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SEO vs SEM. Which is best? Which should you use? When? Why?

The search marketing industry has its fair share of acronymns and jargon that can serve as an obstacle to laypeople acquiring a better understanding of the search marketing strategies and tactics.  Among these acronyms are SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing).  So what is the difference between the two? When it comes to SEO vs SEM, which one should you invest in most heavily? Why?

Wikipedia does an excellent job of defining these terms, along with several other terms.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural” or un-paid (“organic”) search results.[jargon] In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search, academic search,[1] news search and industry-specific vertical search engines.

As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content, HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of backlinks, or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.

The plural of the abbreviation SEO can refer to “search engine optimizers,” those who provide SEO service.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a form of internet marketing that involves the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPs) through optimization (both on-page and off-page) as well as through advertising (paid placements, contextual advertising, and paid inclusions).[1] Depending on the context, SEM can be an umbrella term for various means of marketing a website including search engine optimization (SEO), which adjusts or rewrites website content to achieve a higher ranking in search engine results pages, or it may contrast with pay per click (PPC), focusing on only paid components.[2]

seo-vs-semBoth Search Engine Marketing and Search Engine Optimization have their place in the search marketing industry.  Triple Canopy Media offers both services, but we offer search engine marketing (in the paid sense) predominantly as a complement or supplement to search engine optimization.  The goal for us is to displace the need for search engine marketing by obtaining top search engine rankings.  Of course, there will always be a place for targeted ads, content network ads, and other sorts of contextual advertising that can not be directly displaced by search engine optimization.

Pay per click (PPC) ads are like a spigot: once you stop paying for the ads, the ads stop being displayed and the traffic dries up.  Search engine results, though, are delivered without any payment.  Of course, you have to work to establish the rankings, and that may require the assistance of professionals like those working here at Triple Canopy Media.  But search engine optimization is nearly always more cost-effective than other forms of internet marketing over the long term.

You may be invested a bit too heavily on SEM (shorter-term strategy) rather than SEO (longer-term strategy.  When it comes to deciding on the appropriate investment of resources in SEO vs SEM let Triple Canopy Media provide your company or organization with a complimentary evaluation of your current strategy. Chances are, we can help you rebalance your “portfolio.”