What Is SEM, and How Is It Like and Different from SEO?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. SEM stands for search engine marketing. How are SEM and SEO similar? And how do they differ from each other?

How Are SEO and SEM Different?

SEO’s goal is to build organic search results. SEM is focused on picking the right keywords for paid advertising related to someone’s search query.

SEM can be described as delivering concise advertisements based on someone’s search engine query, while SEO delivers the website links.

SEO can be achieved for free through consistent branding of all content and widespread sharing of content (and no, it doesn’t have to go viral). This makes SEO achievable by even very small businesses, though it can take much longer to achieve. SEM generates some costs, and those costs spike if a news article causes demand for your paid search terms to spike. Conversely, SEM tends to generate results faster. Only SEM can make a brand new site widely visible, and it can be implemented quickly.

The paid key search term related ads of SEM is lower risk than trying to apply SEO to your content and getting burned by negative SEO for keyword stuffing. On the other hand, SEM takes the risk that Google decides it doesn’t like your niche and removes your type of ads, despite it being a legal product or service. The near banishment of payday lending and weight loss products in paid advertising are only two examples of this. If you achieve a large social media following for your brand or content, then the vagaries of search engine ad preferences matter less.

SEO factors include fast loading page speeds, clean and formatted page URLs, and website tags. Webpage design doesn’t factor into SEM beyond the design of the ads and linking between the ads and the designation webpage.

Domain authority affects your SEO, but it has far less effect on your SEM relative to the price you pay for the ads, the ad quality and their location.

You need to take care that SEM doesn’t undermine your SEO. For example, ads for your company on your content could cost you traffic to those sites or just make you look bad to those who see the ads for your brand on the branded content as an over-sell.

SEO can and should be applied to your social media outreach (SMO), but SEM isn’t applicable here.

How Are SEO and SEM Alike?

There are similarities between SEO and SEM beyond the “search engine” portion of their acronyms. SEO and SEM are both intended to increase the visibility of the brand in search engines. Both SEO and SEM are necessary to boost click through rates and have the goal of turning searches for terms related to your business to paying customers.

The Intersection of SEO and SEM

SEO and SEM do not have to impact each other, but they should intersect and support each other. It is unwise to expect SEM campaigns through PPC to boost your website’s search engine optimization. You need to use SEO for your content and brand even as you use search engine marketing to generate sales.

The key search terms that can bring a high volume of traffic to your site that has little competition with anyone else are also the terms you would want to monopolize for SEM. The competition for highly used and coveted SEO key words causes them to also be the most expensive ad words. Your experts in SEO should look for long tail search terms with low ad rates that generate a fair number of visits or customers and consider creating search engine optimized content to capture that traffic while comparing the cost of ads for those terms.

Search engine marketing (SEM) can include SEO. It also includes PPC ads and display ads. The banner ads on a forum with a link to your website is a variation SEM, but the ideal place to put those ads should be determined through web analytics and optimized through SEO. And you can add back links to your customer rep’s responses on that forum to improve your SEO even as it makes your team seem more supportive of its customers.