SEM vs SEO: What’s the difference?

Internet Marketing requires a different approach from traditional marketing methods. When a customer walks into an appliance store for example, they are somewhat of a captive audience. Their options are limited as to what they can buy and how much they have to pay for it. Typically, they are approached by a salesperson whose job it is to control the dialogue to make the sale.

In the online world, the customer is in charge. They can choose to move on to a new “store” at any time with a couple clicks of their mouse. And they can find the information they need from a number of different sources before making a purchase. That’s why it’s important to develop a relationship with each and every potential online customer.

Whether it’s through a free offer, email campaign or newsletter, it’s very important that you keep the customer interested and intrigued long enough to convince them to make a purchase. This process is called the “sales cycle” and although it varies from product to product and site to site, most sales are made after the third or fourth visit to your website. However, your sales cycle must be designed to allow potential customers to “jump in” during any part of this important process.

Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing your website in a way that makes it as relevant and search engine friendly as possible. Search engines like Google send out web crawlers (sometimes called spiders or bots) to examine your website, including your code, content, tags, links and keywords.

What do web crawlers look for? They are looking for how relevant your website is compared to your competitors, how accessible and current your information is and the overall popularity of your site. They also check your site to see if it has outbound links that lead to other relevant sites. All the pertinent information is then gathered and used to index your website and determine your ranking on search engine results pages. In fact, there are well over 200 factors that Google uses to determine your website’s ranking.

Search Engine Marketing

Although they achieve similar results, there is a difference between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). The main purpose of SEO is to prepare a website for marketing purposes with the goal of being found by as many potential customers as possible. It’s typically an organic process where high ranking and visibility are achieved through site optimization.

SEM requires an initial and constant investment for paid advertising via AdWords, PPC (pay-per-click) or other types of paid sponsorships. It’s a good option for new websites that are looking for immediate traffic and those wanting to develop a strong web presence as quickly as possible.

Think of SEM as putting up signs and billboards all over town to create a strong and immediate presence. Along with this strategy however, comes the necessity to refresh and replace the signs when they become dated or are no longer relevant to the current offerings of the company. That’s why SEM is a good “point in time” strategy, especially when used for generating immediate sales or to bolster the launch of a new product or service.

In certain situations, SEM can work well hand in hand with an effective SEO strategy. The key to making SEM work (as in maximizing your return on investment) is to spend advertising dollars as wisely as possible.

Finally, SEM works best (and differs somewhat from SEO) when you have a specific set of short-term goals. For example, wanting to increase sales by 20% over the next three months or to increase market awareness of a new product for a particular demographic or location.