Like any specialized field, digital marketing has its own set of acronyms. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) are commonly used terms and effective strategies for inbound marketers. However, many people struggle to differentiate between the two and understand their symbiotic relationship. Some common questions include:
- What is SEM, and how does it relate to SEO?
- Should SEM be part of an inbound marketing program?
- Is an organic focus on SEO the best long-term choice?
If you have similar questions, there’s no need to worry. This article will clarify the distinctions between SEO and SEM, highlight how they support and enhance each other, and explore effective ways to leverage both strategies for maximum impact in your B2B inbound marketing plan.
Getting Started: Decoding the Meaning of SEM
When it comes to the basics, it’s essential to understand the distinction between SEM and SEO. SEM stands for search engine marketing, while SEO stands for search engine optimization. To grasp the concept better, let’s draw an analogy to traditional marketing methods like push and pull marketing. In this comparison, SEM aligns more with an outbound or push approach, in contrast to SEO. To keep things simple, remember this key difference between the two strategies.
SEO is an organic search strategy.
SEM is a paid search strategy.
In order to have a comprehensive online search marketing toolkit, it is crucial to incorporate both of these distinct yet interconnected strategies. Effective SEM relies on effective SEO, making it essential to have a strong SEO foundation for successful SEM implementation.
SEO is Foundational for Inbound Marketing
Search engine optimization (SEO) endeavors to enhance website traffic by improving its ranking on a search engine results page (SERP). This involves ongoing optimization of site content through keyword research, performance analysis, and content enhancements. As search algorithms evolve, SEO strategies must adapt accordingly to ensure effective results.
On-page SEO Strategies
- Optimized meta data — incorporating target keywords into web page title tag, meta description, heading tags, image alt tags
- Optimized page copy — well-written text based on strategic keyword research and target audience insights
- Simple, well-formatted page URLs that include essential keywords
- Optimized page speed and performance
- Social sharing integration within the content
- Internal link building using targeted keywords and avoiding generic “link” text
- Content formats optimized for featured snippets, such as bulleted lists, callouts, tables, definitions, and numbered steps
On-page SEO Strategies
- Link building to attract and establish quality inbound links that build site authority; backlinks help make up the majority of off-page SEO
- Social signals — increasing traffic to a website as a result of social media sharing
- Social bookmarking to grab attention using sites like Reddit, Digg, and MIX
- Links from industry-specific online communities and trusted sources to attract your target audience
- Local SEO to promote products and services to prospective customers at the local level
Over time, as you develop high-quality and valuable content that resonates with your target audience (such as blog articles and web page copy), the performance of these pages contributes to the establishment of authority. This, in turn, leads to enhanced organic website traffic, greater potential for inbound links, and, most importantly, improved conversion rates.
SEM Builds on Your SEO Foundation and Amplifies Results
Search engine marketing (SEM) encompasses the utilization of paid advertisements on search engines to enhance a website’s visibility and drive traffic. However, it is not a straightforward process of writing ads and bidding on keywords. Ad copy and targeting strategies must align with keywords that match the search queries of target buyers, ensuring that the ads appear to the right people at the right time in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs).
By tactically employing paid ads, marketers can increase the visibility of specific web pages, landing pages, blog posts, and other crucial content. Therefore, SEM practitioners need to leverage both search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) ads to effectively target potential customers and generate traffic.
In summary, SEO plays a significant role within an SEM strategy, serving as a key component in driving targeted traffic and achieving marketing goals.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Strategies
Google Ads is by far the most popular platform for hosting search engine ads, but it’s not the only option available. Depending on your industry, other platforms like Microsoft’s Bing, Yahoo! Native, and Amazon ads can also be viable choices. If your target market is in China, placing ads on Baidu would be the preferred option.
Regardless of the platform you choose, there are key practices to keep in mind for successful SEM:
- Launch targeted ad campaigns to reach specific audiences based on industry vertical, geography, target persona, or other relevant characteristics.
- Create ad groups consisting of variations of target keywords.
- Write relevant ad copy that incorporates the selected keywords.
- Set a budget for your ad spend.
- Monitor performance metrics such as clicks, impressions, click-through rates, and average cost per click.
- Develop retargeting audiences to reinforce your messaging through increased exposure.
- Utilize targeted social media ads on platforms like LinkedIn, tailored to your audience.
If you’re new to paid advertising, these considerations provide a good starting point. However, launching and maintaining an effective paid search ad campaign involves additional factors. If you’re looking to complement and amplify your SEO efforts, starting with Google Ads is likely the best choice.
Which is Better, SEO or SEM?
By now, it should be evident that this is a deceptive question. It is well understood that SEO plays a fundamental role in SEM. Achieving successful results in SEM is impossible without a well-established SEO strategy. SEO and SEM are not in competition with each other, nor can they be swapped out for one another; instead, they work in harmony.
SEO as a first focus
SEO sets the foundation for SEM by optimizing content to provide value to your target audience. Without well-optimized landing pages, web pages, and blog content, SEM efforts will be ineffective and struggle to gain visibility on search engine result pages. This can result in wasted budget for SEM campaigns. While organic SEO helps establish credibility in search, the primary focus should be on consistently creating high-quality content that is worth searching for. Additionally, it’s crucial to promote this content through social media and other distribution channels to maximize its reach and impact.
When to five SEM a change?
There are several important scenarios where immediate visibility in search is crucial, such as when launching a new website for a company without an online presence or introducing a new product or service. In such cases, SEM is a valuable tool to drive traffic and establish a stronger online presence quickly, especially before organic credibility is built. However, relying solely on PPC in the long run is not advisable. It is essential to create valuable and engaging content that encourages visitors to interact with your website. Every situation is unique, so it’s important to assess what suits your specific needs. Ensure that you and your digital marketing team fully comprehend the distinctions between SEM and SEO and plan for ongoing content optimization and enhancement