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What are SEM and SEO? Is There a Difference between them?

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are two of the most important subjects in online marketing.

How do they work and what do they do? To answer those questions we should take a step back and take a look at something pretty much everyone takes for granted – search engines.

Search Engines like Google, Yahoo! and others provide a service to the general population. They record and index millions of websites and categorized them based on certain factors.

This way when you search “Where is the best hamburger in my area?” The following things happen:

They will pull up all records of websites that talk about hamburgers

They will usually determine your location based on data from your phone or computer so they know what “my area” refers to.

They will filter out the websites talking about hamburgers to see if they mention the location you are searching from

They will then end up with a number of results of potentially correct answers to your hamburger question.

This may be 100 or 1,000,000 results depending on the original query, so they now have to decide which order to display the results in.

The search engine will then review all the remaining results against a certain set of factors that have been pre-programmed in to determine which sites are more relevant to the query. These factors include such things as length of time the site has existed, how often it gets updated, how many other legitimate sites link to it, how many people visit it, how long people normally stay on the site, etc, etc, etc. The exact factors checked and the importance given to each factor is usually a guarded secret and is the difference between a great search engine like Google and search engines that people may or may not even know about like Bing.

Based on these factors the results will be displayed in a particular order.

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is the process of making sure that the content, links and code that goes into making up your website is optimized as much as possible to be a relevant high ranking answer for a particular search query. You can optimize for different searches or you can concentrate on one. Just realize if you try to be relevant for too many different things at once, you are probably not going to rank very high for any of them.

A proper SEO campaign should start off with determining who you are trying to attract to your website and what you would like to be found for. The good thing about doing this is that you can promote to your exact target audience and raise the odds that someone coming to your site will actually contact you to purchase or schedule an appointment or whatever it is you want them to do.

Once you have that determined, you should do research to see how many searches are being done on the various search terms related to your field. This will give you an idea of which ones to specifically target. You don’t want to pick the variation that no one searches for, “tasty organic burger” is probably better than “brown cooked beef patty” even though they both refer to the same thing. You don’t have to be an SEO expert to see that some terms are better than others to try to show up for.

The next step will involve handling any coding errors on your website as well as adjusting the behind the scenes description of your website which is only seen by the search engine. These descriptions are usually referred to as meta tags or metadata. This is important as search engines can see when there are errors on the site, or if it is not mobile-friendly and this usually drops you down on the scale of relevance. After all who wants to look at a crappy or broken site?

After you have gotten your website correctly set up, they will make sure that all of the data on your site has been submitted to the search engines. Search engines review sites all of the time anyway, but it’s usually a good idea to make it easier for them.

After that, it’s all about content, content, content. You’ve heard content is king, but maybe didn’t understand why. Now that you’ve gotten a correctly set up website, you are much more likely to show up as a relevant answer to people searching for things in your field. But what happens when there are hundreds or thousands of people who are also correctly set up?

This is where you can really distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack. By consistently generating and updating the content on your website, from new pages to blog posts, you will go a long way to making sure that you always have fresh and relevant data for visitors. This helps to make sure people keep coming back to your site and spending time there once they discover your site. All of these factors are also reviewed by the search engines. If two sites start off equal, then one starts putting out a new article every week on the subject you are trying to optimize for, it is probably going to be more relevant than a site that hasn’t changed in several months or a year.

That’s SEO in a nutshell. There are a lot of other factors that go into it and a lot to learn. But if you understand these basic points you’ll be way ahead of the game when evaluating whether or not to outsource your SEO/Marketing efforts or handle it in-house.

SEM or Search Engine Marketing is a term I have found that people are not as familiar with. When I do hear it used, it’s usually used as a substitute for SEO as if they meant the same thing. They do not.

While SEO deals exclusively with optimizing your website to be picked up in a search engine’s natural or organic search results, there are other things you can do in order to attract attention and drive traffic to your site by using search engines.

These actions include some of the following:

Paid Advertising:

Paying for an ad when someone clicks on it

Paying for an ad when someone sees it

Paying for an ad when someone takes an action like clicking on a phone number to call

Directory Listings:

This includes free and paid options to be included in various directories around the web

And probably most importantly…Conversion tracking and optimization.

This last point could also arguably be included in the SEO category, but I’m defining it as part of SEM as it has it’s own technology and often ties in directly to a paid advertising campaign.

Conversion tracking and optimization means that you measure what people look at and what they click on when they come to your website. Then you make changes with the intention of “converting” a higher percentage of your visitors.

If you’ve heard of “sales funnels” or “landing pages” or “landing page optimization”, you were probably hearing about optimizing a website or part of a website to result in more conversions.

Again, there is a huge body of data on this, but to put it simply, you want to set a goal for visitors on your website. It could be to buy something from the site or to call you, schedule an appointment or even just sign up for a newsletter.

Once you have the goal, you then change the elements on your web pages around and adjust the content to get the highest percentage of people hitting that goal that you possibly can. This may include changing the goal to something more realistic or adjusting the copywriting that tells people what it’s all about, but it’s constant and continual changing and testing to find the best set-up possible.

I wanted to write something that would bring some clarity to these two subjects, hopefully this answered more questions than it raised. If you want to know more about these subjects or online marketing in general, sign up for our newsletter or just give us a call. We’d be happy to help.

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