SEO and SEM: What’s the Difference?

SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are two of the hottest concepts on the internet today.  While these terms are often referred to as one in the same, there is actually a big difference between the two methods.  SEM is rather broad and can be used to describe various aspects of website marketing as it relates to the search engines. In this regard, SEO can simply be considered as an essential element of SEM.  Whereas SEO primarily consists of keywords and links, SEM is far more extensive.

Paid Inclusion

Paid inclusion is something that is heavily discussed when the topic of SEM comes up.  This simply refers to paying a directory or search engine to immediately add a website to its database rather than designing the site to naturally attract search engine robots.  Some view this method as their only option for being listed while others are totally against it.  The hard truth is that there is no way to pay your way to the top of the rankings.  Search engines are increasingly disqualifying sites trying to purchase listings, leaving all their efforts futile.  If this is a practice you choose to partake in, make sure you are aware of the consequences.

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Advertising is another SEM technique employed by online businesses.  This method involves taking out advertisements on search engine result pages.  These ads are typically display based on keywords a user inputs into a search engine with costs ranging on the number of impressions or appearances of the ad.  What this simply means is that you must pay for the advertisement whether it drives traffic to your site or not.

Pay Per Click

PPC (Pay Per Click) ads are common in SEM as well.  You can have complete control over your campaign with the freedom to select the keywords that trigger your ads, the copy you want inserted and usually how much you want to invest.  Hence the name, you are only required to pay when someone clicks on an ad and is then redirected to your site.  Two of the major PPC networks are Google and Yahoo Search Marketing, each of which come with advantages and disadvantages.  When signing on for either program, be prepared to invest a substantial amount of time and money into running such a campaign.

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Unlike genuine SEO, the SEM practices mentioned above offer one major benefit: immediacy.  If money isn’t an issue and you want to increase your visibility on the web right away, one or a combination of these techniques could be the way to go.  Take heed that the disadvantages may be far more detrimental to your efforts.  If your site isn’t designed accordingly, visitors could be turned off when they do get there.  A site that is difficult to navigate and doesn’t deliver what the visitor is looking for is the easiest way to blow your SEM campaign.

SEO First and Foremost

In short, no SEM campaign can be complete without practicing sound SEO first.  The primary goal of SEO is to make the site friendly for both the search engine and your visitors.  So even if you plan to spend money on PPC campaigns and other SEM elements, be sure that SEO is covered before you start heavy promotions.

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