotForm (https://www.jotform.com) is an online form builder service that uses SEO to their advantage. By using several keywords relevant to their product during the content creation process, they were able to secure a featured snippet on Google search results page about “how to create a google form” (example). By utilizing SEO, JotForm can attract customers who are searching for things like “online form builder” and deliver them directly to their website.
Use SEM when:
– You want to drive traffic for a specific event
– You need to promote a new product quickly
– You have a budget that can accommodate paid advertising
HBO (https://www.hbo.com) used SEM for their hit show, Game of Thrones. As the season finale approached they capitalized on new trends and search phrases like “Game of Throne Season 8, Episode 6.” By optimizing their ad copy to include the specific keyword phrase (which also happens to be a trending search term), they increased their chances of being shown in relevant searches. From there, viewers clicking on their ad would be taken directly to the streaming service, allowing HBO to monetize and increase their audience reach.
Both SEO and SEM are effective means of driving traffic to your website. By understanding the differences between these two marketing methods, you can continue to build your online presence and increase traffic to your site. By using a blend of both strategies that aligns with your business objectives, you’ll maximize your chances of success in the world of digital marketing.