By Brett Lewis
search engine optimizationInternet marketing offers a valuable way to get the name and purpose of a business out into public awareness, whether that business is online or not. Older marketing tactics such as newspaper advertising, phonebook ads and tucking fliers under the windshield wipers of cars in busy parking lots have the merit of reaching a broad range of potential customers, but the Internet increases that crowd of potentials exponentially. For newcomers to the idea, terms like SEO, or search engine optimization, and SEM, or search engine marketing, can be bafflingly similar. Understanding the individual merits of the options will help in determining how resources should be invested to promote a business online in order to have the greatest impact.

Sorting Through the Acronyms

To understand any new technique, having a grasp of the technical terms is vital; learning Internet marketing requires a basic familiarity with the most prolific acronyms. SEO and SEM are similar enough to be confused, despite being distinctly different. PPC and CPC, which stand for pay-per-click and cost-per-click respectively, mean almost the same thing but from different perspectives. Publishers use CPC ads to monetize their sites; advertisers use PPC ads on those sites to buy traffic. PPI means pay-per-impression, requiring an advertiser to pay for ad viewings instead of clicks.  This is common in digital display advertising. SERP, which stands for search engine results page, is simply the displayed list of web pages upon performing a search engine query.


Search engine marketing is a blanket term that covers all components in the process of utilizing Internet search engines to market a website. This means that all SEO can be considered part of SEM, but not all SEM consists of SEO. Most commonly, SEM refers to the methods of marketing that cost money. Pay-per-click and pay-for-placement campaigns are often considered synonymous with SEM. A search performed on most engines will have promoted results displayed at the top of the list and in a sidebar; these businesses have paid for greater prominence to garner more attention. The standard results are organic and are the end product of an organic SEO services campaign.


SEO arrowAs a major component of general search engine marketing, search engine optimization receives a lot of attention. Search results rely on algorithms that each engine employs to deliver the most relevant results to a query. The factors are constantly shifting; advertisers try to employ cheap and quick solutions, resulting in the web content cousin of email spam-bots that are stuffed with keywords but present no valuable information. To maintain popularity and provide reliable results, search engines use factors such as domain registration length, length of content, keyword density that is neither too high or too low, presence of duplicate content on a site, how recently content has been updated, helpful supplementary content, broken links, and the presence of multimedia elements.

The most effective decision in the debate between local or organic SEO and the for-cost elements of SEM is to use a combination of the two. Each has a distinct advantage along with a significant disadvantage. SEO is less expensive but is the result of effort over a length of time; it takes longer, but once efforts have built momentum, the results will continue for a time. SEM provides immediate results but requires greater financial investment and is in effect only as long as the marketing campaign lasts. When payment for services stops, so do the benefits. Using both, a business ensures an immediate and lasting presence in the highest results of search engine queries.  I like to make the analogy that an investment in SEO services is like buying a home whereas spending money on SEM services is analogous to renting a home.