Search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) are often used as if they have the same meaning. The reality is SEM and SEO are two closely related, but different, types of marketing strategies.

The Difference Between SEM and SEO

By definition, SEM includes any marketing strategy that involves search engines. Based on this definition, SEM includes both SEO and paid search strategies. When most marketers talk about SEM, however, they’re usually referring to pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns. SEO, on the other hand, focuses on optimizing your website for the various factors search engines use to determine a site’s value. First, we’re going to look at how SEO works, and then we’ll cover some paid search practices.

How Does SEO Work?

Search engines are massive information databases. This information is organized by keywords and phrases related to a given topic. Search engines have bots, known in the industry as ‘spiders, that crawl every page on the web that has a given keyword and determine its relevance. A site is then ranked on the search engine results pages (SERPs) based on the search engine’s ranking algorithm. The purpose of search engine optimization is to do everything possible to get on the first page, and ideally the first spot, of search queries related to your business. Here are some statistics that show why:

  • 75 percent of users never go past the first page of results
  • 31 percent of users click the first result on a mobile search
  • 34 percent of users click the first result on a desktop search

There are two types of SEO strategies used to get on the first SERP: on-page SEO and off-page SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO focuses directly on your website. Your target keywords are the foundation of your SEO strategy. What are 5-10 words or phrases related to your business? Use these to start your keyword strategy. Moz’s keyword explorer is a great tool for researching the competition of your chosen keywords. Creating quality content on a consistent basis is the second phase of an on-page SEO strategy. Your list of keywords guides each piece of content you write, whether it be service pages or blog posts. You need to include your keywords in your:

  • Title
  • First paragraph
  • Subheadings
  • HTML tags
  • Meta tags
  • Last paragraph
  • Alt tags for images

You also need to weave your keywords in naturally throughout the body of your content. Once you create your content, you add your inbound and outbound links. Inbound links direct traffic to another page on your site. Most blog posts on company blogs have a call-to-action at the end that links to a service page on their site. Outbound links direct traffic to another site, such as an affiliate or authoritative source. The last step in an on-page SEO strategy is optimizing your design to be friendly to both users and search engines. The load speed of your site is crucial. Not only are slideshows and fancy graphics not readable by search engines, but they can also negatively affect your page load speed.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is mostly about getting backlinks to your site. When it comes to SEO, links make the world go ‘round. Search engines look at the number of sites linking to your piece of content, as well as the quality of these sites. A good on-page SEO strategy is useless unless it’s complemented by a strong off-Page SEO strategy. Building relationships is the heart of off-page SEO. First, you have to build relationships with writers and editors to get them to link to your content and accept guest posts that link back to one of your service pages. Then you have to build relationships with influencers on social media to get them to share your content. This also includes participating in social bookmarking sites like Reddit and Stumbleupon. SEO works best when coupled with paid search best practices as part of a holistic strategy.

What are the Paid Search Best Practices?

The first thing you need to know is that paid search best practices don’t help if you don’t create good content. SEM and SEO feed off of each other. Your paid search efforts will be much more successful if you have a strong SEO strategy. With that being said, here are some paid search best practices for you to consider.

Optimize Your Search Network Campaigns

You know the ads you see every time you perform a search? Those are part of search network campaigns, which are the most common form of pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Your keyword strategy plays a huge role in pay-per-click advertising. The higher the competition of a keyword, the more these services charge per-click to rank your site in the space above the organic search results. Small business owners and entrepreneurs need to be smart about the keywords they target, as the cost-per-click is usually too expensive for high-competition keywords. A good SEO strategy helps you be more efficient with your paid search investments because you have already optimized your website for the keywords you plan to bid on.

Be Strategic With Keyword Targeting and Ad Groups

There are four different types of keyword targeting:

  • Broad match – exact match, variations, misspellings, synonyms, and similar searches
  • Modified broad match – any query where all words of your target phrase are present, regardless of the order
  • Phrase match – can match within a longer phrase as long as all targeted keywords show up in order
  • Exact match – has to match your targeted keyword exactly to show up

As a small business with a limited budget, you want to avoid broad match. Instead, focus on phrase and exact matches. Your ads may get fewer views, but your CTR will be higher. Another paid search best practice used to increase CTR is sorting ads into ad groups. Think of ad groups as the themes of your business. We are an internet marketing company, so our ad groups may look like this:

  • Content marketing services
  • Social media marketing services
  • Social media optimization services

Each group includes long-tail keyword variations of the parent keyword. None of these strategies matter if your ad copy doesn’t inspire action, though.

Write Strong Ad Copy

The standard ad format for Google Adwords includes the following:

  • Headline (25 characters)
  • First description line (35 characters)
  • Second description line (35 characters)
  • Display URL (35 characters)

The extended ad format includes:

  • Headline 1 (25 characters)
  • Headline 2 (25 characters)
  • Description box (80 characters)
  • Display URL (35 characters)

You need to make each character count if you want a high CTR. Don’t waste space with buzzwords or empty sales hype. Instead, speak directly to how one of the features of your product or service benefits your target consumer. SEM vs. SEO: Final Thoughts Understanding the difference between SEM and SEO is the first step towards harnessing the power of search engines for your business. If you would rather leave your SEM and SEO strategies to the experts, check out how we can help. Sources: The Ultimate Lst of Markeeting Statistics Google AdWords Targeting Explained