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SEO vs. SEM: The Differences Between Natural & Paid Search

If you’re marketing your business, you've probably heard of both SEO and SEM. But do you know how they differ?

Understanding the differences between SEO, or search engine optimization, vs. SEM, or search engine marketing, is paramount when determining how to allocate marketing funds and key business resources. SEO is focused on organic search results — getting to the top of the list when a user searches for keywords related to your business. SEM revolves around choosing the right keywords to invest advertising dollars in when you want to appear in the paid search results on major search engines. Combining the two into one cohesive strategy can be exceptionally beneficial for your business.

What You Can Gain from SEO and SEM

When you begin contemplating SEO vs. SEM, it's important to keep your desired results in mind. Both are means toward attracting customers, and use very different tactics to do so. SEO revolves around a focus on bringing your company's sales site in line with what search engines want. Google and other major engines are concerned with delivering the top content to users, and they tend to feature sites with clear navigation and easy-to-understand benefits for searchers. SEM relies on creating quick, clear advertisements and bidding on keywords that prospective customers will likely enter into search engines. Companies that focus on SEO vs. SEM should keep in mind that the benefits of both include increased conversion and click-through rates.

The Latest and Greatest Search Engine Marketing Options

Organic search and paid search options lie at the heart of the SEO vs. SEM debate. New software regularly enters the market that can help you track your spending on both on-site SEO- and SEM-related ads. In addition, many SEO tools and tricks exist that can be used by proponents of both SEO and SEM to maximize results from search engine campaigns. Keeping companies at the top of the search results and the sponsored results on major engines is the focus of all these developments.

Potential Dangers and Unforeseen Expenses

Staying on top of search engine results can be an expensive endeavor. Google and its competitors constantly update their algorithms, which are the calculations that drive the engine, and a minor change can bury your site five or ten pages further down in the listings than before. Algorithm changes often mirror user behavior, and quality SEO requires your Webmaster to stay on top of what users want in the current marketplace. Unforeseen expenses can also arise if certain keywords that regularly drive traffic to your site through sponsored results become popular. Google, Bing and similar search engines rely on a bidding strategy, with those companies that pay more for appearances and clicks getting greater exposure. Bids can go through the roof, with costs tens to hundreds of times greater if news events or other circumstances drive up search traffic on keywords your company uses.

The SEO vs. SEM conundrum is a balancing act for many small businesses. Understanding how these elements can benefit your marketing campaigns and what potential dangers exist is the first step toward creating a cohesive push.

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