There has been a big shift in marketing from traditional marketing to online marketing, also known as internet marketing, taking the traditional methods by a storm. Online marketing refers to advertising and marketing activities that utilize the web and email to push forward direct sales, also called electronic commerce, on top of sales referrals from websites or emails. On looking more closely at contemporary marketing, you will come across the two terms – SEO and SEM. The two terms are closely related and are often confused or used interchangeably. However, they are two different things.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of improving (optimizing) your website’s visibility, so that it appears on top of the list of search results returned by a search engine. The aim is to increase the number of free visitors it gets from search engines. A web page that is optimized is easily recognized by search engine crawlers, such as Google, thus raising its chances of being at the top of the search engine result pages (SERPs).

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a method of internet marketing that is concerned with the promotion of websites by getting free traffic (SEO) through organic or natural search results, and paid search advertising. Paid search advertising (PSA) involves buying advertising space in search engine results. Instead of putting an effort to have a high rank in the SERPs and get free traffic, web owners pay to be at the top of the searches. Google Adword is the most popular agency for PSA, whereby you can have your adverts appear on the Google search page and only pay for the clicks on your ads. It’s for this reason that it is aptly called Pay-per-click (PPC).

What is the difference between SEO and SEM?

The difference is simple. SEO is a component of SEM, or search marketing as it is popularly called. Both have the common goal of raising visibility in search engine results.

What are the components of SEO?

SEO is made up of two main activities.

On-site SEO

These are the tactics that you can apply to your website or blog to enhance its search engine friendliness. Examples of on-site SEO include:

– Integrating carefully selected keywords naturally into titles, meta-descriptions, and heading tags

– Use of blog posts that are well written, with quality being their optimizing factor

–  Cleaning and proper formatting of URLs

–  Optimizing the rate of page loading

–  Integrating Google authorship

–  Incorporating social sharing into your content

–  Proper use of H1, H2 tags

–  Correct use of images and videos

Off-site SEO

This the process of earning points from other websites with the aim of building your site’s confidence among the search engines. This can be thought of as a grading system, where the website with the most points ranks the highest. Links emanating from other sites to your site make up the grading points. For this reason, off-site SEO is also called link-building. It’s not only the number of links directed to your site that’s important but also the sources of the links are very important for a successful off-site SEO.

Which is better – SEO or SEM?

There has been an ongoing debate among marketers on which is better of the two. Many in-house marketers support SEO, and rightly so. However, it’s worth noting that true SEM is ineffective in the absence of natural SEO. On the other hand, there are cases where PPC, a constituent of SEM, is more appropriate and effective than SEO. A good example is when launching a new site and visibility is needed immediately, a PPC campaign is the most viable option since it yields results faster than SEO. Even then, it would not be prudent to use PPC alone without giving SEO a chance.

SEO may be slow to give tangible results, but ultimately, it proves cheaper and builds a better solid search credibility compared to PPC.

The choice of whichever tactic to utilize should be based on the consideration of the particular needs to be met, but even then, you should understand the discrepancies and how you will sustain your efforts.