What is SEO and SEM? Two Major Traffic Drivers. See Why.

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what is seo and sem

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If you’ve ever asked “What is SEO and SEM?”, or you’re interested in knowing the differences, this article is for you. Here, we’ll be talking about what they are as well as pros and cons, and appropriate uses for each.

So, your scenario may go something like this…   You’ve started a business or you want to start a business, and you’re doing research about how you can get leads and exposure (which in turn translates to sales).

You want the option that can give you the greatest bang for your buck, and has the highest ROI.   As your searching, you keep hearing people talk about SEO and SEM, and it sounds like a probable option that can greatly boost the lead generation in your business, but you find yourself asking, “What is SEO and SEM, and how can I get traction with it?”, and you want to understand more…   Am I right?  

First, let me congratulate you for research well done because the stats for SEO and SEM are quite impressive.  They look something like this…

what is seo and sem8 Quick Stats About SEO and SEM

  • There are over 10.3 billion Google searches every month, with about 78% of U.S. based Internet surfers researching products and services on the web. (Source: B2B Marketing)
  •   About 57% of B2B marketers confirmed that SEO has the greatest impact on lead generation. (Source: NewsCred)
  • 44% of online shoppers begin by using a search engine (Source: Ipsos)
  • The search engine optimization industry is worth 65 billion dollars (Source: Search Engine Land)
  • About 96% of marketers provide informational and educational content via Search Engine Marketing (Source: Regalix)
  • There will be about 73,000,000,000 phone calls generated from mobile search alone by the end of 2018. Calls from search are increasing by 42% per year (Source: Acquisio)
  • In 2017, Google accounted for over 79% of all global desktop search traffic, followed by Bing at 7.27%, Baidu at 6.55% and Yahoo at 5.06%. (Source: NetMarketShare)

The Stats Tell us SEO and SEM are Important

The numbers are extremely impressive.  SEO and SEM are the source for majority of the traffic online, so your online research has driven you to a gold mine for many businesses.  Now, let me explain what it is and how it can contribute to your bottom line…

what is seo and semWhat is SEO and SEM?

It’s likely that most of your customers and potential customers are searching online.  Not long ago, when the internet was invented, people searching online would have to screen thru websites on their own, which took massive amounts of time.

In the late 90s, search engines were invented, and companies formed to improve the access we have to information.  Now, we have several effective methods for finding information online: Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others.

Google’s pretty much become a household name.  If you want to find information, people will tell you, “Just Google it!”.   With this in mind, it’s very likely that your customer has become familiar with using the search engines.

They may be searching for comparable products and services to what you offer.   They may be using Google, Bing, Yahoo, or another search engine to research and find a solution that you offer, but how could they find you?   The way that customers find products and services thru search engines is as a result of either SEO or SEM.

What is SEO and How To Learn?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization.  It is the study of how to optimize website content to make it rank in the search engines.

There are several algorithms that search engines use to ensure they present the most relevant search result to their customer, the search engine user.  Companies use several methods to make their sites rank in search engines, but the most notable methods are:   According to Newscred, 53% of marketers say Content marketing is the most effective method for ranking in search engines, but here is a graph with the remainder of the results:

what is seo and sem

To learn SEO, there are several very good trainings I’ve taken like:   Search Engine Optimization – Getting Started — Price: FREE 4X Search Engine Traffic in 4 Days! — Price: FREE WA Internet Marketing Certification (you get 10 lessons towards this certification FREE WHEN YOU GO HERE)

The Difference Between SEO & SEM

As you can see, SEO requires a website, website content, keyword research, regular website updates, linkbuilding, social media integration, and much more to work.   As a result of the amount of work that SEO requires, it’s not an option for acquiring traffic with immediate results.

It’s a delayed gratification option whereas, SEM is an immediate gratification option if you have the budget to invest in it.   SEM stands for search engine marketing.  When you hear SEM mentioned, search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) are typically both being referenced.

What is SEO and How it Works?

SEO is the organic ranking in the search engines with the byproduct of increased traffic.  SEO requires content of some sort to be created: podcasts, videos, slideshows, blog posts, infographics, images, or other content that is added to a website for search engines to index it, then present it to search engine users when they inquire.


The investment and ROI curve of SEO and SEM goes something like this:  what is seo and sem (Source: Quicksprout)   what is seo and sem(Source: QuickSprout)

SEO usually takes an average of 6 months (but sometimes more) to start working.  Prior to that, Google has to establish trust with your website, they have to see that you’re posting high-quality content consistently,  and there are other metrics they want to see before serving your articles as results in the search engines.  This chart shows some contributing factors:

what is seo and sem(Source: Moz)

On the contrary, SEM can start to drive traffic from the instant your ad campaign is set up.  New websites don’t have to wait for the “Google punishment” period to be over to generate massive traffic.

