SEO vs SEM, what's the difference?

Tyler Scionti

  | Published on  

September 29, 2023

Sometimes marketing in 2019 can feel like navigating an alphabet soup. CPC, MRR, CMS... and now SEO and SEM. Seriously, there are so many terms track of we ought to write a dictionary.

Not to mention the fact that while SEO and SEM are often used interchangeably, they're actually quite different.

It's enough to give you a wicked headache.

Fortunately we can demystify this one, though for all future headaches - maybe stock up on ibuprofen. What you'll find is that these concepts really are not too hard, they just require a bit of explanation and demystification.

What's SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to appear organically in searches. SEO often seems like this mysterious force that marketers employ, but really it's about forming good marketing habits. Namely, create good content that is well-written and well-formatted.

A site with good SEO is creating content that Google likes, and their prospects find valuable. SEO can be broken into two categories:

On-page SEO

On-page SEO consists of things you can control directly on your site like:

  • Blogging
  • Using keywords and topics on your website
  • Optimizing your site's load time
  • Integrating social sharing into your content

These are all things you can control on your website and will impact how well it ranks. The more you blog and the more focused your keyword strategy the better chance you have at appearing in a search query. The faster your website loads the more favorably Google will look at it.

These are important practices and habits to nail down. Something as simple as keeping a list of keywords and blogging once a week can go a long way to boosting your SEO.

Off-page SEO

Off-page SEO consists of things that happen off your site, but lead people to it like:

  • Sharing content on social
  • Establishing backlinks

This happens off your website (hence off-page). Some of it is outside your control, though by creating quality content and sharing it you can help your chances.

SEO is extremely important to building your brand's reputation on the web, and appearing in front of your prospects as a result. From creating content to generating buzz, there is a lot you can do for free to improve your site. SEM though, that's a different ballgame.

What's SEM

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing... similar but subtly different. Where SEO consists of practices you can take to optimize your site, SEM consists of practices to market your site.

SEM includes SEO, but can also include things like advertising. You can create an ad for your site for certain keywords to appear at the top of Google results.

Think of it as a sort of fastpass to the front of the line. Google ads can range in price, you may be able to squeak by for as little as $5/day though if you're in a competitive space you could be spending quite a bit to stay at the top.

So really, SEM includes SEO but they are not the same.

What should my business do?

As much as 'it depends' can be a bit of a cop-out, it depends.

What's your budget (time and money)? Are you familiar with Google ads? Who will be responsible for monitoring progress?

If you're new to SEM as a whole, then doing some free housekeeping for SEO is a good start. Create blog posts for your business on topics your prospects care about. Share content across social and develop a following. This will give you an idea of what content and messaging resonates so when you start engaging in other aspects of SEM, like paid ads, you can get a bit more bang for your buck.

Not sure where to start when it comes to content marketing? Let's make it simple. Centori provides a free platform to track topics across your site, find trending keywords, measure your analytics, and review industry content to help you focus on growing, not marketing.

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