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SEO vs. SEM: Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

Compare M&M’s and Skittles. They look similar from the outside, but once you take a bite you realize looks can be deceiving. Like M&M’s and Skittles, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) both increase visibility in online search, and although similar from the outside they utilize different methods. Let’s go over what SEO and SEM are, why they are important for businesses, their advantages and disadvantages, and how to get started using them.

Search Engine Marketing:

SEM searches are not natural or organic. SEM allows you instant placement and, typically, instant results. Companies pay for rankings or sponsored links on the search results pages and for each time someone clicks on their link. When a company pays for each click it is called Pay-Per-Click (PPC). Current search page results on Google have a green ‘Ad’ box (shown below).



  1. Target your target audience. With SEM you can target anywhere from location to network targeting, which allows you flexibility and control of who sees your ads. With this, money is spent more effectively and your site is spread more efficiently.
  1. Helpful data. The data from SEM is plentiful and allows you to see important analytics like keyword development, missed clicks, and so on.
  1. More traffic. You get the placements that are paid for, which means instant traffic and instant placement when and where you want it.
  1. Improves SEO. Paid marketing increases web traffic, leading to the increase in organic search performance.


  1. Difficult to manage campaigns. Managing campaigns can take a long time to plan and also a degree of expertise. There are different strategies, settings, etc, that factor into your campaign.
  1. Cost. You are paying per click and search ads for your website when using SEM, which can add up over time versus the virtually free SEO option.

Search Engine Optimization:

SEO is considered a component of SEM. Rather than paying for your target audience with SEM, SEO is organic, unpaid, natural search. SEO allows business to understand how to better advertise themselves and what their target audience is clicking on; the end goal leading to better search results. Clicks are well earned and represent trustworthiness on the internet.


  1. Free. It is free up to a point. With SEO you are not paying per click or placement, which allows you to save money and use it elsewhere. However, manpower and time do need to be taken into consideration.
  1. Trust. People are more inclined to trust and engage with natural websites than paid advertising.


  1. Slow. It takes a long time to increase your search rankings naturally and become trusted and relevant online.
  1. May cost you money. As stated above, it’s free up to a point. The more time and manpower that goes into creating the plan the more money you could potentially pay. Money is time and time is money.


So How Do You Get Started?

There are few important things that you should consider when getting started with SEM and SEO.

5 Steps to Starting with SEO:

  1. Understand where you already rank on results pages. See where your position is in the rankings and create a plan for you to reach your goal. Knowing your starting point can help you achieve where you want to be.
  1. Be strategic about keywords. Using too many can hurt, but the right amount can help your site. The title tag, alt text, and page headlines are good places to use keywords.
  1. Link back to other posts or mentions throughout your site. Mention your other posts in recent posts to foster more exposure. The more clicks the better.
  2. Develop relationships with other sites. Having relationships with other sites can help increase clicks and exposure. Choose sites that are already well respected and ask them to mention your site. Then return the favor. 
  1. Fresh, relevant content. Keeping content fresh keeps the clicks coming.


5 Steps to Starting with SEM:

  1. Establish what you are willing to pay. Help set your expectations for SEM by understanding what you want to pay and what that could get you. Be efficient with your time and money.
  1. Select the right keyword. Choose a distinct keyword for your site and then bid. When bidding you choose how much you are willing to pay. Notice that the higher you are willing to pay per click, the higher the ranking.
  1. Consider your location. It is pointless for your site to be advertised to people who don’t need to be seeing it. You are able to choose where you want your site to be showcased whether it’s worldwide or local.
  1. Advertise! You have a chance to sell your site. Google allows a maximum amount of 35 characters for you to win your audience over. It is a good idea to use keywords in your description for relevance.
  1. Plan out an effective strategy. None of this is possible without planning your strategy and then putting it into effect. Define your target audience, understand what you can do to draw them in, and realize your position in the marketplace.



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