seo and sem featured

SEO vs. SEM: What’s The Difference And Why Does It Matter?

If you’ve heard the terms SEO and SEM tossed around, you’re not alone. Anyone who’s looking to attract more website traffic is going to come across these terms. Aimed at increasing visibility in search results, each of these strategies has a lot to offer website owners, both in the sense of building online authority and increasing traffic.

With that in mind, here’s a look at similarities and contrasts between SEO and SEM and some tips for using them for your business!

What Is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is, essentially, the process of strategically making a website more attractive to search engines so that it naturally ranks higher in search results. It includes a variety of practices, such as creating keyword-optimized content, building backlinks, and creating a clear content hierarchy, for a start. Over time, the idea is that this leads to higher placement in search results, so more people find you when they are searching for what you offer. The essence of SEO is trying to achieve higher organic search results and, by extension, more website traffic and conversions.

Why Does SEO Matter?

For anyone who is looking to draw more traffic without a big financial investment, SEO is a smart strategy. While it takes time, it doesn’t take advertising dollars. Instead, you keep creating quality content day after day and week after week in order to build better search rankings over time.

What Is SEM?

SEM (search engine marketing) has the same goal as SEO which is to get more traffic. However, in contrast to SEO, search engine marketing is a more overarching strategy, which can include paid search marketing as well as organic search engine optimization. Today, some people use the terms SEM and paid search marketing interchangeably. The way paid search marketing differs from SEO is that, instead of trying to build the kind of site that will organically rank better, you pay for ads that put your link front and center on search results pages.

Why Does SEM Matter?

If you’re able to invest money in driving traffic, paid search marketing can be highly effective. It’s fast and typically brings in traffic right away. It’s targeted, allowing you to create the exact copy and call to action that you want to use. Also, it’s perfect for drawing attention to new product launches or other newsworthy events you want to highlight.

How Can You Use SEO and SEM to Build Traffic?

Understanding SEO and SEM is the first step toward knowing how to use them. Once you know the strengths of each option, you’re better equipped to put them to work for your site! So, if you’re new to the idea of search marketing, here are some simple, practical tips with which you can start:

  1. It’s never too early to start thinking about SEO. Because search engine optimization is a long game, it grows in effectiveness over time. Ideally, you want to start keyword optimizing your posts and pages right away; and keep doing it, consistently.
  2. Research keywords. Keywords are simply words or phrases related to your subject area — terms that people might search for when they’re looking for what you provide. Use tools such as KWFinder or Google Keyword Planner to map out what terms you’re targeting, and use them to inform the content you create.
  3. Optimize meta descriptions and page titles. Choose relevant keywords for every post and page, then incorporate them into the page title and meta descriptions.
  4. Optimize all content. Also incorporate your keywords into header content, body content and image ALT text.
  5. Install an SEO plugin. If you’re running a WordPress site, there are plenty of SEO plugins that can help you more efficiently implement your optimization. Consider Yoast, for example, which provides prompts on every new piece of content — a sort of checklist for good SEO.
  6. If you’re starting a new blog and looking to get attention, consider pay-per-click (PPC) ads. What’s great about PPC advertising is that you can do it anytime. You don’t have to have an established, authoritative site, and you don’t have to already have a following. This makes it a great tool for new businesses or bloggers who want to pull people to their sites.
  7. Think about links. Link building is an essential part of SEO, so to give your site more exposure, look for ways to get relevant sites linking back to you. You can do this by guest posting on other sites, creating content people want to share and/or emailing people when something you’ve posted would genuinely add value to something they’ve published.  

When it comes to SEO and SEM, there’s an almost endless list of ways to improve your site. As a newbie, however, you don’t have to do it all. Try the tips above to dip your feet into the world of search marketing and see how it helps your traffic improve!

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Author bio:

Shanna Mallon is a senior copywriter for Straight North, a top professional SEO agency in Chicago. She’s been a freelance writer since 2007.