SEO vs. SEM: What’s the difference and do you need both?

13 March, 2019


seo sem graphic


What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it’s a way for you to get free (organic) traffic from search results on search engines.

All big search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have search results where web pages and content are ranked based on what the search engine considers to be the most useful, relevant and valuable to a user. You can’t pay a search engine to have your web pages rank highly in organic search results.

If you can get it right, SEO is one of the most cost-effective ways to market your business online in the long term. If you can rank in the top spot for a key term that brings 1,000 visitors to your site per month (and you can manage to stay in that top spot), imagine the potential if you’re able to nab the top spot for other popular search terms!

The three pillars of SEO.

To get SEO right, you generally need to focus on three pillars:

  • Onsite SEO: Creating valuable, useful and optimised content that helps search engines to see your website as a valuable source that people want to find.
  • Technical SEO: Paying attention to site speed, mobile friendliness and linking structure to ensure your site is as crawlable and indexable as possible.
  • Offsite SEO: Attracting high-quality backlinks (links from other people’s site back to yours) to build your website’s reputation and authority. Great content, is the driving factor for attracting natural links to your site.

Start with these onsite SEO tips below to boost your rankings in Google:

  1. Brainstorm potential keywords that are relevant to your business and your service. You can start by writing down what you do, what services you offer and what locations you service.
  2. Mix and match those keywords and put a few variations into a keyword research tool like UberSuggest to understand how many people are searching for those terms each month.
  3. Prioritise keywords based on what keywords you think your potential customers are using when looking for the products or services that you offer.
  4. Create content around those keywords, but make sure your content is engaging, formatted nicely and easy to read.

Need an expert’s help with SEO? Learn more about how Found Digital can grow your business.

What is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, and unlike SEO, it’s mainly the process of gaining traffic through purchasing ad spots on search engines. SEM is often referred to as paid advertising, pay-per-click or ‘paid search.’

By and large, the most popular paid search platform that is used by search marketers is Google Adwords, but ‘paid search’ as an umbrella term can also refer to advertising on major social networks like Facebook or YouTube, or through paid promotion on content distribution platforms like Outbrain or Taboola.

Use these tips to target potential customers with SEM.

Customer targeting with paid advertising gets more and more sophisticated by the second, and you’d be absolutely flabbergasted at what you can achieve with a few simple clicks.

Let’s say you’re a mechanic based in Newtown, Sydney, and you want to grow your business. Here are some handy options using SEM.

Target potential customers by location. Push ads to people in the Newtown local area so they’re aware of your business, or push ads to people in Sydney’s inner west to capture the attention of an even larger pool.

Target potential customers by behaviour: There are a few things you can do here. One is you can remarket to people who have already visited your website. Perhaps they browsed but were too busy at the time to make an enquiry, so remarket to them with advertising to jog their memory. You can also create audience segments based on your potential customers’ likes and dislikes. As a mechanic, for example, you could create a segment based on personal interests in ‘cars’ + ‘Newtown’ or advertise a special introductory offer to an audience segment that likes a competitor of yours.

Why should SEO and SEM be combined?

 SEM’s effects are immediate. You can jump right in and connect with your audience straight away. This is especially good if you’re running a sale, have a special offer or want to reach a very specific market and don’t have time for SEO to kick in.  You can be very precise like with terms like ‘Red Back Spider removal’ aimed at people in just the southern suburbs of Adelaide. 

SEO, on the other hand, is a way for your website to appear organically on a search engine by improving its relevance and authority for the main things your business does within your local suburb or state. It works off more generic search terms like ‘Pest Control Adelaide’.

Basically SEO is your long term strategy for helping customers find you all the time, while SEM allows you to have a more agile strategy when trying to attract customers. Combined, SEO and SEM deliver maximum visibility.

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