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What Is SEO? And How Does It Compare to SEM?

SEO and SEM are terms thrown around a lot in the business and marketing world – but what do they mean for you?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is one of the worst things you can overlook when creating or optimizing a website. SEO is simply a way to ensure that your business is ranked high on the search engines results pages for the relevant industries and keywords you want to address while at the same time seeing a larger group of potential customers and customers. Unlike other marketing techniques, you end up seeing live results without big budget allocations and as a result, SEO work adds up to give you a much better organic (unpaid) return on your SEO costs in no time at all.

Search engine optimization is crucial if you want to create long-term brand awareness, broaden your target audience and generate more revenue. If you can provide solid content that merits being rated according to the right keywords, your traffic will snowball without advertising and without the need for continuous funding to send traffic to your website over time.

Organic search (SEO) not only drives high-quality data traffic, but also extends conversion times. Search Engine Journal (SEJ) claims that organic search commands 51 percent of all web traffic, with 10 percent, 5 percent and 34 percent from paid search, PPC, social websites and other sources.

With the right traffic, organic search and SEO initiatives are more likely to turn leads into sales opportunities than other sources of traffic. When your customers search for your relevant keywords, SEO introduces you to them. There are a number of ways for your customers to find you between SEO and SEM combined.

SEO and SEM are two different ways to generate search traffic

The goal of search engine optimization (SEO) is to increase the number of visitors to websites by enhancing the position of the pages in the results of search engines returned. SEO focuses on optimizing your site so it appears higher in search results so you can gain more organic traffic. When Google algorithms change, so do SEO tactics. However, in general, a good round of website SEO should generate results in about 3-6 months and last for a long time.

Search engine marketing (SEM) includes other methods to get you search engine traffic, such as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. SEO is about optimizing your site to achieve a higher ranking in organic search results, but SEM goes beyond that. It focuses on using SEO as a paid strategy to bring to your website both organic and paid traffic.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a generic term that describes tactics that help your website attract attention to search engine results and increase traffic to your websites. The major difference between SEO and SEM is that SEO is an unpaid strategy whereas SEM is a paid strategy. While SEO focuses 100% on promoting organic results, SEM uses PPC (paid ads) to gain traffic from search engines and gain visibility on SERPs (search engine results pages).

Both SEO and SEM rely on keywords to manage traffic to corporate and e-commerce websites. While SEM gets traffic from paid ads, SEO does more to capture, monitor and analyze organic traffic patterns. The marketing techniques used are different, but both focus on traffic flow and how it relates to marketing activities.

SEM Requires Changing Tactics More Often Than SEO Does

To generate clicks against competitors, SEM and PPC require constant reevaluation, strategizing, and paying more and more to reach the top of the SERPs. Some keywords can cost $100+ per click to target, vs. SEO which is usually a one-time project fee paid to your web developer or SEO strategist. In the long run, SEO saves you money by keeping you at the top of the SERPs without constant updates and recurring payments.

SEO is one of the only online marketing channels that will continue to pay dividends long term. Instead of competing for that top, expensive PPC slot, SEO is simply a way to ensure that your business is ranked high on the search engines results pages for the relevant industries and keywords you want to address while at the same time seeing a larger group of potential customers and customers. Unlike other marketing techniques, you end up seeing live results without big budget allocations and as a result, SEO work adds up to give you a much better organic return on your SEO costs in no time at all.

Support Your SEO and SEM With Clickable, Readable Content

Experts agree that successful optimization is as much about meeting customer needs as it is about adhering to the policies and best practices of search engines like Google and Bing. SEO has a goal of improving the quality and quantity of traffic to your website and to change your site. This does not mean filling every page with relevant keywords, but concentrating on the central web vitalities such as website speed, mobile friendliness, and interactivity of content and websites.

If you endeavor to generate useful, high-quality content, make your site responsive and add backlinks to improve each page, you will have an excellent website in addition to a site optimized for search engines. Combining website design and SEO makes your site search engine friendly because it improves the experience for customers who visit your site. Factors that improve user-friendliness include robust page structure and navigation, which search engines use to rank websites. Those websites which have SEO content but terrible structure and link-building practices will not rank as well as those that deliver the entire package: a beautiful, responsive, and optimized website design.

BONUS: Beat Your Competitors With WordPress SEO

Content marketing, blogging, and providing information online are all great ways to boost your business and marketing opportunities – but they’re also a good way to boost you search engine optimization (SEO). If you write or publish for a WordPress website or blog, you are in a unique position to make the most of your keyword-rich content. You don’t have to write content for every keyword your competitors rank by. You don’t even have to have brand awareness; you can create content for targeted keywords to position your brand ahead of the competition.

Stay one step ahead of the competition with keyword optimization

Find keywords and phrases that your competitors can’t match, and create high-quality content around them. You can also check which keywords your competitors use to try to beat them in Google search results. If you can find and surpass your competitors’ keywords, your website will win the competition for customer attention and more impressions and traffic – without spending a dime on pay-per-click (PPC)!

To make sure you beat your competitors in SEO, you need to understand what types of content Google ranks for and outshine them if you want to compete for those keywords. Understanding where your competitors rank and search intentions behind this ranking is the only first step to keyword research and content.
Keyword searches for content can be performed to assess the rankings, conversions, revenue, and traffic a website receives. The best way to do this is to do keyword research on the content of your competitors’ websites. Proper competition research can help you figure out which keywords your competitors rank by on their site and which ones don’t.

For example, if you are running a health blog and want to write a SEO-friendly article on building healthy habits, look up other health blogs and study which SEO keywords they use the most. Choose a hot topic (like weight loss, heart health, or exercise) and narrow it down even further by selecting a sub-topic (natural fat burners, omega-3s, or HIIT training). The more you narrow down your topic, the better chance you have at dominating the search engines in your field.

Maximize your usage of WordPress SEO Plugins

You may have Yoast. WP Meta SEO, or another SEO plugin installed on your website, but are you using the plugin to its fullest potential? If you are not filling in your page SEO keywords, meta title, meta description, and meta keywords on each article you produce, you are doing your website and your SEO efforts a disservice. There are also important aspects of your SEO that can be managed with WordPress plugins, such as sitemaps and 404 redirects, that you shouldn’t ignore for usability and search engine purposes.

Pay attention to your word count, categories, tags, and permalink structure

When you publish a blog post or article, every word on that page counts, including the ones that aren’t front and center. Make sure the post category is included in your permalink structure, especially if it is optimized for SEO. You should also include as many relevant tags as you can and even include multiple categories if the article calls for it. When it comes to SEO, there’s no such thing as an article that’s “too long,” so while you don’t want to “keyword stuff” or overdo it, feel free to write that extra paragraph to sneak in those keywords one more time.

Make sure your internal linking is on point

One blog post isn’t going to make a difference for SEO unless you have lots of other keyword-rich content to back it up. Google pays attention to how many times you link to other relevant pages on your website, so go through your blog post and make sure you’re linking to your other pages as much as makes sense for your article. You should also mention those articles in the body text to let readers know that you have other content that is relevant to them. After all, SEO is not the main consideration with content creation. Your content has to offer value to the reader first and foremost!


Both SEO and SEM are key components of your SERP strategy. However, SEO is more of a long-term investment and a key building block to successful SEM efforts. If you’re planning on using search engine results to drive traffic to your website, contact HD Codes Web Design & Development today for a free SEO audit & web design consultation.

Need help driving traffic to your website?

Contact HD Codes Web Design & Development today for a free consultation and website SEO audit.


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