When digging into the meat of digital marketing there’s a lot to take in.

One of the most confusing aspects of the whole thing is invariably the endless flood of acronyms facing a newbie.

For instance, what’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

There’s a huge difference despite the seemingly closely related acronyms. Read on and learn the difference and figure out which is the better traffic-generating tool for any given business.

SEO-Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the main method of generating search engine traffic. It’s used across the board and no digital marketing strategy is really complete without it.

For a decent writer who knows just a little bit of the technical side of website creation then all a basic SEO campaign will cost is time. On the other hand, it can cost quite a bit to hire an expert who will deliver the results needed.

SEO is extremely variable and there are a ton of viable strategies out there for handling it. That said, it all boils down to targeted keywords and backlinks.

Backlinks are links from off of a page which come back to it. They form the most expensive part of an SEO campaign as a general rule and they’re the touchiest aspect since both quantity and quality matter in the end.

SEO campaigns range from simple blogs to extensive campaigns complete with infographics, extensive website optimization behind the scenes, and endless backlink campaigns for higher competition keywords.

The goal of all of this? To come up through search engine rankings so that the site is able to conquer the search engine rankings. Essentially, the top of Google gets the bulk of search traffic and that means placing there brings in more traffic for the website.

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SEO is constantly changing. As people find ways to game the system, rather than building extensive and lasting tactics, these loopholes get shut down. That leads to endless warring with Google and it takes an expert to stay on top of the ever-shifting nature of best practices in the field.

While the basics can be done in-house, there’s a reason that the vast majority of small businesses prefer to outsource their SEO campaigns to the experts.

SEM-Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing involves Google AdWords or other search engines equivalent.

Go type in a quick Google search for a product or service.

See the highest results? The ones which have a little “ad” symbol next to them?

Those are the result of search engine marketing.

Like SEO it’s easy to learn the basics. Google AdWords doesn’t allow a whole lot of customization for advertising copy or anything so it would seem one could get ahead simply by diving into keywords.

Unfortunately, reality is a bit different. Most search engines use a complex bidding system to determine which advertisements are displayed in desirable positions.

That means needing to do the keyword research, determine the industry average for placement, and even figure out what the total budget is to properly manage an SEM campaign. It can be quite touchy.

The ads will also receive a quality score which affects how often they’re displayed. That means one can’t just outbid the competition and hope for the best.

For those with the time to learn Google offers their AdWord certification for free but it’s only the beginning to using SEM to its maximum benefit.

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Unlike SEO, which targets organic results, SEM is straight advertising. Essentially the pay is per per click on the ad to bring in potential customers.

The good news about SEM is that if when one targets commercially viable keywords it results in a great conversion rate, but the downside is that many people stop before their campaigns gain real traction.

The Biggest Difference Between SEO and SEM

The biggest difference between SEO and SEM is this: SEO actions often cost only once.

On the other hand, utilizing SEM is unpredictable. The pay per click is easy enough but each click can cost a different amount even within the same campaign and using the same keywords.

Think of SEM as traditional advertising. People are aware it’s an ad and the company is paying to run the advertisement. In this case, they’re actually paying per click which makes it easy to tell if the campaign paying too much to make its money back.

Both can have an impressive ROI and it’s normal for both to be featured in any given digital marketing campaign.

Which is Best for Me?

The truth is that both methods of marketing are required to get ahead in the digital landscape. A combined approach is the best way to go.

That said, SEM tends to be much better for those who are selling goods directly. Since people are already looking for something to buy they’re generally not as turned off by ads.

On the other hand, services will tend to benefit more from an SEO-heavy approach.

In the end, however, both are viable and necessary for a great digital marketing campaign.

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Know the Difference, Use What’s Best

The difference between SEO and SEM is huge, but it’s necessary to learn both if for anyone planning on getting a digital marketing campaign going for their business.

The truth is that it often takes a professional to know which is the best for a small business and implement them well. It takes a lot of time and false starts to get going but it can be learned.

On the other hand, a professional is often the best option. Why not contact one today?