The Difference Between SEO and SEM | A Brief Overview and Definition


What is the difference between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing?

Let's first start with a definition of a Search Engine:

A search engine can be referred to as a machine of sorts that scours the catalogued data that their "spiders" or "webcrawlers" have indexed from websites all over the Internet for keywords that a user inputs into the search field of the search engine. An example of a search engine (and perhaps the most well known one) is Google. Second to that, perhaps Yahoo! and Ask, though Bing is pushing a lot of advertising to get some attention. There are also niche or industry specific search engines that are referred to as vertical search engines.

A nice succinct and clear definition of a Spider comes from Webopedia. It is as follows:

"A program that automatically fetches Web pages. Spiders are used to feed pages to search engines. It's called a spider because it crawls over the Web. Another term for these programs is webcrawler. Because most Web pages contain links to other pages, a spider can start almost anywhere. As soon as it sees a link to another page, it goes off and fetches it. Large search engines, like Alta Vista, have many spiders working in parallel"

From there, we can define some of the differences between Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing:

Search Engine Optimization is close to what its name represents: optimizing content for search engines. This is done by ensuring that the words you use in blog posts, on your company or personal website, and in press releases that make it or are distributed online have the best chances of showing up in a search result done on Google, Yahoo!, Ask, etc. The process of doing so is a bit complicated, but can be done with a little research and effort. The way I optimize blog posts and press releases is by first ensuring that I use keywords that are searched for often, and that I also pay attention to the long-tail keywords. (I may be referencing this point to death, but it is vital to pay attention to the long-tail keywords!) You can read more about the long tail here.

Additionally, I optimize my images by using the same keywords I used in the title in the image's label. Since the spiders from the search engines who crawl your webpages cannot "see" your images, they can read the names of the images. This can help to increase your search engine optimization. Moreover, you can use variations of font styles, such as bolding and using italics for certain words; I often do this for keywords, such as can be seen in this post.

Search Engine Marketing involves SEO, but goes beyond using just that tool. This includes using more marketing tools, such as PPC (pay-per-click) and AdWords form Google. These tactics can be referred to as paid inclusion or paid placements. The ads that are present at the top and right column of a search results page of Google or Yahoo! are these ads at work; the purchaser of the advertisements usually pay for the amount of clicks each ad registered. This means that advertisers are paying for potential leads & new traffic.

Again quoting the article by Rostin Reagor Smith, "SEM can take place in any search engine, however, regardless of their reach or industry. SEM PR has its roots in search engine optimization. Years ago, online public relations was managed largely through the creation and distribution of online press releases. This is still effective today. These press releases gain traction in the search engines’ organic listings. That builds your company’s brand while helping to push negative publicity off the first page of results.

Today, online PR has been incorporated within a broader search engine marketing context that includes SEO, PPC, and online reputation management (ORM). For example, a press release can be distributed online in order to gain traction within the natural listings. Then, a PPC campaign can be launched to direct your audience to the press release on your website. Links can be placed throughout the page to other positive coverage. The more points of exposure, the less likely negative press will penetrate the top rankings in the search engines. This is a core element of ORM and by extension, search engine marketing."


So, while both SEO and SEM are connected and both strive to improve search engine visibility, they are two different tactics and strategies that PR and marketing professionals can use to boost traffic and increase their reach. With a mixture of the two, marketing and PR efforts can go a long way.

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