Google’s search engine produces about 3.5 billion (with a “b”) searches, on average, every single day. That means that 3.5 billion result pages return to an internet connected device. 

Granted, bots generate a little more than half of all web traffic in the world. Even then, there are at least 1.75 billion opportunities for businesses to get their company in front of an internet user.

In one day.

On one search engine. 

But how does a business leverage this into better exposure? This is where search engine optimization and search engine marketing come in.  

But what are they? How do they help? What’s the difference between SEO vs. SEM?

Don’t sweat the jargon. We’re going to start by breaking down these terms.  

Let’s get started answering these questions first so we can understand which is better for your business. 

SEO vs. SEM Definitions

Here are the literal meanings of each acronym. 

Search engine optimization/SEO — the practice of increasing organic traffic or search result position for a web page

Search engine marketing — paying for ads or positions on certain results pages.  

In a few more words, the key difference between the two is whether or not someone wants to pay the search engine directly to get more exposure. Often, search engines will sell ads that display above and look similar to search results. 

In this case, someone who pays for one of those ads is engaging in search engine marketing.  

Search engine optimization attempts to “please” or show a search engine that a webpage is the best result for certain searches.

Don’t misunderstand — a business might have to pay to make the most of either strategy. The reasons differ in important ways. 

Well, Which Is Best?

As infuriating as this is to read, both are important. No one is clearly better than the other. 

Search engines try to find stuff online, organize it, assess its quality and then assess its relevance to a search query. 

On one hand, search engine marketing lets one avoid being shoved to the nether reaches of a results page. On the other, it doesn’t ensure a webpage’s position after the ad campaign ends. 

Likewise, search engine optimization forces websites to produce great content. That has a genuine impact on user behavior and search results. But on the other hand, SEO is hard to do and good SEO standards change every time a search engine gets tweaked. 

There is a time and a place for each practice.

In a pedantic way, search engine marketing falls under search engine optimization. If you want to get specific advice for your business, contact an SEO company to weigh your needs. 

When SEM Is Best

Search engine marketing campaigns give a lot of control in exchange for cash. At least, it does relative to basic SEO. 

This control though can come at the expense of genuine improvement in results pages. Also, SEM applies best in narrower, but more specific settings.   

SEM ads often are set up under pay-per-click campaigns. The structure of these deals can vary in a big way; so it’s hard to say what to expect for your campaign needs. 

Ads can get very specific. Search engines will add your ad to results pages for any number of combination of keywords. This can also include targeting specific groups of people or locations. 

This is particularly helpful when starting something new like launching a new website or a new business service.

In these circumstances, the immediate impact of SEM is both wanted and needed. This immediacy makes timing on online efforts easier. It also allows for precise timing with other advertising efforts.

Also, the immediacy allows businesses to make very quick judgments about how a product or message is being received. This speeds up the evolution of online content into its ideal form. 

Just as an ad campaign has an immediate impact in the start, these ads can also immediately stop. If an idea needs tweaking (or wasn’t a good idea at all), an ad campaign can stop with the click of a button.

It’s harder to change the course of a traditional SEO plan. 

When SEO Is Best

The tradeoff for a more time-intensive effort to rise in organic search results is genuine standing with the search engine. 

Also, you don’t have to pay the search engine for those results. This is like skipping the toll road to get to internet users. 

Organic search engine optimization efforts make use of previously published content. One can link back and forth between in such a way that captures traffic to company pages. 

Websites also need to be optimized for people as part of search engine optimization. Search engine users linking to or sharing a web page does a lot to increase its rank. 

Good content that people want to use and share creates a self-sustaining loop of credibility. In extreme cases, this is known as going viral. 

Good SEO is intended to get links to the top of search result pages. In a perfect world, a link is on the first page of a Google search result page.

These links are the ones that have the best click-through rates, or the rate of people visiting the link. 

On the whole, organic SEO efforts are less expensive overall and make the most of social media. But that’s a whole other blog post. 

There are many more SEO services available so you can choose one for your site.

Always Better Together

Good SEO improves SEM by making the most out of the paid clicks and attention. Good SEM can help establish stronger SEO factors. 

We’ve listed just a few reasons above; we could think of 99 reasons for SEO and SEM apart from each other. 

But thinking of them apart bifurcates efforts, making the SEO vs. SEM conversation one big misnomer. Don’t forget to bookmark our blog for more articles like this.

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