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Exploring Search Marketing: The Difference Between SEO and SEM

Want to Boost Your Visibility? Knowing the Difference Between SEO and SEM is Key.

As more businesses and nonprofits come to recognize the vital importance of boosting their visibility in web search, recent years have seen booming interest in the various tools, tricks, and tactics falling under the umbrella term of search marketing.

But with so much industry jargon out there, brands looking for a winning marketing strategy can sometimes be left with more questions than answers.

So, let’s take a moment to explore two distinct facets of search marketing that are often confused in popular discussions of the topic – SEO and SEM. You’ll sometimes see people make the mistake of using these terms interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing, and knowing the difference is key to understanding search marketing.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) refers to the use of organic strategies to improve your site’s search ranking. This includes on-site strategies such as fine-tuning technical aspects of your site or optimizing page copy with targeted keywords, and off-site tactics such as managing directory listings or earning backlinks. SEO is a slow-burning strategy focused on building a strong, credible brand over the long term, and it can take months to fully pay off – but with lasting results.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) refers to the use of paid advertising, through platforms like Google AdWords or Bing Ads, to improve your site’s search ranking. It’s also commonly referred to as pay-per-click (PPC) marketing, because a cost is incurred every time a user clicks on your ad. SEM delivers results fast, with the ability to roll out ads with only a few clicks – but your ads are only active so long as you keep paying.

So, which is better? That depends on your brand’s situation and what you’re looking to achieve through digital marketing.

If you’re launching a new brand and looking to make a splash, you’re in a crowded market with fierce competition for targeted keywords, or you’ve fallen behind in search results and need to play catch-up, fast – SEM can provide the edge you need. And, because you can quickly turn ads on and off, SEM is a great way to test new marketing ideas and change up your strategy on the fly.

Of course, most marketing pros will tell you that paid ads are no replacement for a fully realized organic SEO strategy – while it takes time, SEO will be less costly than SEM in the long run, and can boost your brand’s credibility on the social web in a way paid ads (which are marked as such) cannot. Ultimately, many brands choose to use paid ads alongside organic SEO, as part of a comprehensive search marketing strategy.

Looking to boost your profile in web search? Rosie’s Creative can help with that. We’ll work with you to put together a plan that leverages the strengths of paid ads and organic SEO to deliver results for your business or nonprofit.

Ready to get started? Contact Rosie’s Creative today – and remember, with us, your first consultation is always free.


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