Search engines are the platforms by which much of e-commerce lives and dies. Proprietors who learn to finesse them properly rank well, shoppers find their sites, and opportunities for conversions ensue. As a result, search engine optimization (SEO) is a huge industry and a worthy undertaking.
Going hand in hand with optimization, search engine marketing (SEM) is a newer development, with the potential to achieve similar results in a much shorter time span. Understanding the difference between SEO and SEM, and knowing how to apply them effectively is critical. Here’s why.
SEO vs. SEM
Let’s say you’re launching a new site to sell ebooks online. Your SEO efforts will be focused around getting it to rank highly on search engine result pages (SERPs). The goal of SEM is typically the same, but rather than ranking organically—or by merit as it were—SEM rankings are more the result of your willingness to pay.
In other words, your SEO effort will revolve around providing the most relevant content for which a search might be conducted based on a certain set of keywords. Meanwhile, the dollars you invest to “own” those keywords will drive your SEM effort.
Winning at SEO
A winning SEO strategy incorporates optimized metadata to make your content easier for a search engine to locate. You’ll also need well-written copy containing strategically placed keywords. Your URLs must be simple and properly formatted. Page loading speed comes into play as well, as faster loading times are rewarded with higher rankings—assuming all of the other parameters are met. Social sharing of your content, along with link building activities to boost the number of inbound links to your content factor in too. Also falling under the heading of SEO are your efforts to increase the traffic coming to your site from social media and bookmarking sites like Reddit and Digg.
Winning at SEM
If ever there were a situation in which money matters most, it’s SEM. The strategy here is to purchase favorable search visibility based upon advertisements. These usually take the form of pay-per-click, paid search, and paid search advertising.
The main advantage of SEM is it overcomes the key shortcoming of SEO. Optimization rankings build slowly. It’s not like you can do everything right and see your traffic spike overnight. SEO efforts take time to bear fruit. Meanwhile, you can be on the top of every SERP you’d like tomorrow with SEM—if your pockets are sufficiently deep and your strategies are sound. Further, you can specifically target SEM campaigns to reach a certain region, a defined group of people, or distinct industries.
So, Which Is Better?
Masters of SEO will tout it as being superior to SEM. They will tell you SEO results tend to be trusted more by internet users (which is true). This ultimately gives them more legs when it comes to running the long haul. However, the immediate efficacy of SEM is brandished by its proponents as making it the preferred way to go. The truth lies somewhere in between. Focusing on SEM without making sure your content reflects SEO best practices will leave you wondering why it didn’t work. When all advantages are considered, the long-term benefits of SEO make it a worthwhile undertaking, while employing a carefully crafted SEM strategy to help attract attention to your content.
Or, the smart play is to use both. Understanding the difference between SEO and SEM is critical to developing your traffic garnering strategies. Both have their place when it comes to helping you attract the attention you need to make your e-commerce site successful.
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