seo vs sem

SEO vs SEM: Which Should You Be Using?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

It’s difficult to understate the importance of fine-tuning your efforts online. Search engines are the key to web success and understanding that is likely what brought you to this article.

While it’s common knowledge that you have to do something about your search engine presence, it’s often difficult to know what that something is. The two most prominent strategies are search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). These are popular methods for a reason.

But which one should you use? What are the arguments for SEO vs SEM? We’ll get you brought up to speed and give you a better idea of how you should be treating your efforts online.

SEO vs SEM: What’s the Difference?

You may already have a good idea of the difference between these two methods, but it will help to get a brief refresher. We’ll start with the foundation — the search engine.

How Does the Search Engine Operate?

Search engines are the heart of most traffic on the internet. When people don’t know a specific website, they search for it. Search engines have proven to be extremely reliable over time.

The content that we want when we search is usually the content that the search engine gives us. Sites like Google and Bing find the information we want by using only the keywords we put into our search. That is pretty amazing.

They’re able to do this because these sites use sophisticated algorithms that narrow down the internet to what you want at the moment. SEO and SEM utilize these algorithms to different degrees. The thing is, search engines want to keep their results relevant.

If everyone online knew exactly how the algorithms worked, websites would cheat the system and get to the top of the search even if the content wasn’t relevant. Search engines keep their algorithms secret for this reason.

They also update pretty frequently to keep everyone on their toes. We have no choice but to try and understand the algorithm, though, because ranking higher in searches is essential to the life of a website.

What Do We Know About Search Engines?

Through all of the general public’s research, we’ve deduced a few key factors in achieving search engine success. While the algorithms use roughly 200 factors in determining the relevance of a site, some of those factors shine through as being worth working on.

The consensus is that keywords, backlinks, and quality content are the most essential elements of finding success online. Seems pretty simple, right? Maybe not.

Keyword Optimization

The keyword, as you can probably guess, is ultimately the term used in the user search in a search engine. You search “huge pumpkin” on Google, and you’re likely to find the most relevant site that puts importance on the term “huge pumpkin.”

But Google has indexed over 30 trillion individual web pages. There’s bound to be thousands of pages that have said the phrase “huge pumpkin” over the years. What about the sites that come to the top makes them more relevant than all of the others?

In other words, how can you get your content to beat out the thousands of other pages with your keyword? It’s about staying up on the trends in your niche. You have to first identify, through research, keywords that are trending.

Your niche is going to sift through popular keywords, and it’s your job to create content that can relate to those keywords. The keyword should also be nested within other words that are relevant to your site.

For example, say that the word “polar plunge” is extremely hot at the moment, but you sell cell phones. You might consider using the phrase “can you polar plunge with a cell phone.”

Backlinking and Quality Content

Backlinking is the process of finding other websites to link to your own. This is important to do because the search engine sees backlinks as “votes” in your favor. They show that other sites think you’re relevant and are willing to vouge for you on their site.

But gathering these links can be difficult and time-consuming. It may require you to write a guest post, build a relationship, or simply have the good luck to find these links. The foundation of getting enough respect to get backlinked is a bed of great content.

Try to create relevant blog posts on a regular basis. You also want to make sure that the content is solid, thought out, and well-researched. This is a difficult thing to do, so some people choose to hire professionals.

The people who write these blogs for websites are typically SEO professionals.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is the process of tuning your web content to look great in the eyes of search engines. It might seem simple, and ultimately it is, but you have to remember that millions of websites are competing for that coveted spot in the search.

This makes things really competitive, so a dedicated effort to optimizing your site is important. There are, as we see it, two ways of optimizing your site. You can give your best effort to optimize on your own or you can hire a professional to do it.

Optimizing yourself is a good option for some people. There are a lot of tools online that can help you, but you will need to do your own research on keywords, backlinking, and target audience.

There are a number of sites that allow you to gather this research for a nominal fee. You will also have to keep updated on trends as they happen if you wish to maintain a level of success. This can get difficult because all of your resources will be scattered on different sites and you’ll need to keep checking the status of keywords and audience habits.

While it’s difficult to do, it can certainly be done with moderate results. It may, however, be more time and cost effective to hire a professional to optimize your site. Not only will they have an ear to cutting-edge trends in SEO, but they will handle all of the work necessary to organize your data.

The fee might be slightly higher overall, but you’re going to get better results if you work through professionals. So, what about SEM?

What is SEM?

Search engine marketing is the process of using search engines to market your site to specific audiences. Many search engines have platforms that allow you to post content in the searches that your keywords relate to.

This method is exceptional because it allows you to directly reach audiences who would otherwise never see your ad. You can choose to market to specific demographics, times of day, and geographical locations. Most of these platforms use the PPC model.

Pay-per-click (PPC) ad platforms allow you to get exactly the amount of advertising that you pay for. You will only be required to pay when someone clicks your ad, and you set a cap on your budget so you will never pay more than you want to.

There’s a lot of research that goes into using the right language in SEM as well, so people often choose to hire professionals if they aren’t seeing results themselves. That being said, SEM is a little easier to manage yourself, much of the placement is left to the hands of the search engine.

Which One is Right for You?

It’s difficult to give a blanket statement about which method will work better. Both methods have pros and cons and are suited better for certain businesses.

Your business may not have the budget needed to find growth through advertising online. While you do only pay for what you get, sometimes it takes a while to find the keywords that actually draw people to make purchases on your site. Getting clicked on is nothing if the users aren’t buying anything.

That being said, if your user base is young and mobile, SEM might work better for you. Some demographics are nested on Twitter and Instagram, both sites that allow you to market directly. Pinterest is also a great site to market on because users are more ready to make purchases on that site.

If your demographic is there, you might be better off choosing SEM. That being said, SEO is a tried and true method of achieving growth. A solid SEO platform will benefit you for a very long time.

Your reputation will get better, your success will not be easy to compete with, and users will have a higher respect for you in most cases. It’s really hard to understate the value of online perspective.

Another thing to note is that in the long-run, SEO yields a higher value per dollar than SEM does because the results are longer lasting.

Get an Informed Opinion

SEO vs SEM is a difficult choice. It really depends on the qualities of your specific business and demographics. Just because the choice is hard, however, doesn’t mean you don’t have to make it.

If you’re looking for help deciding how to move forward online, we have the information you need.