What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

By David Sauter, CEO

Published: October 9, 2007

What is SEO (Search Engine Optimization)? What is SEM (Search Engine Marketing)? Are these terms just technical jargon that really mean the same thing? These are all good questions that should be asked. Let’s take a few minutes to dig into these concepts and see what they mean and when we should use them.

First let me state that they are not two phrases that mean the same thing. SEO and SEM are two very different concepts, applied to your site in different ways and at different times. So let’s start off with definitions.

SEO – Short for search engine optimization, the process of increasing the amount of visitors to a website by ranking high in the search results of a search engine.

SEM – Short for search engine marketing, SEM is often used to describe acts associated with researching, submitting, and positioning a website within search engines to achieve maximum exposure.

The distinction seems subtle in these definitions but when you get into the nuts and bolts, the difference becomes much more apparent.

Let’s see if we can shorten these definitions making them clearer. We could define SEO as the things you do to your site to make it more visible and increase its relevance in search engine results. SEM would then be defined as the things you do on other sites to increase your site’s visibility and relevance in search engine results.

Here are some examples of things you can do to your site as part of SEO.

  1. Write keyword-rich content.
  2. Utilize web standards to increase search engine readability.
  3. Ensure your site degrades so that all of its content is visible in a text-only browser.

Here are some examples of things you can do on other sites as part of SEM.

  1. Submit your site to search engines for indexing.
  2. Develop a PPC (Pay-Per-Click) or Sponsored Listing strategy.
  3. Work on getting other sites to link to your relevant content.

These are just a few ways to get started with SEO and SEM.

So why are SEO and SEM important? SEO and SEM are important because 70% of searchers click on natural or organic listings in search engines. So being in the search engines is important. Ranking well and being visible will ensure a steady flow of targeted Internet traffic for pennies or less per click thru.

Remember SEO and SEM are both important and different. These concepts should be part of your web marketing plan to drive in that highly-qualified traffic at prices well below those of other advertising.