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SEM vs. SEO: What’s the Difference?

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SEM vs. SEO: Which Is Right for You?

Regardless of the size of your e-commerce brand, you need to generate organic search results traffic for your site. The more website traffic you build, the more dollars you’ll make – and the more successful you’ll be in meeting your brand’s goals.

Generating search queries and traffic should be the number one goal for any e-commerce brand from the get-go, especially when trying to build a customer base early on.

Broadly speaking, you can generate traffic in two different ways: SEM and SEO. However, many business owners and site operators don’t know the differences between SEM strategies and SEO strategies or whether they should focus on one or the other.

Let’s break down SEM and SEO in detail. We’ll also cover how you can practice both traffic generation methods for measurable results.

How Does SEO Work?

SEO stands for search engine optimization. In a nutshell, SEO involves carefully and strategically tailoring your website, copy, and content marketing materials to result in better organic search engine traffic.

SEO is oftentimes broken down into four primary activities:

  • Keyword research, in which you use keyword search tools and software to determine what people are searching for by looking at what keywords people put into search engines like Google and Bing.
  • On-page SEO, which involves carefully crafting quality content to make your website or individual pages rank higher on Google via its search engine algorithms.
  • Off-page SEO, which involves curating more trust and authority by linking to other websites through strategies like backlinking.
  • Technical SEO, which involves more technical strategies to make sure that search engines can not only find but also accurately crawl and index your web pages.

Good SEO should result in better traffic to your website from organic search engine results.

For example, say that you run an e-commerce store. With good SEO, people who search for keywords related to your brand or products will be more likely to find your store’s website or product pages at the top of their search engine results.

What Is On-Page Optimization?

On-page optimization is a major part of high-quality, effective SEO. As “on-page” search engine optimization, this form of SEO tweaking takes place on webpages like blog posts, product pages and descriptions, and even the landing page for your website.

On-page optimization often includes strategies like:

  • Lacing certain keywords through specific paragraphs.
  • Making sure your blog copy or product descriptions are easy to read (and therefore easy for Google’s crawler bots to index and record).
  • Ensuring that all of your links work properly and that they include proper “dofollow” or “nofollow” tags.
  • And more.

What Is Backlinking?

Another major part of a strong digital marketing strategy is backlinking or link building. Put simply, backlinking means linking to high-authority, well-ranked websites on your own pages. How does this help with SEO?

It can help in a few different ways. For one, it can increase your brand’s authority in your industry or niche in the eyes of Google. That makes Google more likely to show your website to people searching for related keywords.

For another, it allows you to build trust among audience members. For example, if you link to a well-reputed study to back up a claim in your blog post, your audience will trust your writing more.

What Is SEO Copywriting?

Good SEO also involves high-quality search-engine-optimized copywriting. This includes informative and entertaining blog posts, good product descriptions, and compelling copy for your landing page or other major pages of your website.

How Does SEM Work?

SEM stands for “search engine marketing.” It is related to SEO, but the two concepts are not the same.

SEM focuses both on acquiring organic traffic from search engine results pages (or SERPS) and on leveraging paid ad traffic from PPC ads or other paid marketing methods. It uses search engine marketing strategies, tools, and platforms to funnel traffic to your website, thereby increasing your visitor count — and, hopefully, your conversion rate and total sales.

What Is Bidding in SEM?

Bidding is a major part of PPC marketing. PPC marketing stands for pay-per-click marketing – it involves using Google Ads to “bid” for your ads to show up when searchers enter specific keywords.

For example, imagine that you sell custom jewelry on your e-commerce website. You might want to put up Google advertisements for keywords like “pretty jewelry” or “custom jewelry.” However, other e-commerce stores in the same niche may want to put up their ads for the same keywords.

When you use PPC advertising for your SEM marketing strategy, you “bid” on those keywords up to a certain maximum amount. The more competitive a keyword is, the more you have to pay each time you get user clicks on an ad for that keyword.

The beauty of PPC advertising for search engine marketing is that you only pay when someone clicks on one of your advertisements. In theory, this should result in you wasting less money on advertisements that don’t drive traffic to your website.

However, you have to carefully analyze bidding competitiveness when placing an ad on the Google Ad network. Some ads can be quite pricey, and if your landing page isn’t compelling or engaging enough, someone might click on one of your PPC ads, then click away from your site, resulting in no sales overall.

What Is a Google Ads Quality Score?

A Google ads quality score is another important element of smart search engine marketing. This score ranges from 1 to 10 and describes whether a given advertisement or landing page is relevant, useful, or high-ranking for someone searching for a specific keyword.

You can use the Google ads quality score to measure your advertisements, your landing pages, or the keywords you choose to bid on for your PPC ad campaigns. Again, finding the right keywords to bid on — and designing your advertisements so that they convert most people who click on them — is key to mastering your SEM campaigns.

How Are SEO and SEM Different?

As you can see, SEO and SEM are quite different, even though they are oftentimes mistakenly used interchangeably. SEO can be thought of as a part of search engine marketing, but not vice versa.

Remember, the key difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO focuses on generating organic traffic from search engine results, while SEM focuses on generating both organic traffic and paid traffic from PPC ads and other digital marketing methods.

Below, let’s look at some of the other key factors in the SEO vs. SEM comparison.

