Dec 28, 2023

SEO vs SEM: What Are Their Main Differences?

SEO vs SEM: What Are Their Main Differences?
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As a business owner, you are probably looking for ways to turn your website into a real marketing tool. Among all the digital marketing tactics you can adopt, SEO and SEM are crucial to your online success.

SEM and SEO help you increase profit and website conversions by improving your business's visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs).

Let’s look into them in more detail.

What Is SEO?

SEO is the process of optimizing your website to get high rankings in search engines for related searches.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.

It helps your pages gain top places in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). In more detail, SEO targets the highest possible rankings for the biggest possible number of queries that are relevant to your business or topic(s).

For SEO, anything below Page One rankings in search results, is not considered as good positioning. In fact, SEO aims to rank your pages at the top of search results and increase conversions.

To succeed in SEO, you need to work on your website content, technical aspects, its topical authority compared to competitors, and much more.

SEO ranks your pages organically. This means that you do not need to pay Google (or any other search engine) for advertising.

You will eventually need to contract an SEO agency - especially if you want to make a profit from your SEO efforts.

What Is SEM?

SEM is the process of driving traffic to your website from search engines. It’s part of digital marketing and involves both organic optimization (SEO) and paid advertising (PPC).

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing.

SEM can mean different things to different people, and digital marketers use the same term in various ways.

Some use it to describe PPC (pay-per-click) ads that appear on top of the organic results in search engines (Google, Bing, etc.). But also Google shopping ads are part of SEM.

Others claim that SEM campaigns include ads in social media like Facebook ads, LinkedIn ads, etc.

Display ads, on the other hand, are a distinct part of digital marketing. With display ads, businesses display image or video banners on 3rd party websites to attract clicks and visits.

In reality, SEM is an integrated search engine marketing approach that includes SEO and any type of PPC ad, and that aims to increase conversions.

SEO vs. SEM: What’s The Difference?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) includes both organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Paid Ad Campaigns (PPC ads). But today, many use the term SEM to refer to paid ads only.

In this respect, there are 4 main differences between SEM and SEO.

1. SEO Works On The Website. SEM Deals With Ad Campaigns

SEO optimizes a website’s content, structure, and technical aspects in order for its pages to attain high rankings for targeted searches.

SEO involves continuous monitoring and improvements on various website components. For example, you need to analyze data and target new keywords, create new pages, speed up load times, aquire new backlinks, and more.

SEM ads are placed on 3rd party networks or publishers. When dealing with PPC ads, you need to monitor the effectiveness of each ad campaign based on ROI, perform A/B testing and work on improvements.

2. SEM Has Faster Results Than SEO

If done right, paid ads have the potential to generate website traffic soon after they are published.

However, PPC ad campaigns take 6-12 months to reach their full potential.

For an ad campaign to be successful, digital marketers spend quite some time in planning and researching.

They analyze market trends and target audiences, build quality landing pages for each ad, and word exciting CTAs that will eventually trigger prospects and lead them towards the bottom of the sales funnel.

With SEO, you typically need to wait a few months before your pages enjoy very high rankings. Meanwhile, you should keep monitoring and optimizing.

However, for low-competition or industry-specific keywords, some pages can rank quickly, even in a month’s time.

Page rankings also depend on the overall website SEO. If, for example, your website is slow to load, your rankings are also affected.

Before publishing new content, SEO experts analyze user search data to find keyword gaps and opportunities and run competitor analysis, among other things.

3. SEO Has More Lasting Results Than SEM

An optimized website that maintains topical/domain authority can keep its high positioning for a long time - provided that it’s technically sound.

If no major search engine algorithm updates come into play, and there’s no aggressive competitor, pages can keep their top positions for months or even years.

On the other hand, SEM ads stop as soon as you stop investing in them or turn them off. If you re-publish them later, it will take some time again to reach their maximum conversion potential.

As a result, marketers always prefer to keep well-performing ads running for long periods of time.

4. SEO And SEM Costs Differ

Costs differ for SEO and SEM ads. The difference doesn’t lie in the actual amounts but in how your investment spreads over time.

PPC ads require a steady monthly budget that’s efficiently allocated to each ad campaign. It’s worth increasing your ad budget (and eventually your sales) for ads with high conversion rates.

In, SEO recurring fees are paid to your SEO agency. They include technical SEO optimizations, recurring analysis and evaluation, new content and updates on existing content.

For every project, SEO professionals create an SEO roadmap that will help your website achieve high rankings and reach the right audience that’s more likely to convert.

In the long run, a successful SEO strategy comes out cheaper than ad campaigns.

How Are SEO And SEM Complementary?

The best approach for a winning digital marketing strategy is to work on both SEO and SEM. Here is some reasons why:

SEO Enhances SEM Ads

An optimized website creates optimal landing pages for SEM ad campaigns. SEO-friendly pages are quick to load, easy to navigate, perfectly responsive, and UX-friendly.

SEO Establishes Authority For PPC Ads

Good SEO is the base for a successful SEM strategy. Google favors optimized and authoritative sites by offering them higher ad placements - above their competitors.

SEM Provides Information For Your Target Audience

Paid ads analytics provide various market insights, such as the types of ads that appeal to specific audiences depending on their gender, age, interests and more.

This is valuable data that you can use when planning and building your SEO content.

SEM Offers Quick Rankings For Competitive Keywords

Some queries and keywords are very popular and competitive. So, unless you already have a ranking website, it’s quite hard and time-consuming to reach high places for such searches in SERPs.

But paid ads offer the chance to appear in top placements for many “hard to get” queries.

Meanwhile, SEO can help your pages gain substantial visibility for less competitive keywords that are topically related.

Combining paid ads and high organic rankings, you can take advantage of the full capabilities of search engine marketing. Like this, you are always ‘there’ when your target audience is looking for services or products you offer.

We Help Your Business Connect With Your Audience

When your potential customers search online, getting to them before your competitors needs specialized skill and expertise.

Atropos Digital does precisely that. We help users looking for a business like yours to find you at the top of the list.

Our premium SEO services are fully adapted to your industry and niche. We help you gain top rankings, increase audience retention and customer conversion rates.

Book a strategy call.

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