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SEO vs SEM

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The most frequent question I get about running a business online is, “How do I get people to find me?” There are two basic ways: SEO and SEM.

In 2019, WordPress revealed that 70 million articles are published each month on their platform.Each. Month. And that’s only on WordPress. So it doesn’t include the articles posted on mainstream news sites, sites like SquareSpace, etc.

And let’s not forget about the pages that have been online for years already.

That’s a LOT of competition. Which is why it’s so common to wonder how to make your business stand out.

What is SEO?

SEO, or Search Engine Marketing, is free. Completely free. But like with many free things, it takes time and effort to make it work for you. And there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever be on the first page of Google search results.

NOTE: if anyone tells you that, they are lying. Don’t work with them. There are very effective methods that could get you on the front page, but it’s disingenuous to make a blanket claim like that without first knowing what site that person is working with.

SEO uses the power of things like your article’s unique URL, header and subheader text, tags, images, links, and alt text into account when ranking your content. Using these pieces, over time Google will decide if your content is worth recommending to someone who makes a query.

How Do I Do SEO?

You have a general idea of what SEO is now, but you’re not sure how to make it work for you. Start by making sure you have all of those pieces I mentioned above in your articles. Whenever possible, they should all include you focus keyword in there. For example, in this post, my focus phrase is “SEO and SEM.” That’s why I sacrificed a slightly better into in order to get my focus phrase in the first paragraph (which is also something you’ll want to do).

You also need to be patient. It can take six months to a year to see results from your SEO strategy. Yes… that is a long time to wait with no promise of where you’ll land in search results. Which is why a lot of companies opt to also have a SEM strategy.

What is SEM?

SEM, or Search Engine Marketing, is a more direct way of making sure your business lands in front of potential customer’s eyes. But it’ll cost you…

Like in SEO, you’ll want a focus keyword or phrase. But then you places bids in Google Adwords (or a similar site if you want to show up in Bing searches, for example) to make your ad show up on a page.

You’ll choose what type of as you want to run (text, photo, video, etc.), submit it along with your budget and focus keywords. Then Google will places bids on your keyword within your budget. When you win, they’ll place your ad.

You don’t have to wait nearly as long for results as you do with SEO, and it’ll only cost you as much as you choose to budget. I ran test-campaigns because I’m a hands-on learner, and was surprised to find some ads for “content marketing” (which is a pretty broad phrase) only cost me a couple of dollars. However, the ads were run in the middle of the night because that was the only time slot that my budget accommodated.

How Do I Do SEM?

There’s a LOT more to SEM than this. It’s a slightly more perfect science than SEO, but there are still a lot of variables. That’s why many companies choose to outsource their SEM work. However, if you are really curious about SEM, Google has some wonderful tools and you can even get certified in SEM for free (more on this coming soon).

Understanding Google Adwords and getting familiar with it is the best place to start.