It seems like every few weeks internet gurus, IT professionals, and webmasters are dropping some new acronym in the world of digital marketing to boost the functional evolution of the internet. One of the more commonly known terms is SEO or Search Engine Optimization, which dovetails into SEM or Search Engine Marketing.

The two things sound very similar, but there are some distinct differences between SEO and SEM. Especially when it comes to digital marketing and improving your organic ranking on popular search engines like Google.

To really wrap our heads around the differences between SEO and SEM as well as how to use them to the best of their ability, we’re going to have to take a closer look at each of them.

What Is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It incorporates a variety of factors to help popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others to crawl your website and index the pages. These pages are then cataloged and assigned a priority by an incredibly complicated algorithm.

When someone enters specific terms into the search engine, the indexed pages are assessed by the algorithm and it assigns your website a ranking amongst other competitors as well as paid ads that have a similar theme.

Search Engine Optimization takes into account several key factors such as:

  • The strategic use of keywords
  • Tags
  • Meta tags
  • Page structure
  • The fluidity of site navigation
  • Site activity
  • Content activity
  • Fresh & engaging content
  • Backlinks to other sites with strong domain authority

What Are User Interaction Signals?

User Interaction Signals are a metric used by Google to help judge how users interact with your site. Google’s algorithm uses this information to determine if your website or a specific page is a good match for the user’s search terms. If the page in question happens to have a high bounce rate, it could be a sign that your page isn’t giving users the answers they want to that query.

Should Google’s algorithm consider your page a bad fit for that keyword, they can drop you down the rankings or remove you from the first page altogether

What Is Local SEO?

Local SEO takes the foundational principles of technical search engine optimization and retools your website’s pages and registration for local rankings. The most effective local SEO practices also tend to connect your company’s website with your Google Business Profile.

When properly set up and maintained this helps popular search engines integrate the two sources. This improves your site’s organic ranking when people enter keyword search terms and add additional “Near Me” to the search.

Google then connects your site and the associated business profile to increase your chances of ranking strongly on the first page. This can go a long way toward keeping your local site from being buried under a bunch of national or international websites that are offering the same things on a larger scale. However, you might still end up ranking under paid national ads that traditionally sit at the top of the page.

What Is SEM?

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing and is quickly becoming one of the most effective methods for growing your business’s presence in increasingly competitive marketplaces. It is a practice of marketing a particular business via paid advertisements that are positioned to appear on popular search engine results pages (SERP).

Many advertisers bid on specific keywords derived from their research, based on what users are most likely to enter on popular search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing. This provides the advertiser with the opportunity for their ads to appear alongside results for those search queries.

The majority of these SEM ads are monetized as pay-per-click ads, though they come in a variety of formats. Sometimes they are simply small, text-based advertisements and headings that users can click on if they want to know more.

Though some of the more complex and ultimately more successful SEMs include things such as product listing ads (PLA) or targeting Shopping Ads. These SEMs tend to be far more visual. Many of these product-based advertisements allow consumers to see important information at-a-glance, such as price, and basic product information as well as reviews.

A lot of Search Engine Marketing’s strength and growing popularity comes from the fact that they offer advertisers the competitive opportunity to place their ads directly in front of motivated customers who are likely already prepared to purchase those products or services at the precise moment they’re viewing them.

Other advertising mediums can’t drive this level of conversion. This is why search engine marketing is so effective and such an amazingly powerful way to grow your business. Not only can it help drive sales, but when managed correctly it can provide you with analytics that can drive even more future success.

How Much Does SEM Cost?

The monthly cost faced by most large businesses that make the most out of their SEM efforts can range from $9,000 to as much as $12,000 per month. So, it’s a sizable investment that is often competitively priced out of the range of what a lot of small businesses can shoulder.

Especially if your small business wants to use SEM annually. Though strategically purchasing SEM strategies during key times of the year, such as seasonal sales promotions might still be feasible for some fast-growing small business websites. This is even more true for small business sites that are selling premium, boutique, or high-priced product lines.

The Difference Between SEO & SEM

Right off the bat, the cost is a major factor. SEO only costs what it takes to develop and maintain your website for easy crawling, indexing, and organic rankings. This requires some time to set up technical SEO and local SEO practices, which usually requires the experienced hand of a highly trained web developer.

Though these costs are far lower than the competitive paid advertising costs to have an ad appear on a popular search engine like Google.

SEM tends to drive sales and advance your exposure to a targeted customer base. Both SEO and SEM use a rich amount of keywords and require significant keyword research. Though with poor SEO practices, your SEM effectiveness can be hampered. So, it’s best to make sure you have your search engine optimization on point before you even give the slightest consideration to spending money on SEM research and implementation.

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