seo vs sem illustration by Columbus website design firm Sevell

This is something we write about a lot, and we acknowledge it can be confusing, because there are times you see the SEM and SEO acronyms used interchangeably. Being a Columbus website design firm, occasionally we even use them interchangeably.

To try and clear things up, we're going to differentiate between them with an overly simplified explanation of those differences:

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is what happens ON your website, and takes time to show results.

This method is having your site appear on page one of Google's "organic" search results. It's the way to get there without having to pay search engines to run any ads.

Ninety five percent of people click on the “organic" rankings. Think about how you search. Do YOU click on the ads at the top of the page? Or on the "organic" listings below?

However, showing up well in the organic rankings definitely takes time. And it takes energy. And if you don’t have either, to research and write the content yourself, it also takes money.

SEM (Search Engine Marketing) is what happens OFF your website, and can show quick results.

SEM is the method of running Google AdWords (and ads on other search engines) as well as creating backlinks to your own website. This is accomplished through sending out press releases to news sites, creating your own profiles on government and educational sites, as well as posting to your own social media pages. All the things that take place OFF your website.

Buying ads on Google and other search engines can get your website on page one (or two) very quickly. But it appears as the ads at the top of a Google page when you do a search for, say "plastic surgeons Miami". You can see that search results page below.

You can also see the difference between the ads, which have the little “Ad” icon by them, and we highlighted one with a red circle for our explanation. Placing ads on Google gets you immediate results, so you can appear on page one, on day one.

Which Google links do YOU click on? The SEM ads, or the SEO organic results?

plastic surgeon Google results page by Columbus web design firm Sevell

Who clicks on Google ads?

More about SEO

Now to the more detailed information.

The SEO approach is comprised of lot of other steps intended to play well with Google's algorithms. These pieces and parts all work towards helping your website rank well organically in search engine results.

SEO's major "on-page" elements include:

  • Using keywords in both the Page Title tags and Meta Descriptions
  • Using keywords in the names of the images going in your website (This helps the images appear in a Google "image" search)
  • For each image you place on your website, describing that image, and using keywords in the “Alternative text" field. (This helps sight-impaired people navigate your website, because they have software that "reads" the text you place in the Alternative text field, helping them decipher the images. You may not have sight-impaired prospects, but doesn't matter: search engines want all websites to meet WC3 standards.)
  • Blog posts (which we prefer to call "articles" since that's what how should be written) that naturally incorporate keywords into the article. (Note that keywords should be about 5% of the total words in your article, uh, we mean "blog.")
  • Copy that's written so it is "optimized" with what are called H1 and H2 tags. (An H1 tag signifies a headline, an H2 tag signifies a subhead. Google gives keywords in H tags more importance than keywords in the body copy)
  • Clean URLS, which are URLs without odd symbols in them. (See the URL in this page and how it is simple, short, and only uses text, not symbols.)
  • Fast page loading time. (Page load time is a Google ranking factor), and
  • Having social media share icons by your blogs/articles so it is easy for people to share your well-written content.

Why "Content Marketing" is the most important part of your SEO

The toughest part of getting your SEO right, is getting authoritative websites to link back to your website. It's easy for you to link to other authoritative websites, so that doesn't really count in your favor in Google's eyes.

So how to you get people to link back to your website? By providing interesting educational content.

The way to do that involves the SEM (or "Marketing") part of the process:

  • Promote your articles by posting them on Google+,  LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. You know: the usual suspects.
  • Crate (or have a professional designer create) an e-newsletter. By sending out valuable information, it tells people you know your stuff, and they should trust you when they need the services your company offers.
  • Link to credible websites in your posts (like we've done in this article) so people see you get your information from reliable sources.
  • You might even email the individuals you link to or quote in your article. Maybe they'll  like it enough to share it with their audience.
  • Ask an expert in your industry if you can quote, or interview, them for your article. Turns out people like to be asked for their opinions. Go figure. Tell them you'll link back to their website in return for the quote. Of course, be sure to ask if they would give you a link back to your website in return.)
  • You can create surveys and share the results.
  • Have professional info graphics made of the results of a survey. Or even depicting some facts about your experiences. If they're done well, and easy to decipher, people love sharing them. That's because not enough companies are doing them well. Of course, once you have them, be sure to post them on your social media pages, your website, and even refer to them in your e-newsletter in an effort to get it to as many people as possible

The deeper levels of SEM

The additional elements of SEM, which are difficult to do yourself, are:

  • Doing Google AdWords. You can place ads of other search engines, and websites, but really, Google is the way to go at first. The cost of running your Google ad is called “pay-per-click" (PPC), how much you're willing to pay for someone to click on your ad.
    The cost-per-click can be 10 cents for a rarely-used keyword. It could also be $20, or $100, for a common, competitive keyword. Medical product manufacturers, plastic surgeons, or lawyers can easily pay over $100 per click. When you consider the value of the clients they have, it's worth it for them.
  • Do your social media posts, but consider getting a professional to help with this. The more you learn about social media, and how often you should post, the more you'll realize you need professional help.
  • Getting those links back to your website, especially from authoritative websites.
  • Doing Google and  Bing Webmaster submissions, which involves submitting Sitemap.xml monthly. This helps your website be re-crawled, and re-indexed (for better listings), by search engines.
  • Submit press releases to news sites and news channels. If these websites index yours, it is another link back to your site.
  • Create profiles on other websites, ideally ones with a high domain Page Rank and Domain Authority, including government and educational sites. When you create these profiles, you're also creating links back to your website.

If you're ready to have us help with your SEO and SEM, drop us an email.