What is the Difference Between SEO and SEM and Why Should You Care

Laptop sits open with Google pulled up

There are plenty of acronyms in the digital marketing world these days. Sometimes it can feel like you’re reading through a jumbled alphabet.

Two of these acronyms you probably see thrown around a lot are SEO and SEM. In fact, they are often mentioned together because of how closely they coordinate.

But what is the difference between SEO & SEM?

What Is SEO?

Search Engine OptimizationSEO

The most popular search engine in the world is Google. When you Google a word or combination of words (known as a search query), what comes up? Whatever you see is determined by Google’s ranking system.

To have good SEO is to make a website more appealing to search engines like Bing and Google so they send more people to your website.

What are some of the things Google looks for?

  • Unique and accurate page titles on each page
  • Easy to follow menus
  • Accurate content on each page
  • Mobile friendly and responsive

These are called ranking factors. The better you rank, the better your organic (non-paid) search results will be. Translation: you’ll show up higher in the results when people are Googling. More eyeballs on your website leads to more traffic.

For more information read: Google’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide

SEO requires a marketing strategy that understands your audience, the user’s (or buyer’s) journey, data and research, and your existing capabilities.

But when done well, your website can rank high in relevant search engine results.

Do we have to play by Google’s rules? YES! In fact, don’t even consider building a website without a plan for SEO first.

Pretty graphics are very impressive, and “UX” can be fun to play with, but none of those things are important, like SEO, to your search engine rankings.

What Is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing – SEM

Marketing means promoting and/or advertising something. Search engine marketing is just that. It’s marketing to promote a website to a search engine through SEO and paid advertising.

The most common use of SEM is the “pay per click” model (known as a PPC campaign). Google ads are probably the most familiar and popular option.

You can pay Google directly for a chance to show your website higher in its ranking (as an “ad”) or use other services to show a website to a select audience.

BUT, you must have SEO to have SEM!

If your website is not optimized for high ranking on its own, why on earth would you spend your money to send people to it?

For example, you wouldn’t want to send someone through an ornate gate, down a paved driveway flanked by beautiful flowering trees, only to arrive at a shack. That’s not the expectation of the driver.

Likewise, without a solid foundation of proven SEO, it’s a waste of money to pay for website traffic.

And that’s why you should care!

Your website is more important than ever. It may be the very first impression anyone gets of your business.

But you can’t rely on those potential customers finding you by chance. You have to have a solid foundation (SEO) to show them the way, and a little help to get them there (SEM).