Distinctions can be confusing, I know. SEO is the process of optimizing your website with keywords, web page relationships through links, and design so that you rank well in the search engines for the search terms you are targeting. This doesn’t cost anything unless you pay a professional SEO to assist you. Organic rankings are free advertising.
SEM, on the other hand, stands for search engine marketing. That one word exchange optimization into marketing makes a huge difference. When we talk about SEM we are generally referring to sponsored listings, which cost you money. It is an out of pocket advertising expense and the cost generally depends on where you fall in the sponsored line up.
You’ve seen the ads at the top of your search results at the search engines, particularly Google and Yahoo? Those are sponsored ads. Those advertisers are engaging in SEM, or search engine marketing.
When To Use SEM Campaigns Vs. SEO
You might start a search engine marketing campaign when you want to reach a certain target market for your keywords and you find it difficult to move into a respectable SEO position with those keywords. For instance, in a highly competitive market it will be difficult to rank your site well for those keywords. This will especially be true if there are competitors in your market who have been around longer, and the more competitors who have domain age going in their favor the more difficult it will be to succeed at SEO. That’s when you really need SEM.
There is nothing wrong with needing SEM. You’ll likely get fewer visitors to your website with SEM than with SEO, but they will be more targeted visitors. One useful strategy is to use SEM in the early days when it really matters then when you have domain age going in your favor it will be less necessary. If your website is highly optimized and ready for business then as it grows older the chances of it appearing on Page 1 for any important keyword search terms goes up. As it does so your need for SEM goes down.
One final word: Whether you rely on SEO or SEM for traffic to your website, you need to make sure the copy on your website
sales sells. After all, traffic is great, but if you aren’t getting conversions then all the traffic in the world doesn’t matter.