SEO and SEM – To Market, Optimize or Both: That is the Question

Pretend that you and your business are stuck on a desert island (one with Wi-Fi) and someone approaches you with water for you and some SEO and SEM for your business. Would you know the difference between the two (the difference between SEO and SEM, not between them and water), and, more importantly, would you know which to choose?  If not, read on.

SEO. SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization” while SEM abbreviates “Search Engine Marketing”. And just to complicate things right from Jump Street- SEO is one facet of SEM but SEM is more than just SEO. SEO is generally characterized as a combination of On- and Off-Page Optimization techniques employed to push a client’s ranking closer to the top of a search engine’s results page. These techniques include increasing links to and from a client’s page, tweaking a client’s site content (and sometimes making minor architectural changes) to improve its traffic and presence, sharpening search keyword density and employment, etc.

There is a popular distinction made between “White Hat SEO” and “Black Hat SEO”. White Hat being the aforementioned organic link building and site improvement done as part of a business’s long-term advertising strategy; Black Hat being spam and every other shady trick evil “SEO”-practitioners have engaged in over the years. Recently, among SEO professionals in particular, there’s a grass roots movement to have White Hat SEO designated simply as “SEO” and Black Hat as “spam” or whatever other underhanded con job is being perpetrated. When I refer to SEO here, it’s always White Hat.

SEM. It might be helpful to think of SEM as more of a broader collection of strategies than a single system.  SEM can incorporate any combination of the following e-marketing procedures: Affiliate Marketing, like Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads. PPC is an ad structure in which the ad sponsor pays the network hosting the ad for every click that ad wins. Variations include Pay-Per-Purchase (PPP); Pay-Per-Miles, which measures greater net-traffic to a site rather than per click; Pay-Per-Action- like PPP but rewards actions like the filling out of forms or surveys as well as purchases, etc.

Also falling under SEM’s rubric are more straight forward advertising constructions like… advertisements. Straightforward ads that are purchased by a client, as an ad would be on any other medium. Additionally- traditional ads that are more targeted- responding to keywords, searches and so forth. “Paid inclusion” search engine advertising is another permutation. Paid inclusion entails a client simply buying a better rank on a search engine and, as such, has become something of a dirty word in the e-advertising subculture. Google publicly renounced paid inclusion search engine ranking early on, although features like Google Hotel Finder and Google Flight Search muddy the waters a bit as paid inclusion seems to be a feature of their operating model.

SEO or SEM? Now for the practical- as you’re in mind-possession of this wealth of new information by which you can distinguish SEO from SEM, which do you choose for your business? Because nothing is that easy, the answer is- probably both. If you had to choose one, SEO probably edges out SEM because of the long-term infrastructure fundament it establishes. Although SEO, as mentioned, is SEM; so if you’re having SEO done, you’re engaging in both by default. Basically, your cyber-business or business’s cyber presence should be promoted like any analog business. An offline organization or individual with a mind to expand (or simply survive) isn’t going to rely on one single marketing strategy and neither should an e-business.

Your best bet is to invest in a course of SEO from a provider with a good reputation (one that avoids Black Hat like an IT guy avoids sunlight) and implement a wider SEM strategy. Do research, get to know the landscape of your e-niche, talk to relevant people and find out what works. Buy the right kinds of ads for your business in the right kinds of places. However, if you think an advertising campaign on its own is enough and renders SEO unnecessary, consider the evidence revealed by a number of studies which indicates that at least 70-80% of web-surfers pay more attention to search engine results earned by organic linking than to ads of any kind.


About the guest author: Harlan Campbell is a digital enthusiast and blogger specializing in spreading awareness of White Hat SEO , smart marketing and e-media communication. In his spare time, he enjoys exercising his game consoles, watching horror movies and wandering through used book stores.

This is a unique article published on SEO Desk with exclusivity.

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