You can set up landing pages or funnels without the amount of content required by SEO algorithms.   Many businesses that don’t want to do the work or wait for content marketing, find pay-per-click advertising to be a solution that drives relevant traffic to their businesses.

The difference in how SEO results populate in search results in comparison with paid advertisements looks like this:

what is seo and sem (Source: Mudd Advertising)

The Advantages of SEO

The biggest advantage of SEO is probably the cost-effectiveness.  PPC can become pricey and it doesn’t have the long-term effectiveness of SEO.   Once your campaign budget is over or when you decide to stop the campaign (if ever), the traffic is gone.

You have to keep paying in order to maintain the traffic UNLESS you convert the paid traffic onto an email list or into an advocate where they come back directly.   Alternatively, SEO begins with the cost of time, but scales up and continues to grow in traffic as your site content and authority grows.  Many people find that SEO is a very high return investment in the long run (especially if you learn to do it in house)

The Disadvantages of SEO

Unfortunately, it’s a waiting game in the beginning, and it can be a waiting game with any peice of content.  There have also been many marketers who are badly effected by algorithm changes.  With one algorithm update, you can drop from number one in the searches to the black hole of the internet!

The Advantages of PPC

With PPC, you have control.  You can decide that you want massive traffic today, create a campaign, and “VOILA!”, massive traffic can come!  It can work great for your business!

The Disadvantages of PPC

Many companies lose money because they’re not prepared for the power of PPC.  Since there are so many searches per day, even with small costs per click, you can wind up going thru lots of money if you’re not careful.  You have to:

  • Be clear about how much your willing to spend
  • The expected conversion rates
  • Ensure your sale can cover your advertising costs and still leave profit
  • Choose keywords with clear buyer intent

If you’re not careful, you could blow thru money quickly.  While it is possible to find low costs per click if you do good keyword research, some benchmark CPCs are shown on this chart:

what is seo and sem (Source: Wordstream)

When SEO is the Best Choice

If you are looking for a sustainable option, something that you invest into, and returns to you time and time again, SEO may be for you.  SEO works more like investing in high interest accounts…

You put the money in one day, and you reap interest later.  The more relevant, searchable content, the more compound interest you’ll receive.   If your marketing budget is minimal, SEO may be your only option.  Instead of money, SEO requires that you invest time to build content and wait to be indexed.

what is seo and semWhen PPC is the Best Choice

If you’re a new company with little to no brand equity and you have a budget to spend on getting new leads from online.  PPC could be a good choice for you.

Bear in mind, there is a learning curve before you get the cost per action metrics you may want to secure your ROI, and each click comes with a price.  With time and with practice (or expert help), PPC could become a great traffic generation solution for you.   If you have a new website, not much brand equity, and you want relevant leads, PPC could work for you.

Also, if you are established but struggling to take your SEO traffic up even after mastering content marketing and other organic options, you may find that PPC can help you to lift the glass ceiling from your traffic metrics.

Final Words on What is SEO and SEM?

The goal of this article was to answer the question, “What is SEO and SEM?”.  To conclude, they are two options to drive massive traffic to your website or business offers.  If you have questions or concerns about this, don’t hesistate to leave them in the comments section.  I’d love to help you out!

If you’d like to begin getting more support and help as you start or scale your business online,  check out Wealthy Affiliate, my #1 recommended internet marketing training. Get two free websites, ten free training lessons towards an Internet Marketing Certification, access to a community of over one millions entrepreneurs (many who are making major wins online!), and learn everything you would need to know about SEO and SEM to be madly successful online.  Check out my full Wealthy Affiliate review and demo or visit Wealthy Affiliate here. No credit card required ever.

Now, it’s Your Turn…

Have you used SEO or SEM before?  What are the results you’ve gotten?  What would you say if you were asked, “What is SEO and SEM?”.z  What advice would you give someone just starting out with SEO or SEM?  Leave your comments, questions, or feedback below.

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26 thoughts on “What is SEO and SEM? Two Major Traffic Drivers. See Why.”

  1. Andy Zeus Anderson

    Great post to explain the differences of SEO and SEM. One thing I notice is you left plenty of room for future articles on things like Article Marketing, link building, and blogging. Wealthy Affiliate is an interesting suggestion given they help you learn to author great content as well as learn basic SEO Practices that won’t get you the Google Slap. In all a good read even for an Industry insider and SEO.

    1. Tiffany Domena

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article Andy.  You’re right that this is a hefty topic.  Thanks for stopping by!

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