Many people ask us about the difference between SEM and SEO. Both are initialisms used to describe parts of digital marketing. Before you can understand how they relate to each other, you should know that SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing, whereas SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. If your thinking that those go together, you are correct. Search Engine Optimization is only one part of Search Engine Marketing.

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization is the process of optimizing your website to follow the unwritten rules search engines have created in their effort to weed out bad and irrelevant content. By making your website enticing to search engines, you will rank higher on search engine results pages for topics relevant to your business and see an increase in organic traffic. The phrase organic traffic is simply another way of saying people are reaching your site through ways you don’t have to pay.

What is SEM?

Search Engine Marketing includes SEO and paid search. The most well-known paid search tool is Google’s AdWords. However, Yahoo and Bing also offer what digital marketers refer to as paid search, which means that a company paid the search provider for the ability to have its adds displayed before the organic search results. With paid search, businesses are essentially paying for advertising space on a search engine. Unfortunately, its not as easy as simply writing Google a check in return for prime real estate on the first results page.

Search engines run an auction for that real estate. If you are the highest bidder, your ad will run on the top of the first page. If you aren’t, your ad may still run, but it will be on another page and not as effective because most search engine users don’t scroll past the first page. The good news is that if your ad doesn’t run you won’t be charged. The bad news is your ad didn’t run, so you won’t see any traffic increase from your ad.

For those unfamiliar with SEO and SEM, it is wise to hire an agency that specializes in SEO and SEM, so that you get the best return on your investment.