SEO vs SEM: What are the Differences and Why are They Both Crucial to Website Success?

Posted by ImageWorks Creative Team April 07, 2021
Person points at charts on their computer screen

You may not realize it, but 84% of Americans are shopping for something at any given time, and they’re most likely to start their search online. That’s why being found online is essential for any business.

The most common online visibility strategies are search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). To use them properly, it’s vital to understand the difference between the two.

What are SEO and SEM, and why are they crucial to your success? Let’s take a look.

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) involves optimizing your website and your online presence to boost your visibility on search engines. It’s a long-term organic strategy that is well worth the effort — a website that ranks highly on search engines is going to bring you traffic for months or even years to come.

The key is to target appropriate keywords based on your industry. You don’t want to choose keywords that have too high of competition because it will be hard to do well with them. Instead, you’ll focus on keyword phrases relevant to your products and services that have a good search volume and moderate competition.

Other SEO strategies include making sure your website is easy to use on mobile devices, keeping site speed and security strong, and frequently publishing relevant content that your customers will enjoy. You’ll also want an easy-to-navigate user interface to maximize the reader’s experience. If optimizing your UX is new to you, there are several online classes you can take to expand your skills.

Over time, SEO builds your company’s reputation online and helps you rank well for a variety of keyword phrases your customers use. It’s a great way to bring in new clients.

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What is Search Engine Marketing (SEM)?

Search engine marketing (SEM) is also about being highly visible in search engine results, but it’s a paid strategy instead of an organic one.

You’ll still want to focus on highly relevant keywords for your industry, products, and services. You’ll be purchasing paid ads that will show up on Google when searchers enter those terms. Your custom ad is at the top of search results, with organic results falling in line below.

You only get charged when a user clicks on your ad to visit your landing page, which is why this strategy is often known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising.

The paid ad looks like a search result but has a notation next to it that says “Ad.” If your copy is engaging and you’re offering something the user wants, they’ll click on it and be directed to your landing page.

The key to successful SEM is engaging advertising copy and ensuring that the landing page follows through on the ad’s promise. The easier it is to buy from the landing page, the better your conversion rate will be.

Should Your Company Use SEO or SEM?

The decision to choose between SEO and SEM can be challenging. However, most companies solve it easily by doing both.

Because SEO is a long-term organic strategy and SEM is a short-term paid strategy, they fit well together. The keyword research you need to be successful is the same. Using both together allows you to lay a long-term foundation without sacrificing today’s sales.

When you use SEM, you’ll learn important lessons about what keywords are most effective and what copy draws in your potential customers. You can use that information to make your long-term SEO more effective as well.

By working with both of these strategies at once, you can maximize the return on your marketing investment.

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How to Succeed With Both SEO and SEM

As you work these two strategies together, how can you use your budget wisely and improve your results? Here are some steps to consider.

Without a doubt, the most important first step is to do excellent keyword research. Focus on highly relevant keywords and map each one to where it stands in the customer journey. For instance, someone searching for “best shoes for running” is less likely to buy now than someone searching “how much are New Balance running shoes.”

Once you have the right keywords, find out which websites rank most highly for them in Google right now. That will help you know who your competitors are. You’ll also want to research your competitors’ PPC campaigns and see what they are focusing on.

Create a clear marketing strategy and timeline, so you know exactly what to do and when. Include benchmarks where you measure results and prune what’s not working and focus your resources on what is.

Finally, it’s time to implement. Work on on-site and off-site optimization for SEO, and place your SEM ads according to your budget. As you notice what works best, you can make corrections and achieve the best possible ROI.

Both SEO and SEM Help You Succeed

Because SEO is such a long-term strategy, many companies hesitate to commit to it. However, imagine where you’ll be in a year if you do!

In the meantime, there’s no need to lose sales today. You can use SEM to put paid advertising on the same keywords you target with SEO. That way, you’ll show up at the top of the list right away while your organic results are improving.

Both together help companies succeed in the short and long term. There’s no reason not to start today!

ImageWorks Creative Guest Post by Luke Smith

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