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The Difference Between SEO and SEM


The Difference between SEO and SEM


As a business owner,  whether you are selling goods or services, or if your site is purely informational, you must be aware of how important it is for your website to show up in search engines (ideally on the first page).  In today’s digital world, potential clients and customers turn to search engines to find what they need. If you are not “visible” on Google, Bing, or Yahoo, your business essentially doesn’t exist.

There are two different strategies to get your website findable on search engines. SEO, which stands for Search Engine Optimization, and SEM, which stands for Search Engine Marketing.

The terms are often used interchangeably, however, there are fundamental differences. SEO encompasses all efforts to rank a website in “organic” search results, while SEM refers to the process of gaining website traffic through purchasing ads on search engines. Both strategies ensure that the website will be visible on search engines, but that is where the similarities end. Read on for a more in-depth description, and which strategy might be right for your business.


What exactly is SEO: Search Engine Optimization ?

The exact definition of SEO according to Wikipedia is:

“The process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine‘s unpaid results—often referred to as “natural,” organic,” or “earned” results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users.”

(The keyword you should pay attention to: unpaid!)

Every time you go to a search engine such as Google or Bing, and you type in a description for a product or service you are looking for (for example: Italian Restaurant in Sherman Oaks) you get pages of results.  If you are like most of us, you will scan the first page and maybe the second page and pick a restaurant.

The Problem: As an Italian Restaurant owner, you would want to make sure you show up on the first page of Google results.  If you don’t, your competitors are – thus taking potential business away from you!

The Solution: Hire an expert digital marketing firm to help you improve your ranking through SEO.  Search Engine Optimization draws in your proper target audience – both on a local and global level.

This organic method doesn’t bring about immediate results. It takes time, patience and perseverance for the results to show. However, once you do get the desired results, they are earned and have more value than a paid ad.

The strategies used to improve your organic, unpaid “ranking” are same across the board, no matter what your website is selling. It involves:


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1. Finding your most high-quality keywords – actually “keywords” is more like a search phrase ( see example above)

2. ON-SITE SEO:  Basically anything that you do within your website in order to optimize it for the search engines

Useful resource: This on-page SEO Checklist from our friends at Authority Hacker.

3. OFF-SITE SEO:  Any kind of web optimization done outside of your website. Some examples are:  Social Media engagement, reputation management and link building.



What exactly is SEM: Search Engine Marketing?

SEM is a much more expansive term than SEO. Where SEO aims to provide better organic search results (UNPAID) SEM helps you successfully target users of search engines via advertising (PAID) links in search results to send targeted traffic to your site. SEM consists of Text ads, Banner ads, and Remarketing ads.

When you do a Google search, and you see a small yellow box on the top left side of the result s with the word “Ad” or “Ads” on it, that means it’s a paid search result:
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For example, if  you choose to run a Pay-Per-Click ad, every time a user clicks on your ad, you pay a fee. PPC campaigns are a popular Internet Marketing strategy, but the cost varies wildly depending on the competitiveness of your industry and the keyword used to trigger the ad. PPC campaigns can help to establish a solid presence on the web, occupy search engine real estate, and drive visitors to your website. Of course these PPC ads will appear on the top of the search page, as well also on the column down the right side of the page.  This is fantastic for your business to get noticed right away, but you do have to be very careful! Some competitive keywords in certain industries can cost upwards of $200 per click!!! ( Check out Google Adwords and search “Personal Injury / Los Angeles” keywords.)  This can turn into a very costly endeavor. The other down side is to remember once you stop your PPC campaign, you lose your ranking immediately.

It takes expertise and good planning to come up with the right marketing strategy. Know your options in order to make the most of the money you spend. It makes all the difference in the long run!

SEO and SEM are very in-depth marketing strategies that need a lot of study in order to understand clearly. Here are some great resources for further reading:






by Yasmin Zafar & Alexa Brinkschulte



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