Search engine marketing and search engine optimization is critically important to online businesses. You can spend every penny you have on a website, but it will all be for nothing if nobody knows your site is there.”

Marc Ostrofsky

As of 2017, the number of searches performed over the internet averaged almost 6 billion a day. While social media has taken the world by storm, search engines have grown in the shadows to become bigger than these platforms. Today, search engines are considered 300% times more effective marketing medium than social media. We’re pretty sure you’re getting the picture! If a business expects to grow, they have to invest substantial resources in search engine optimization.

However, as we begin to discuss the intricacies of search engine optimization or SEO, there is another concept that is frequently used by marketers, i.e. search engine marketing. While the experts from the field recognize the difference between SEO and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) many people still use these terms interchangeably which is not entirely accurate. Our discussion today revolves around the differences, merits, demerits and significance of both SEO and SEM with respect to online businesses.

The difference between the two terms

There is a clear demarcation between search engine optimization and search engine marketing. In order to clarify the difference we need to explain both concepts separately:

  1. Search Engine Optimization

SEO is the use of certain techniques to increase the organic rankings of a website in search results. When you hit the search tab after entering certain parameters in the Google search bar, the backend algorithm of the search engine picks out the most relevant results based on certain criteria. These are then displayed in a certain order based on the website with the strongest SEO strategy ranking higher than others.

The elements of SEO

While on the subject of search engine optimization it is only relevant to discuss the elements that contribute to the rank that a website obtains. These are divided into two broad categories:

  1. On-page SEO: The elements that fall under this head include the ones that exist on the webpage itself. These include keywords and whether or not they are used effectively, compressing visual elements to optimize the performance of the website and creating quality content that is relevant and adds value to the lives of users,
  2. Off-page SEO: As the name indicates, off-page SEO refers to the factors that are not on the webpage itself. Examples include back links to other websites, social media posts and management of local SEO listings.
  1. Search Engine Marketing

The primary difference between SEO and SEM is that search engine marketing involves more paid content rather than organic traffic. As you enter certain parameters in the Google search bar and hit ‘Enter’ you realize that there are certain results listed at the top with a small box saying ‘ad’ before the link itself. These links are placed as a result of paid spaces that are bought by the webpages in order to drive more traffic towards them. Pay per click and other related paid advertising techniques fall under the banner of SEM. While you might think that this is technique is not as effective as SEO, you shouldn’t be too sure.

Are they both important

Once the difference is established between SEO and SEM, the next question that arises in a business owners mind is whether I need both or focusing on one of these is enough. Well, unfortunately there is no straightforward answer to this question. If it’s simply about the importance than yes, both search engine optimization and search engine marketing are equally important to your business and if your budget and expertise allow, you should invest in both of them.

However, there are a number of factors that determine the preferences for certain businesses. These include budgets, target audiences, marketing objectives for the business as well as the professional help at your disposal.

SEO is able to generate organic links which means that a user is more likely to stick around and eventually convert into a customer. However, if executed and placed appropriately, the same can also be achieved through paid advertisements that are a part of SEM campaigns.

The complimentary effect of SEO and SEM

Lucky for those not having the resources to take both techniques side by side, there are a number of ways where SEO and SEM elements overlap. As a result, it is possible to execute both while focusing on one of these two. This means that search engine optimization and search engine marketing can act as complimentary techniques to one another. Given below are a few similarities on how both SEO and SEM can go hand in hand.

  • They both use keywords: Yes. While SEM are paid advertisements they are displayed in relevance to the keywords entered by a user. Furthermore, only a selection of ads show up in every search which means that the appropriate usage of keywords holds extreme importance in both cases. Google Adwords is one of the best sources for relevant keywords in every industry. It lists the keywords that Google algorithms pick out the most in certain categories.
  • The main objective for both is the same: The objective as well as the result that a business wishes to obtain from both is exactly the same, i.e. acquiring traffic. While they may be listed at the top of a search page, a user will not click on the ad unless they find that it has content relevant to what they are looking for. Therefore, if a business optimizes their content for either SEO or SEM, they’ll be helping the other as a compliment.

In conclusion, we would like to summarize our discussion by pointing out that the only difference between search engine optimization and search engine marketing is that the latter is paid. Besides this, both these techniques can be implemented side by side because when you work on one, the other achieves a boost inevitably.