We get asked a lot about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). Both can be confusing, especially when the terms are incorrectly used as synonyms of each other.
There are big differences between the two, and understanding why they are different is key to improving your website’s search engine rankings.
What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
SEO is the process of working with a website’s content to make a website appear as high as possible on the list of results returned by a search engine. These results are often referred to as organic search results.
SEO can be particularly confusing because every search engine uses different algorithms to rank the results that get displayed. Although the search engines are public about the type of information that goes into those rankings, none is completely transparent about how those sites are ranked. SEO is also a moving target, since search engines are always tweaking those algorithms.
We use a variety of methods to optimize client websites, but the basics are:
- Selective and careful use of keywords in titles, meta descriptions, headings and alt text;
- Descriptive URLs;
- Semantic formatting of website content; and
- Quality, well-written content that is easy to read.
What Is search Engine Marketing (SEM)?
SEM is any form of marketing with the purpose of increasing a website’s visibility on search engine results pages. By that definition, SEO is part of SEM.
But SEM goes beyond the content on your website, integrating things like paid search, advertising, earned media, and pay per click (CPC). Some people consider backlinks and social media strategies as part of SEO, but we consider them part of SEM, since they deal with third-party sites and not the content on your website.
So, although SEO and SEM are related, the terms are not interchangeable.
Which is better?
That’s going to depends on who you ask. At BREVITY, we believe that the best place to start is with organic SEO. That doesn’t mean that SEO is better than SEM, it just means that we believe that a solid SEO strategy is key to an overall SEM strategy. Although SEO requires more cost up front, overall it is generally less expensive, since you are solely working on the content on your own website and not buying ads and CPCs.
Once we see the results of SEO, then we typically come up with an overall SEM plan for our client.
There are cases where we don’t follow that though. If we are working with a new company or a new product, we often hold off on SEP and instead launch with a PPC and advertising campaign in place. Why? SEO takes time and up front cost, which means it can also take time for a company to see a Return on Investment (ROI). ROI from PPC and online advertising generally starts on day one.
So choosing the best tactic really comes down to understanding your short-term and long-term goals.