SEO… SEM… What does it all mean?

You may have heard the acronyms “SEO” and “SEM” when talking about digital marketing. So, what do they mean, exactly? 
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” In short, SEO includes tools that help you optimize your website to make it appear toward the top of search engine results pages (SERPs). For example, when you’re searching for a term on Google, websites with better SEO will appear first.
SEM stands for “Search Engine Marketing.” It is often used as an umbrella term that includes SEO and “Pay Per Click” (PPC). However, when using the term “SEM,” people are often referring to PPC, in which you pay to boost your website to the top of the search page. Your cost is based on how many times someone clicks on your link. PPC results are shown in an “ad” section at the top of the page.
Let’s break them down a bit more…
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO focuses on gaining website traffic from organic search results – meaning results you are not directly paying for. Search engines like Google use multiple algorithms to determine in what order websites should appear when a user is searching for various terms. When your website meets their criteria, it appears organically closer to the top of the page without any extra ad spend on your part. 
Here are a few categories that search engines look at to determine your website’s worthiness for a higher rank in their search results:

1 . On-Page SEO: This explains how well search engines understand and recognize a website. When on-page SEO is good, search engines automatically give your website a higher ranking. When optimizing your website for search engines, you should frequently use keywords your audience may be searching for. Then, include those keywords in your website’s title tag, meta description, and URL if possible. You can also optimize individual pages with specific keywords that are relevant to them.

To ensure high on-page SEO, it is good practice to regularly add new content to your website by creating blog posts or landing pages that are keyword heavy. It’s also good to regularly conduct keyword research to make sure you’re choosing keywords effectively.


2. Off-Page SEO: This is how often other websites include links to your website. When other pages link to your site, it builds trustworthiness and credibility in search engine algorithms. This is especially true if the other websites linking to yours have a high SEO ranking.

You can improve your website’s off-page SEO by creating sharable content or developing partnerships with other organizations that can link to your site, and vice versa.


3. Technical SEO: This refers to the overall experience by users and web crawlers on your website.

Web crawlers are bots that search engines use to index your website. Think of it as a filing system. The web crawler searches through all your files and creates an index of where everything is located. This way it understands the content of your pages and can ensure relevant results for the search engine’s users.


Web crawlers look at aspects of your website such as how quickly the pages load, if the site architecture is set up correctly, and how high of a bounce rate it has. It also analyzes how users interact with your website to determine what users the site is relevant to. If users are not interacting well with your page or it has a high bounce rate, the search engine may determine that your website is not a good fit for a certain keyword and drop your ranking.

Each of these factors is important to optimizing your website for search engines. You should use a combination of the three to achieve the best results.



Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Search engine marketing primarily focuses on gaining traffic to your website via the paid method of PPC. However, it is often used as an overarching term to describe both organic (SEO) and paid (PPC) search engine marketing.
With PPC, you can create paid campaigns using keywords to boost your search engine ranking. These campaigns include bidding against other websites on specific keywords relevant to your website. When someone searches for your keyword, your ad shows up at the top of the search page in the ad section. When someone clicks on your link, you pay whatever amount you bid on that keyword.
SEO plays a role in PPC when it comes to your quality score. This score is the search engine’s way of determining if your ad is a good match for the user who searched your keyword. If your quality score is high enough, you will receive a discount on each click.
Quality score is based on SEO factors, such as the quality of your landing page. Creating quality ad copy also plays a role in your quality score, as good copy typically equals a higher click-through rate (CTR), boosting your score even more. The same is true in reverse as well. A poor CTR can lower your quality score, leading to lower rankings and higher costs.
What are the differences between SEO and SEM?

1.  Timing: While using SEM, you can see immediate results based on how much you pay to boost your website in search engine rankings. SEO takes a lot more time to show results but is worth the time investment in the long run. One study found that it can take about two years, on average, to see your website on the first page of a search engine organically. However, those organic results are worth it, as they increase your trustworthiness and credibility overall to search engines and your users.


2. Cost: SEM requires upfront cost, but you can see results almost immediately. The downside to SEM is that once you stop paying, your results stop as well. On the other hand, the costs of SEO come in the form of content creation or the use of SEO tools over time. However, the results will be long-term.


3. Visibility: While the results of SEO are visible to anyone who searches for relevant keywords, the results of SEM are shown to a targeted audience chosen by you.


4. Testing Abilities: SEM is a better tool for testing keywords because you can change things up in minutes to compare results. Since SEO is a longer-term investment, it is difficult and takes more time to make changes to compare ROI.


Overall, a combination of SEO and SEM best practices are a great way to boost your website’s visibility on search engines. In the end, they each help your website to become more visible and drive traffic.
Need help getting started with your search engine marketing? Get in touch, and our team at Systemax would be thrilled to help!


Author Info

Hey, there! My name is Kristen and I am a Strategic Marketing Director and Graphic Designer at Systemax. I work with clients to develop a strategy to meet their goals and ensure their projects stay on schedule. I’m also responsible for creating artwork for clients, including everything from banners to Facebook ads, and more. Outside of work, you can find me spending time with my family and friends or working toward my next project or goal such as learning videography or training for a half marathon!