SEO Is a Long-Term Investment

For starters, search engine optimization is a long-term effort and investment. Indeed, you’ll see results more quickly if you focus on search engine marketing because you can directly affect how much traffic you get by spending more money.

In contrast, search engine optimization takes significant time, particularly if your website is new or if you are trying to cultivate an audience from scratch. This is even truer if your website doesn’t have many backlinks or much search engine authority yet.

However, good SEO is well worth its weight in gold. That’s because, over time, SEO is much cheaper than search engine marketing. In theory, you don’t have to pay anything for SEO to result in high-quality, organic traffic reaching your website.

Just building up your blog base, optimizing your website, and making sure you use keywords intelligently can result in organic traffic flowing to your site more often than not. All of that costs you time, but not necessarily money.

In contrast, search engine marketing can yield short-term, excellent results — but you have to spend much more money on PPC ads, highly competitive keywords, and so on.

SEO Focuses on Keywords

Another main difference between SEO and SEM is that the former prioritizes smart keyword usage more than SEM.

That’s because Google usually ranks and categorizes pages based on the keyword content in blogs. Therefore, you have to do a lot of great keyword research — and be sure to use your keywords effectively in your title tags, headings, blog copy, product descriptions, and elsewhere — to see major improvements in your SEO over time.

Off-page SEO also focuses on smart keyword placement and usage. For example, Google ranks your page more highly if you have high-authority backlinks to great sources and if those links are attached to SEO anchor text. The anchor text is the blue text that marks a backlink to a secondary site or source.

SEM Means Paid Advertising

The biggest difference by far between search engine optimization and search engine marketing is that SEM involves paid advertising. For example, you set up a PPC (pay-per-click) or CPC (cost-per-click) ad campaign and decide to spend a certain amount of money on highly competitive keywords and ad copy.

SEM’s paid advertising focus means that it costs more from your marketing budget, but it can often yield better short-term results compared to SEO. 

Note that neither form of traffic generation is necessarily worse than the other. Instead, they should be used in conjunction with each other to improve your metrics.

How To Make Your SEO and SEM More Effective

Since both SEO and SEM are important for traffic generation, you need to practice both methods wisely in order to see good results.

Luckily, there are many ways in which you can make your search engine marketing and search engine optimization more effective over time.

Work With an Influencer Marketing Agency

Firstly, you can and should consider working with an influencer marketing agency at the earliest opportunity. Influencers can make or break new brands in the digital advertising and marketing space.

By operating on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, influencers can manage a marketing campaign that generates traffic for your website, grows your audience by introducing your products or services to their own viewers, and lends your brand needed authority or trust, particularly in the earliest months.

MuteSix works by identifying influencers who align with your brand’s goals, tone, and other elements. Then, we help those influencers through the pre-production and post-production processes to ensure every bit of content they publish works for your brand.

Make Your Brand as Consistent as Possible

Next, you should make your brand as consistent as possible across different platforms and materials. That means:

  • Setting a consistent aesthetic or style for your brand’s website and social media pages.
  • Deciding on a tone and voice for your brand.
  • Executing a unified online marketing and brand awareness campaign.

For example, you need to make sure that all of your advertisements — especially your PPC ads, since you pay for every click they generate — are consistent in terms of brand tone, voice, and content. High-quality PPC ads can convert traffic to your website quite often, so they are excellent investments for your marketing budget.

That’s why you should partner with a quality digital marketing and content creation agency like MuteSix. You can handle the SEM and SEO strategy while we create the content you need to make sure people are on board with your brand the first time they see one of your ads.

Use an SEO Keyword Research Tool

Lastly, consider using a high-quality SEO keyword research tool. This will be especially helpful in the earliest days of your traffic generation efforts.

A good keyword research tool can help your website rank — in other words, make your Google search rankings rise. A good keyword research tool can also tell you:

  • What the most competitive keywords are for your niche, industry, or general market area.
  • Whether it’s worthwhile to go after the most competitive keywords. If there’s a lot of competition, for example, it might be better to go after slightly less competitive, “long-tail” keywords that don’t have as much direct competition. That way, you can bring people from your target audience to your site without having to pay top dollar for limited spots.
  • Which short and long keywords you should bid on or place throughout your website copy and blog posts.

Perhaps more importantly, an SEO keyword research tool can help you monitor keyword popularity over time. Keywords and their page rankings fluctuate all the time, so it’s important to stay on top of which keywords are most popular if you want your brand to remain relevant and your pages to maintain good search engine optimization.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, both SEO and SEM are necessary strategies for you to generate as much traffic for your site as possible. Brands survive based on the amount of organic traffic and paid results they receive, and you can significantly boost your traffic and conversion rate by leveraging SEO and SEM strategically.

That said, generating traffic is just half the story. Once people arrive at your site, you’ll need to wow them with compelling, highly converting content. You’ll also need to make sure that you have plenty of high-quality ads lined up for your PPC campaigns.

MuteSix can help with these goals and more. As a well-qualified, highly specialized digital marketing agency, we offer a variety of creative services, from content creation to video edits to graphic design services and more. 

Contact us today for a free consultation and let us show you how we can boost your conversion rate in no time!


What Is SEO / Search Engine Optimization? | Search Engine Land

What Is Search Marketing? | Search Engine Land
About Quality Score | Google Ads

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