Understanding SEO: What is SEO & SEM

To many, Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is baffling and arcane wizardry. That’s not surprising. Digital marketing has only existed for two decades and SEO for even less. Even Millenials, who grew up with the internet, only have a vague idea of how it works. But SEO isn’t incomprehensible. In fact, the broad concepts are quite simple. Marketers and brands should learn the basics of SEO and its related term, SEM or Search Engine Marketing, to improve their online efforts.

Let’s get started.


Discoverability target

United in Purpose

The main goal of SEO and SEM is to increase discoverability. Discoverability is the quality of a webpage to be easily discovered by consumers. A site that can be easily found has a greater chance of attracting visitors and leading them to the ultimate goal: closing a sale. SEO and SEM try to reach this goal in two very different ways.


What is SEO? Optimization

What is SEO?

Briefly, SEO optimizes a website to convince search engines to rank the site highly in the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). SERPs are absolutely critical. When people want to find something in the Internet, their go-to source is Google or some other search engine. The first search result gains a third of the search traffic.

Optimization Using Algorithms

To make pages land on that coveted number one spot, SEO specialists study search engine algorithms to determine the exact qualities that they’re ranking. In general, Google and other search engines value intention, user experience, and reputation.

On-site vs. Off-site SEO

On-site vs. Off-site SEO

SEO strategies are often divided into two types: on-site and off-site. On-site SEO is focused on improving the website itself. The use of keywords is what usually comes to mind in this regard because it was horribly abused. More than a decade ago, keywords were a simple shortcut to determine the intention of a webpage. Google’s algorithms are far more sophisticated now. On-site SEO also includes blogging and content marketing as well user experience improvements, such as streamlining navigation and shortening loading times.

On the other hand, off-site SEO is concentrated on building up the site’s reputation. For search engines, reputation is usually based on how much a website is linked by other sites. That’s why link building is the common term for these efforts. Off-site SEO also encompasses social sharing (Facebook links) and social bookmarking (Reddit links).

All SEO strategies can be performed by a site without paying a search engine anything.


Search Engine Marketing

What is SEM?

SEM is a different beast. Technically, Search Engine Marketing includes all marketing efforts that involve search engines – including SEO. However, the term SEM is often limited to paid search, which is how this article will use it. Unlike SEO, SEM pays search engines to promote a website when its keywords come up. These are the sponsored links or ads at the top or bottom of the SERPs. Because both SEM and SEO appear in the same SERP, specialists refer to non-paid results as organic search results.

SEM ads can also come up inside partner websites instead of the SERP. They’re the often small ads in webpages that refer users to other related sites. For example, a marketing article about SEO in the Philippines partnered with Google AdWords will display a link to an advertising Filipino SEO services provider.

Paid Ad Search Marketing Engine

SEM usually uses the pay-per-click (PPC) model. In this payment scheme, advertisers pay a fee whenever one of their ads is clicked. Less popular is CPM or cost-per-thousand impressions. Instead of buying clicks, the advertiser buys ad views.


Which is Better?

Marketers often argue whether SEO or SEM is better. However, one is not obviously superior to the other and the choice is often decided by the marketing budget and the sales target. In general though, SEM offers quick results but SEO is less expensive in the long run. There are various strategies that employ one, both, or transition from one to the other depending on the circumstances. To determine if a set of circumstances favor one or another, it’s best to consult with an SEO specialist. Despite the name, they’re often experts at SEM tactics and can help a brand decide on which approach is better.


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