Oftentimes in our industry there are classifications and buzzwords that get loosely thrown about (don’t get me started on the term “inbound marketing”) without any real definitions getting nailed down as fact. There seems to be some confusion in the search marketing industry about how the different terms for what we do all fit together. I wanted to address this problem, but unfortunately the simple answer to the question “What’s the difference between SEO and SEM?” is that there isn’t a simple answer.
So, what I’ve decided to do is explain how I use these classifications, and make a case for why I think we should use a standardized language when discussing search marketing.
What is SEO?
– Stands For: Search Engine Optimization
Working Definition: “SEO consists of all activities surrounding the build and maintenance of a website, with the goal of driving more organic traffic to the site, and shaping how those users interact with the site.”
- Search engine friendly web design
- On page optimization: header tags, title tags, meta descriptions, content
- Content production
- Content promotion, content marketing
- Link acquisition
- User experience (UX) design and optimization
What is SEM?
– Stands For: Search Engine Marketing
– Working Definition: “SEM consists of all activities surrounding the marketing of a web property that uses a search engine as the driving platform of traffic acquisition.”
- SEO (see above)
- Paid search engine advertising (PPC)
Using these definitions, we can see that SEM and SEO are very closely related, and that SEM is a broader description of marketing that includes a combination of SEO and PPC. This is the most common way that I have seen the terms used, although some will disagree with me and use “SEO” and “SEM” interchangeably.