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Search Engine Marketing versus Search Engine Optimization: What's the Difference?

What do these terms mean?

Search engine marketing

The difference between search engine marketing and search engine optimization.
Scribendi's explanation of the difference between
search engine marketing and search engine optimization.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is a type of Internet marketing that includes researching, submitting, and positioning a website within search engines to achieve maximum visibility and to increase traffic referrals from search engines.

Search engine marketing may use search engine optimization (SEO—explained below) or pay-per-click (PPC) listings. Search engine marketing involves keyword research, competitive analysis, paid listings, and other search engine services that work to increase search traffic to a website. Currently, the phrase "search engine marketing" is used to describe paid search activities. The phrase "search marketing" is often used to cover both search engine marketing and search engine optimization.            

Search engine marketing can be classified into free (organic) and paid (inorganic) searches. Free search engine marketing uses on-page and off-page strategies to help search engines better recognize the relative importance of a website's pages. Paid searches involve a search engine company charging fees to include a website on their results pages, also known as sponsored listings.

Search engine optimization

Search engine optimization is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a webpage in a search engine's organic or inorganic search results. Optimization relies on understanding how people conduct searches and what type of results Google chooses to display to its users. Typically, the earlier and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors the site will receive. As an Internet marketing strategy, search engine optimization considers how search engines work, what people search for, the search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines the target audience prefers. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content, HTML, and associated coding to increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to search engines' indexing activities. Another search engine optimization tactic is to promote a site to increase the number of backlinks or inbound links.

Vive la différence!

Search engine marketing is a broader term than search engine optimization, but the two strategies are complementary. Search engine optimization might be considered a subset of search engine marketing and aims to provide better organic search results, whereas search engine marketing helps websites attract targeted search engine users through organic searches and paid links in search results. Both strategies are necessary to successfully conduct business on the Internet, so consider submitting your content to Scribendi's search engine optimization editing service prior to posting to ensure it is clear, optimized, and error-free.