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SEO and SEM: What’s the Difference?

When an Internet user logs onto the Web, he is probably unconscious of the fact that he is entering a virtual bidding war in which hundreds and even thousands of marketers and advertisers are throwing banner ads, sponsored links and sometimes overly optimized Web site pages across his computer screen to gain his attention and, ultimately, his money.

Just like much of the outside world, practically every corner of the Internet is riddled with marketing. And marketing through the search engines is the main tool Internet advertisers use to reach their audience. But while most Web site owners and wannabe search engine marketers understand that search engines are the main way to garner qualified traffic to their Web sites, many are still confused about what the two primary means of marketing to the search engines — search engine marketing and search engine optimization — really mean.

Search engine marketing and search engine optimization are two facets of online marketing that can make or break a Web site, sometimes before it has even launched. Without one, or in most cases both, of these methods at the forefront of a Web site’s marketing campaign, a site most likely will flounder.

The two main things that search engine spiders responsible for ranking a Web site look for are relevant content and “quality” reciprocal links. This is where SEO comes in. SEO encompasses all things having to do with work done on or to the Web site in an effort to increase visitor traffic to that site.

This includes the keyword optimization of meta-tags, headers and title tags, in addition to optimization of the actual content on the site to ensure that when search queries including the Web site’s keyterms are typed into a search engine that Web site will debut high among the often millions of results returned to the searcher.

Search engine optimization can even go so far as including the optimization of non-Web site related materials such as “news articles,” “resources” and “industry pages” to bulk up the quantity of keyword-rich pages, thereby fulfilling another element held in high regard by search engine spiders: having a large Web site.

Some could argue that SEM includes all discussed above and then some. And they would be right. After all, while the ultimate goal of a Web site’s SEO is to attract visitor traffic, it must still do so through the search engines, virtually dressing itself up and asking daddy if it can be invited to the party.

But SEM is more often used to describe the actual marketing done by Web sites on the search engines themselves. Things such as pay-per-click, sponsored ads, search engine submissions and registration are what, for the most part, make up SEM in the truest form; marketing or advertising a Web site not only to the search engines but on the search engines.

While SEO is a necessity, both SEO and SEM are extremely important to a Web site’s success. SEO is really the only way to first, get a Web site noticed by the search engines and, more importantly, keep a regular stream of traffic coming to that site unless, of course, everyone in the target audience is already aware of the site’s existence. And that is highly unlikely.

Often SEO is much cheaper than other forms of SEM. But don’t count out SEM; after all, it is a $9 billion industry, so something must be working, right? Though it can be a bit more expensive, the traffic resulting from things such as targeted sponsored ads and PPCs is often much more willing to buy that Web site’s products or services.

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