Explained in 60 Seconds: SEO vs SEM

July 09, 2014

SEO and SEM are two acronyms that are commonly referred to during online projects. We’ve found that they are sometimes confused for one another. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences:

SEO (search engine optimization) refers to the process of configuring a website so that it has the best chances of being well positioned in relevant search results. SEO enhancements typically involve changes to the site’s content, structure, HTML code, URLs, META tags, XML sitemap, and other components that influence how search engine robots like Googlebot see your site. Site performance is also known to be a factor in good search engine standings on Google, and as a result, the process of optimizing a site’s speed can fall under the umbrella of SEO.

SEM (search engine marketing) refers to the process of running paid and/or promotional advertising on search engines and online directories. SEM typically involves the configuration of advertising campaigns on search platforms such as Google AdWords or the Yahoo Bing Network. Additionally, SEM can involve the configuration of landing pages and the related tracking of conversions or ad clicks with analytics reporting. Often times, landing pages that are associated with SEM campaigns are not discoverable in the main site’s navigation. Because of this, landing pages tend not to receive inbound organic traffic and therefore, the optimization of landing page content and structure tends to fall under the umbrella of SEM instead of SEO.

In general, if you’re talking about spending money to advertise or promote your products or services on search engines, then you’re talking about SEM. If, on the other hand, you’re talking about making changes to your site content and/or structure in order to increase organic inbound traffic from search engine results pages, then you’re talking about SEO.

Of course, an effective digital marketing strategy involves both SEO and SEM.

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