What’s the difference between search engine marketing and search engine optimization? Here’s a definitive guide to search.

What is Search Engine Optmization?

Google, the most popular search engine, defines SEO as the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by assuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine. Visit our SEO Blog series for more granular insights.

What is Search Engine Marketing?

Paid search, Google ads, and pay-per-click advertising are a few phrases you have probably heard that are interchangeable with the term ‘search engine marketing’ or SEM. SEM refers to paid ads placed on search engine pages with fixed positioning to grab the attention of the searcher. For example, go to Google or another search engine and type ‘dog walkers’ intothe search bar. 17 million results will come up, but only the paid ads will show up in the top 3 or 4 positions of the page. How do you know it’s an ad and not an organic search result? Search engines make it clear to the searcher by labelling them as an “Ad.”




So, what’s the difference?

Aren’t they basically the same thing? Well, not exactly. While the end goal of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and SEM are the same, the way they’re achieved (and appear at the top of search engine results) is completely different.

Buying vs. Renting

Consider SEM as renting “real estate” on search engine results and SEO as buying real estate. Successful SEO is a marathon, not a sprint – you need to invest in content, link building, back-end technical website improvements – and even then, those efforts still may not allow your to surpass your competition. There are no guarantees.

Google Adwords campaigns allow you to pick and choose which search results will display your ads.

When SEM won’t work.

If there’s no one searching for your product or service, or no one knows your products exist, you first need to raise awareness about your offerings. A brand or product awareness campaign is a good place to start.

Can you have a successful campaign without search? Yes. In fact, some industries are barred from search engines for paid search campaigns, such as alcohol, guns, gambling etc.

Want more information on SEM and how you can utilize it to increase conversions? Download our ebook: SEM Unwrapped.