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SEO vs SEM: Why SMBs Should Know The Difference

 
The basic difference between SEO and SEM involves the way you spend money on marketing which every small business owner should know, says Rohan Ayyar, Regional Marketing Manager India, SEMrush.

The basic difference between SEO and SEM involves the way you spend money on marketing which every small business owner should know, writes Rohan Ayyar, Regional Marketing Manager India, SEMrush

Google is so synonymous with search today that lay people have even forgotten that it’s called a search engine. Only developers and internet marketers fully understand the mechanism behind search “bots” that crawl the entire web, index the web pages they find, and present certain pages sorted by relevance when users enter a search query.

Then there is the whole advertising (read money-making) ecosystem built on top of these crawlers, especially Google. With search engines like Google and Bing displaying multiple search and shopping ads at the top of their search results, while making them indistinct from regular organic results, few people other than techies realize the difference.

Let’s examine two related, but fundamentally different terms – search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). SEO and SEM both aim to increase the visibility of your brand and website on search engines. The way you do this is by researching “keywords” that people use to search for terms related to your business, industry, products and services and making your brand message visible to them at that precise moment.

But the similarities end there. The basic difference between SEO and SEM involves the way you spend money on marketing.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a process by which

  1. You make changes to your website in terms of HTML markup as well as content and copy
  2. Attempt to build links to your web pages from other topically relevant sites
  3. Get engaged with your content in order to establish your brand entity using various methods approved by search engines

Basically, it is an attempt at bringing visitors to your website by providing answers matching their intent, and getting them to consume your content and probably buy from you without spending money outright on advertising. These activities, such as technical tweaks and content creation, require a lot of efforts, for which brands might need to hire experts. However, the company doesn’t directly pay the search engine for SEO, creating the illusion of a “free” marketing approach.

SEO is a part of SEM.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) covers all means of promotion to increase the visibility of your web pages in the search engine results. Primarily, this involves direct spending on advertising that targets the keywords that searchers type – or speak (using voice search) – into the search box on Google or other search engines.

All search engines have their own advertising service to help advertisers promote their sites and content. Google’s advertising platform is called AdWords, using which advertisers can show text, product listing, banner and video ads across all of Google’s platforms, such as Search, Play Store and YouTube. Websites that have signed up for Google’s “search and display network” also become potential “publishers” where ads can be shown. These publishers decide the placement and format of the ads that are displayed on their website.

A thing to note is that over 80% of Google’s total annual revenue consistently comes from its advertising business. Experts speculate that this fact naturally influences the company’s approach towards users and marketers, as well as the changes it makes to its search platform.

Search engine advertising platforms such as Google AdWords and Bing Ads basically work on the principle of Pay Per Click (PPC). PPC is an online advertising model in which an advertiser pays the platform, which in turn pays the publisher (the website where the ad is shown) for every click on an ad, be it in text or graphic form. Therefore, advertisers create ads that link to their websites and aim to get people to click through to the web page in question. For the video, which is a comparatively recent, but very effective ad format, advertisers place the link in the text surrounding the video.

In addition to paid marketing, SEM includes SEO, for which the money you spend doesn’t go directly to the search engine. However, it gives you one more way to get your product or service in front of searchers, which is the primary goal of SEM.

What lies beyond SEM?

“Digital Marketing” is the umbrella term that covers all internet marketing – this includes search engines, social media, email, websites and apps. Just like search engines, social networks, app stores and even e-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon have their own platforms for organic optimization as well as PPC advertising. SEM, is just one channel that you can leverage as part of an integrated digital marketing strategy.

There are a lot of resources available online where you can learn more about SEO, SEM and digital marketing. Further, there are some effective tools (SEMrush is one such tool suite) that help you create and execute campaigns on all digital channels as well as automate whatever is possible. Good luck!