Google search return for seo vs sem


In digital marketing the field is always changing so it’s important to keep up with the trends. But, the more I read, the more I realize that a lot of digital marketing sticks to fundamentals, which means making sure that the “marketing” aspect isn’t lost in all the digital updates.

After all, the purpose of being online is to market your products and services, so what’s the point of investing in Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) if you’re not sure why you’re trying to be seen?

Jesse McFarland over at B2C  published a great piece recently that summarizes how to think about approaching the digital marketplace, and how to match business goals with methodology. To wit, know whether you want to build your identity online over time or go for a quick shot of concentrated advertising. That’s the shorthand difference between SEO and SEM.

I won’t retread the whole piece. You’ll have to read it for yourself if you want his level of detail, but I will pull out the conclusion, which is exactly what I tell every prospective client:

Nearly everything boils down to what your goal is. This is by far the most important factor for any SEO or SEM campaign. If you don’t answer this first, then you are bound to waste time and money with whichever marketing campaign you choose to do.

Knowing the business goal online is super important before you start any campaign, but when you’re thinking about which campaign to go with, here’s the cheat sheet: Are you trying to get your customers to come window-shopping or buying?


Search Engine Optimization, SEO, is designed to increase organic, or unpaid, growth. When do you use it?

A. Invest in improving SEO for branding, improving page rank, and sharing content that demonstrates your expertise, not just to your clients, but to anyone who is trying to gain knowledge on a topic. The best way to increase your SEO is to make sure your website is fresh, frequently updated, contains appropriate keywords and meta information, is linked from other sites, and maintains an updated site map so that the creepy spiders find what they’re looking for.

SEO is a continuous evolution, so if you’re in a hurry to be the top of search, skip this, and invest money in SEM. That’s how search engines make their money, by reserving the paid space for your advertising dollars.


Search Engine Marketing, SEM for short, is paid placements. When do you use it?

A: In old school parlance, SEM would be kind of like qualified cold calling, except for in the digital era, we now have ready access to big data to accurately target location, interests, and purchase behaviors of potential customers. Frequently, SEM is also used for branding. When you use SEM, however, you don’t want to just provide information, you want to make sure people can reach you with little effort, whether it’s to make a phone call, fill out a form, sign-up for email, or otherwise create a relationship.

This is true of SEO too, but it’s usually less “in your face.” SEM requires a budget. So, if you’re not interested in spending any money, or conducting the math needed to determine ROI, don’t bother.


There’s a lot more to it than this, and obviously some core techniques overlap for each marketing method, but this shortcut is an easy way to think about the difference and how you approach both your website content strategy and your sales funnel.