Search optimization is an essential marketing strategy for brands trying to attract attention, drive website traffic, and grow their business. But search optimization can be a difficult strategy to manage if you don’t know how to compare SEM vs. SEO.
The tactics may sound the same, but they are two very different approaches to search optimization. If you use the terms SEM and SEO interchangeably and don’t know the differences between the two, you won’t be able to communicate a clear and effective strategy for improving your visibility in search.
What is Search Marketing?
Before you can create a strategic search optimization strategy, you need to understand the terminology for this type of marketing. So let’s start at the top.
Search marketing relates to any tactic that helps a brand get attention by appearing on search engine results pages (SERPs). It includes efforts to get higher rankings and increase search visibility so you can drive more traffic to a website or specific web pages. SEM and SEO are unique elements of search marketing. But when you compare SEM vs. SEO, you’ll find that they have both similarities that overlap and differences that separate them.
Both help a brand appear in search results. One of the SEO and SEM basics is that they both aim to help a brand appear in prominent positions on SERPs.
Both are designed to drive more traffic to a website. The goal of both is to gain visibility on SERPs, but more importantly, to drive traffic to a website. Each strategy employs tactics to increase click-through-rates (CTR) and get more users to click on the search results.
Both require knowing your audience. To succeed at both strategies, you must have a good understanding of your audience and how they act. When you know your audience, discover what their needs are, and what they are searching for, you can create valuable content that shows up when they go looking for solutions related to your brand.
Both use keyword research to uncover popular search terms. The first step for both SEM and SEO is performing keyword research to identify the best keywords to target. The research includes looking at keyword popularity to determine the top keywords or buying keywords that your ideal audience searches for. It also includes looking at keyword competition to see what other brands are targeting the same keywords and determining what you will need to do to compete with those other companies.
Both target specific keywords. Both strategies focus on targeting specific keywords that are identified during keyword research. At the core of each tactic are keywords.
Both require testing and continual optimization. When comparing SEM to SEO, you should know that neither is a strategy that you can set and forget. Both require continual testing, monitoring, and optimization to increase performance.
SEM search placements include an “Ad” designation. SEO does not. Search results that appear as a result of SEM or SEO look different on SERPs. Paid ads that receive placement through SEM tactics are often identified as an ad (e.g., by an icon appearing next to the placement), whereas the search results that appear as a result of organic SEO are not marked in such manner.
SEM results show to a select target audience. SEO results do not. While successful SEO and SEM strategies are driven by a plan to connect with a select audience, you can only specify that target audience through SEM. Through SEM, you can select what audiences you want to see the search results by assigning filters based on age, location, income, habits, and more. Through SEO, you cannot specifically choose who will see your search results.
The impact of SEM is immediate. SEO takes time. Through paid SEM ads, you can start to put your results in front of audiences with just a few clicks. As soon as you launch a campaign, your ads start showing in SERPs. At any time, you can turn ads on to increase visibility or turn them off to stop showing. Conversely, SEO is something that you acquire over time and typically over a long time. It can take months of implementing an SEO strategy before a brand begins to rank on search engines.
SEM is better for testing than SEO. Because you can immediately turn SEM paid ads off and on, it’s a great strategy for testing. You can quickly revise your ad copy, target new audiences, and change landing page content to test your new tactics. This flexibility allows you to see differences in your strategies immediately. You cannot accomplish this through SEO, as it would take too much time to make changes and monitor differences in results.
SEO adds value over time. SEM does not. SEM is only active as long as you pay for your results to show. As soon as you turn off your ads, your SEM strategy is over. SEO is the opposite. SEO strategy grows and compounds over time and leaves lasting results.
Improve Both of Your SEO and SEM Strategies
When comparing SEM vs. SEO, there is no quick formula or simple answer. There are a lot of factors to consider. Some businesses may choose to focus on SEO. Others may choose to focus on SEM. And sometimes the right approach is to implement a combination of SEO and SEM strategies. It all depends on your unique business and goals. But now that you know the similarities and differences between SEM and SEO, you’ll be better equipped to decide how each can help your brand reach its goals.
To get even more insight and data to help you make those decisions, partner with Linkeo Ltd. You’ll get access to tools that help you research competitor search and link building strategies, find keyword opportunities, review your site’s SEO, and learn about your target audience. These insights, paired with what you know about SEM and SEO, will help you uncover the best search marketing strategy for your unique brand and goals.