SEO vs SEM: The benefits of short and long-term digital marketing

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What does it mean for your marketing strategy? Here’s what you need to know!

SEO and SEM are acronyms that get bandied about a lot in the world of digital marketing. But what do those terms actually mean? More importantly, what opportunities do they represent for your company’s online presence? I’ve had clients refer to SEO when they mean SEM. One client confessed that talking about SEO feels like “trying to speak a foreign language.” Let’s take a closer look.

What is SEO and why do you need it?

Let’s say you’re in a library – filled with books. Your book – your website – is on one of these shelves, waiting to be found. The librarian is the search engine, ready and waiting to recommend books when someone comes in asking about a specific subject. That librarian uses a catalog system – search algorithms – in order to find what you’re looking for. This system organizes and ranks books based on how closely the title and content match the user query, how popular that book is, and how recently it’s been updated. You can make your ”book” stand out in the “library” with:

Clear title and summary (SEO keywords)
Recommendations (backlinks/external links)
Strategies to make it easy to find (website structure and mobile-friendliness)
Regular updates (fresh content relevant to the end user)

Did I drive that analogy right into the ground? Probably. But you get the picture. SEO is essentially the method used to optimize a website’s technical configuration, content relevance and link popularity so its pages become easy to find, more relevant and tailored with user search queries in mind. All of this will help your site rank higher via organic searches on Google. Or Bing, if you like.

This, in turn, will drive more traffic to your site.

But what do you actually need to do to improve “technical configuration” or “content relevance” or “link popularity” – ? You can perform keyword research online to tailor your site to anticipate a user’s needs. They have a question, you have the most clear, direct answer that mirrors the language the seeker has typed into the search bar. And voila – your site is on the first page of results. Which is what you want, because how many people do you know scroll through the second or third page of search results? (not many)

Key strategies within the SEO process

Keyword rich SEO copywriting
o You can use various tools to determine the most searched keywords relevant to your business model and the products or services you offer – once you find out what those words are, sprinkle them like salt across your site to season it well – but don’t overdo it
Featuring one topic per page
o The almighty algorithm gets confused when you limit the number of content pages on your site and try to squeeze everything about your business on the homepage – keep each service on its own page, a bio about your business on the About page, and so on – a clear, predictable nav is best
Plenty of Backlinks
o Backlinks are external links that you include on your site – they signal to the search engine that another resource finds your content valuable enough to link to it within their own content; while a site “earns” additional backlinks, search engines assume that the website possesses valuable content worth ranking high
Considering site accessibility
o Ensuring that your site is truly user friendly – for those who are vision impaired, for example – is good for business and good for your SEO; this can involve high contrast, easy to read text, ALT text for images, captions for videos, readability and mobile friendliness

If all of the above goes according to plan and you’re employing multiple strategies to boost your SEO, your domain authority increases and it becomes easier for new content to rank – i.e. a new blog or service page added to your existing site.

Focusing on your SEO strategy is a long-term play and requires patience. It can take at least 3-6 months to start seeing a shift. You can, of course, speed things up by buying ad space, but you must remember that users typically favour organic results versus paid placements.

Search Engine Marketing

SEM stands for Search Engine Marketing – the process of using paid advertising to make sure that products or services your business offers are visible on search engine results pages (SERPs). One of the benefits of going with paid advertising is that you – your brand – can appear at the top of search results when the organic search results are far too competitive for you.

Ideally, as long-term and short-term tactics, SEM and SEO can work harmoniously together to better execute your digital marketing strategy.

Got questions about SEO, SEM and finding the right balance?

Want to elevate your digital marketing strategy? Let’s talk.