What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?

What's the difference between SEM and SEO

SEM and SEO. Yet another acronym in the digital marketing repertoire of confusing acronyms. You’ve heard them, you sort of understand them and you want to know more about them. Well, you’ve come to the right place! In this blog, we’ll explain SEM and SEO, the difference between them AND how you can use SEM and SEO in your digital marketing strategy. 

What’s the difference between SEM and SEO?

There are three key differences between SEM and SEO. 

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
Paid: You’ll need to pay for Google Ads if you want to appear at the top of the first page of Google.  Earned: Regularly publishing content and working hard to maintain a user-friendly website helps your SEO. 
Short-term: Google Ads are designed to generate leads quick! You can expect to see a lift in website traffic and leads as soon as you turn them on.  Long-term: Although SEO tactics are more cost-effective, they take time to build up momentum. Google’s algorithm takes time to churn through content and decide what it likes and what’s relevant to searchers.  
Ads: Google Ads are ADS. They have limited character space to include compelling ad text, offers or discounts to get people to buy.  Content: While SEO results drive traffic to your website, the listing that appears is not geared to drive sales the way a Google Ad is. 
Google Ad Example

The succinct ad contains important information that is visible and easily accessible. A contact number, a clickable maps address, opening times and service USPs. In just one click you can open a map that will take you straight to the car wash. Too easy!

Image one - Google Ad example

SEO listing Example

An SEO listing, on the other hand, does not contain such succinct information. You might have to click a couple of times before you actually get to where you need to be. It’s less convenient and tends not to drive enquiries as efficiently as Google Ads. 

Image two - SEO listing example

SEM  – Search Engine Marketing (paid)

SEM or search engine marketing is a paid strategy to get on the first page of Google using Google Ads. 

What is Google Ads?

Google Ads is a platform that allows you to pay to appear when people search for certain keywords. For example; if you own a car wash, you might choose to pay to appear on the first page of Google when someone searches for ‘luxury car wash’ or ‘affordable car wash’ or ‘best car wash in Los Angeles’. 

How much does Google Ads cost?

Google Ads are paid for on a CPC basis (cost-per-click). What this means is that you are only charged when someone clicks the ad. Each click has a price tag. This price tag changes depending on the demand of the keyword. Let’s use the car wash example again. People pay to have their cars washed more in summer as there is less rain to do the job for them. Car wash related keywords are therefore slightly more expensive than in winter. The demand for the keyword drives up the price. 

What budget do I need in Google Ads to see a result?

The best way to work out what budget you’ll need is to look at Google Keyword Planner. The planner shows you the price of keywords to help you plan an appropriate budget. Lawyers, for instance, will need a hefty budget as their average CPC (cost-per-click) is between $100 to $150. A car wash’s average CPC is around $3. 

ROI calculation

Let’s say you put $500 (per month) into your campaign. Divide 500 by 3 = 166. That’s how many clicks you can expect through to your website. But only a percentage of those people will actually enquire, let’s say 5%. You can, therefore, expect 8 enquiries from your $500 budget. 

Need some help with setting up a Google Ads strategy or campaign? Get in touch with us. We can help you. 

SEO  – Search Engine Optimisation (earned)

SEO is an earned strategy to get on the first page of Google. It takes time and a lot of understanding of what content Google favours. There are also different types of SEO. Technical SEO, content SEO, local SEO, on-page SEO and off-page SEO. We’ll break these down in our next blog, for now, we’ll focus on the key SEO strategies every business needs – technical and content SEO. 

Read: Using local SEO to find local businesses near me

Technical SEO

Before your website can appear in Google’s search results, it needs a basic technical SEO foundation. This includes, at the very least, a sitemap.xml, a robot.txt file, keywords, page titles, meta descriptions, decent site speed, a good domain name and an SSL certificate.

Content SEO

Google LOVES fresh, valuable, relevant content! If you regularly publish blog content, Facebook and LinkedIn posts and/or YouTube videos Google will favour your website. 

What do I need SEM or SEO?

In short, investing in both is beneficial. However, if you need leads asap, invest in SEM. If you’re at capacity or can’t take on any new clients or bookings but want to maintain your online presence, focus on SEO. Think of SEO as your base, something that you should always work on, and then supplement it with Google Ads when you need a lead boost. 

We’re helping businesses get on the first page of Google with smart and engaging SEO and SEM tactics and strategies. Do you want to be on the first page of Google? Book a free consultation with Southern Digital Consulting via our homepage.

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