SEM Tips, Benefits, How It Relates to SEO

Search engine optimization and search engine marketing can be a confusing concept to grasp. Is there even a difference between them?

Both terms are often used interchangeably, which makes matters even worse.

Access Now: 20 SEO Myths to Leave Behind in 2020

It is important to understand the difference between the two terms and that they are different.

In this post, I will help clear up this issue with some frequently asked questions that I have heard from others.

What is SEM?

SEM, or search engine marketing, is a marketing tactic where a marketer optimizes and advertises their website in order to appear higher in search results.

According to a deeper Wikipedia definition, “Search engine marketing is a form of Internet marketing that involved the promotion of websites by increasing their visibility in search engine results pages (SERPS) through optimization and advertising.”

SEO is increasing the amount of website visitors by getting the site to appear high on results returned by a search engine. SEM is considered internet marketing that increases a site’s visibility through organic search engines results and advertising. SEM includes SEO as well as other search marketing tactics.

What is the benefit of SEM?

While SEO allows you to optimize your website for a greater chance in appearing higher in search results, and online advertising allows you to send promotional content to the target audience of your choosing, SEM combines both benefits as your content is both optimized for higher search rankings and is placed primarily in front of audiences who are most likely to convert when they click on your ads.

Is paid search the same as SEM?

At this point, you might be asking, “If I can pay for my website to appear higher in search results, how is SEM different from paid search?” Well, paid search is a major aspect of SEM and refers to pay-per-click (PPC) ads specifically. However, the two strategies are different.

The key distinction is that SEM is a broader strategy which combines paid search and SEO tactics. So, if you set up a PPC advertisement, but don’t take steps to optimize the ad or the website it links to, this is a standard example of paid search. However, if you optimize your site and your search content with solid keywords, then you put money behind it to boost it on targeted audience’s search pages, then you’re dabbling in SEM.

What components does SEM include?

As noted above, other than search engine optimization, SEM includes the use of paid search, such as pay per click (PPC) listings and advertisements. Most of the time, SEM strictly includes PPC campaigns and activities, but if you use SEO and paid search, that falls under SEM efforts.

What Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

SEO is essentially a component of the larger category, SEM. According to Google’s Knowledge Graph, search engine optimization is “the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by a search engine.”

The SEO industry is continually changing due to the frequent changes made to Google’s algorithm. But, there is one aspect of SEO that stays constant: SEO is made up of On-Page and Off-Page activities.

What components does SEO include?

As stated above, SEO is comprised of two different activities:

  • Incorporating selective keyword naturally into title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, alt text, etc.

  • Blog posts and page copy that is written and optimized with quality

  • Clean and formatting page URLS

  • Optimized page load speed

  • Google authorship incorporated

  • Social sharing integration within your content

  • And much more!

What components does off-page SEO include?

  • Creating a high quality, natural backlink profile (aka having other high quality/authoritative sites  link to your site naturally)

  • Social sharing signals

  • Social bookmarking (Stumbleupon, Reddit)

  • List goes on here too!

Which is better: SEO or SEM?

The main difference between these two terms is that search engine optimization is simply a component of search engine marketing. As mentioned above, SEM includes components of paid search, such as PPC and also SMM (social media marketing).

It is important to note that you should never use the terms SEO and SEM interchangeably, because although they work hand in hand, they are not the same term.

The Bottom Line

Many marketers debate whether one is better than the other. As an Inbound Marketer, I would argue that organic SEO is the best approach, but as you can see, true SEM cannot succeed without the use of organic SEO.

Additionally, there are many situations where PPC (a component of SEM) makes more sense than SEO. For example, if you are first launching a site and you want immediate visibility, it is a good idea to create a PPC campaign because it takes less time than SEO, but it would be unwise to strictly work with PPC and not even touch search engine optimization.

Although organic SEO takes longer to show results, in the end it will be less costly and you will establish a search credibility that you might not establish with PPC.

When it comes to choosing the best tactic, it is important to evaluate your specific needs, but be sure to fully understand the differences and how you will maintain your efforts. Check out Revenue River’s free guide for how SEO how-to.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally posted in January 2014, but was updated in January 2020 for comprehensiveness.

seo myths

Originally published Jan 3, 2020 10:00:00 AM, updated April 16 2020

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  • 01/17/2018

Windows Server is the platform for building an infrastructure of connected applications, networks, and web services, from the workgroup to the data center.

