Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is a pretty common term these days, and most people with an online business will have some idea of the basics of SEO.

Your basics of SEO might also include already knowing why you need it and some beginner’s ways to put it into action (and if you don’t know the basics then read this article).

But what about Search Engine Marketing?

To many, this term might not be as familiar. So what is it? And is it the same as SEO?

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Search engine marketing (or SEM) is not the same as SEO, although your overall SEM strategy should encompass some SEO planning.

Search engine marketing (sometimes also called Search Marketing) is broader and defines everything you do to increase the reach of your business online using search engines.

Search engine marketing is everything you do to increase your business’ visibility on search engines such as Google or the strategies you use to get more visitors through search engines.

What is SEO?

Let’s start with a definition of what SEO is, so we can see how SEM is different.

SEO is how to optimise your website to get improved rankings for certain keywords or search terms. It usually refers to free or organic techniques to increase ranking, including both on-site and off-site techniques.

These include:

On-site SEO

  • Incorporating keywords into content, headings, URLs, media titles and more
  • Setting up internal links within your website
  • Having content that is longer than 1000 words per page
  • Having dynamic content
  • Setting up social sharing integration from and to your page
  • Optimised loading speed
  • Optimising your website for mobile devices

Off-site SEO

  • Setting up backlinks from other reputable sites to yours
  • Having content targeting keywords shared across websites, forums and social media platforms
  • Setting up your business in online directories like TrueLocal and Google My Business

SEM will include SEO, and may also include paid advertising such as through Google Adwords.

Paid targeting of keywords, also called PPC or Pay-per-click. All search engines have a system of PPC, but Adwords is the most well-known. Social media platforms like Facebook are also working to optimise their search advertising options to include some form of PPC.

Through Adwords, you set up an account and pitch a price that you will pay for every time a search engine user types in a certain keyword and your website appears and is visited as a result. This is kind of like an auction – you are bidding how much you think each keyword is worth per click, and you will be competing against other businesses.

You don’t pay if no one enters the terms you’ve targeted or if no one clicks through to your website, which is good, however, it defeats the purpose of any marketing strategy if no one is being exposed to your business website.

To do search engine marketing well you do need to encompass an entire strategy, which can involve:

  • Defining keywords
  • Defining your target audience including interests and demographics
  • Targeting your audience through all stages of their buying decision journey
  • Setting an ad budget
  • Writing engaging advertising content
  • Analysing your competitors
  • Creating landing pages that best receive any visitors and convert them into customers
  • Monitoring the results of your strategy and reviewing it for changes

Why do you need SEM as well as SEO?

One of the strengths of SEO is that you can DIY if you want to cover the basics yourself, so this kind of strategy is within the marketing budget of any business, big or small.

The drawbacks of search engine optimisation, however, include that you need to have a pretty good understanding of how it works. To do it all for free, you also need to invest time and consistency in your strategy to build an organic reputation, and you will probably need to look into more complex and long-tail search terms to get some traction.

SEM can be incredibly powerful, but it can get expensive. Especially if you’re in a really niche market, or if you’ve got fierce competition in your industry (i.e. Insurance, Finance, Trades).

Search Engine Marketing is a powerful strategy because it is targeted. SEM doesn’t just mean paying for generic keywords. It means working out what pain points your audience has, how you can solve their problems that puts you ahead of your competitors, and what search terms can be used to search for you that aren’t already over-saturated.

Searching through search engines (and more specifically through Google) is the single greatest source of traffic, in that more people use Google than any other form of internet research or referral. It is just too valuable to ignore.

Therefore ranking is important, but high ranking is even more so. With most people hardly ever looking beyond the top three sites listed on search results, and almost no one looking beyond the first page, if you pay the right price for PPC ads your paid advertisement can appear above all organic search results in prime position.

But it takes a little strategy to work out what the right price (as well as the right keyword) is.

For a good resource to help you along with your comparison see here:  Why is organic SEO better than PPC?

Which approach does your business need?

Firstly, there is little point in only investigating SEM without having a clear and conversion-worthy website.

Why?  Because you don’t want pay to have visitors click through to your website if the website itself isn’t optimised. All those website visitors you pay for won’t convert into paying customers if your website doesn’t load quickly, look good and its hard to read or navigate. You also need content to be good enough to be relevant, build rapport, and lead that website visitor to your ideal conversion goal.

Search Engine Marketing is the way to go for your business if you:

  • need customers sooner rather than later
  • dont have time for content creation or DIY SEO
  • have no interest in creating content
  • know what your ideal clients are looking for on Google
  • your ideal clients look for your solution or for info about their “problem” on Google

However, keep in mind that once you stop paying for ads, the leads stop flowing.

Search Engine Optimisation is the way to go for your business if you:

  • want to build a long term plan to generate customers steadily without continual ad spend
  • like to write or create videos, and can do so to a strategic keyword plan
  • have the technical skills to update your website
  • have some social media skills/audience to share content with to attract base level traffic

However, search engine optimisation is very much a long-term strategy. You cant start churning out content today and expect a return next month. It also requires consistent high-quality content creation, strict targeting, and regular competitor research.

SEM and SEO work beautifully together for an effective digital marketing strategy, one to bring in organic leads, and one to bring in leads on demand.

Both options can be learnt and fulfilled yourself if you need to save money, but they do both require considerable time. To save on time, these marketing strategies can be outsourced, however, do consider the expense and expected ROI before jumping in.

For advice on whether Search Engine Marketing or Search Engine Optimisation is right for your business, send us a message with your questions and we can point you in the right direction. 

Want to DIY your SEO? Start here with this free SEO basics checklist.