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Is the new Google Guarantee program worth the hassle

Avery Swartz

Special to The Globe and Mail

This article was published more than 1 year ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.


Avery Swartz is a tech consultant who advises small businesses on all things digital. She is also the founder of Camp Tech, a tech training company for businesses and individuals across Canada.

Alphabet Inc.’s Google has rolled out a new service in Canada that promises to help your professional service business stand out from the crowd. Businesses in the program will have Google’s badge of approval next to their listing in the search engine’s results. The program says it will drive new business leads, but is it worth the cost and the hassle?

The Google Guarantee program is a feature of the company’s Local Services ads service, which launched in Canada in late 2018 in the Toronto and Vancouver areas. The program is currently only available in Canada for plumbers, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) professionals and locksmiths, but is expected to be rolled out for other service providers down the road.

Google started testing Local Services ads in San Francisco in 2015 and has expanded to more than 30 metropolitan areas in the United States. In the United States, Local Services ads are available for service categories including locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, HVAC services, carpet cleaners, house cleaners and garage door services.

Local Services ads are similar to Google Ads (previously called Google AdWords), in that they appear at the top of search engine result pages when someone is doing an internet search. Businesses only pay Google when a lead is generated through Local Services ads. Google provides a forwarding phone number in the ad, and leads are tracked through those phone calls.

If privacy is top of mind for your business, be warned: A recent Star Metro report says both sides of the phone calls are recorded by Google. The service provider is only charged for the calls that come through from Google and can set a weekly budget based on the average number of leads they’d like to receive.

Unlike Google Ads, which anyone can create, Local Services ads have a detailed application process. Google vets each service provider, verifying that they have insurance and meet all local licence requirements. They also perform background checks on the business and the owner. Jumping through the extra hoops can be worthwhile, though, as the end result is an ad in Google with a special designation: a “Google Guarantee.”

When a customer books through Google Local Services, the service is “Google Guaranteed” for up to $2,000 money back if the customer is unhappy. The Google Guarantee badge appears right in the ad itself.

On the customer side, the Google Guarantee is compelling. Odds are, when someone is searching for a plumber, HVAC or locksmith service, they’re in a moment of need. They have a problem, need it fixed fast, and are likely to book a service right away. It can be hard for the customer to determine who’s trustworthy in a Google search though, as reputable service providers have to compete against shady businesses who may be buying Google Ads to stand out. Service providers with a Google Guarantee designation appear first in search results (higher than Google Ads). This helps instill customer trust and provide peace of mind.

Brock Murray is co-founder and chief operating officer of seoplus+, an Ottawa-based digital marketing agency. He has been following the rollout of Local Services ads in the United States and is excited to see them launch in Canada. He sees the appeal in Local Service ads, particularly because of their ease of use. “I like that from business owner’s perspective, it’s really simple to use,” Mr. Murray says. “It’s a very easy way to get leads at a predictable cost.”

Mr. Murray suspects that Google will expand the types of professional service businesses eligible for Local Services ads beyond the plumbing, HVAC and locksmith industries into other services as they’ve done in the United States. He encourages businesses to try Local Service ads as early as they can, as being one of the first service providers to have the Google Guarantee can be a key differentiator against competition. “The first ones who get Google Guaranteed are going to be getting the traffic. If you’re not, you’re going to fall behind,” Mr. Murray advises.

Lior Shaykevich, owner of Toronto Pro Locksmith, has experimented with Local Services ads. “It’s fantastic. It gets me to the top and shows the actual businesses that are capable of doing the job and makes me stand out,” he says. Mr. Shaykevich was able to set up his Google Local Services account himself, and spending about $400 a week, he says he is receiving an estimated five calls a day.

That’s a relatively low cost for each lead when compared with Google Ads, where it can cost a business $30 to $40 for each lead-generating click to appear at the top of a search for “Toronto locksmith.” As more businesses sign up for Google Local Services ads, the cost to compete could rise. “As more people get on it, that’s when they’ll drive up the prices. Just like AdWords five years ago,” Mr. Murray says.


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